The TV Subscriptions You’ll Need to Watch Your Favorite Shows

As more Netflix competitors emerge and disaggregate content, here’s where everything will land

Photo by Thibault Penin on Unsplash

TThe dream of the one-stop content shop is coming to an end. After years of allowing Netflix to license and aggregate some of the best television content of all time and sell it to tens of millions of subscribers for about $10 a month, media companies are reclaiming their distribution rights to their most popular content, hoping to build feasible competitors on the backs of their library content.

The streaming wars have begun. And you asked for it.

“Why can’t I only pay for the channels that I watch?” was a common plea among satellite and cable television subscribers. Now, the answer is becoming increasingly obvious — when content is disaggregated or unbundled, consumers end up paying more.

Currently, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, and CBS All Access/Showtime are all in the process of building large subscriber bases with their licensed (but increasingly original) content. Disney recently acquired 20th Century Fox Television/FX and a majority of Hulu, and plans to launch Disney+ on November 12th, 2019. Comcast will launch the NBCUniversal subscription streaming service in April 2020, and WarnerMedia says it will launch HBO Max in 2020.

In recent months, there has been a lot of news about popular content leaving Netflix to become the backbone of these new direct-to-consumer services. From Marvel/Star Wars (Disney), to Friends (Warner Bros.), and The Office (Comcast/NBCUniversal), many Netflix subscribers wonder how many new over-the-top (OTT) networks they’ll need to subscribe to in order to watch their favorite content.

Well, here’s my best guess. Disclaimer: I began my career at 20th Century Fox Television, consulting and advising on digital distribution strategy. The graphics below are my best guesses, based on publicly available information about where distribution rights will eventually end up. The past decade has seen more disruption in television business models and players than the previous 50 years — which makes understanding distribution rights from the outside increasingly difficult. These conglomerates have complicated distribution and content strategies — which means that many of the series I assume will eventually be available below may not be available there any time soon.

“Why can’t I only pay for the channels that I watch?” was a common plea among satellite and cable television subscribers. When content is disaggregated or unbundled, consumers end up paying more.

But — these predictions are made in good faith. When known, I assume that distribution rights eventually return to the producing studio — unless a series is produced as an “X Original,” in which case I assume the corresponding OTT network is willing to pay a premium over others to retain future distribution rights (e.g. Lionsgate/Orange Is the New Black/Netflix). I’m also operating under the assumption that Viacom and CBS eventually merge, and that Showtime and CBS All Access similarly become one bundled subscription. Disney, which recently acquired 20th Century Fox TV/FX, will also have to make strategic decisions about whether to place content on Disney+ or Hulu. The information below is based on Disney’s recent announcement about what content will be on Disney+ at launch.

Series left in “TBD” territory are those produced by third-party studios that don’t have plans for a scalable OTT network. It’s most likely that these series are licensed to the highest bidders.

So without further ado, here are the services you’ll need to subscribe to in order to watch your favorite scripted shows in a couple of years.

First things first: Here’s where every Emmy-nominated outstanding drama or comedy series of the past 20 years will likely reside once every platform has launched and scaled:

If you’re more interested in series rated highly by consumers than award shows, here’s where the shows on IMDb’s top-rated scripted U.S. TV series (as rated by users) will likely reside:

If you’re of the binge-watching faction, sometimes quantity > quality. Here’s where every U.S. television show with 100-plus episodes will likely end up.

Putting it all together — Emmy nominations, IMDb top-rated series, and prime binge-watching candidates — here’s what the TV library of each OTT network will likely eventually feature:

While HBO Max, Hulu, and CBS All Access may eventually have the largest TV libraries by these standards, Netflix is betting heavily that in the future a high volume of fresh content will be the key to retaining subscribers, as its competitors rely heavily on their previous best hits. Time will tell what consumers value most — and who survives the streaming wars. If the above libraries come to fruition, which of these networks would you subscribe to?

Writing about entrepreneurship, media, tech, life. Currently associate director @ The Garage, former VC in SF and media strategy in LA. TheRaabitHole.com

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