MONEY & LIFE

Will Streaming Really Become Like Cable?

By: James Flippin · January 09, 2023 · Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Finale?

A famous business principle is that whatever works gets copied. The success of Netflix (NFLX) exemplifies it. After taking a risk with streaming and succeeding in a big way, nearly every major entertainment company followed suit.

For the past few years, companies have thrown fortunes into developing their own streaming platforms, with new content dropping daily — and new services almost as often. However, if earning reports are anything to go off, the golden age of streaming might already be at an end.

In the Red

For most companies, running a streaming platform is highly unprofitable, mostly due to the cost of launching one. New streamers need to invest heavily in buying or producing content to entice people to pay for a subscription. And, the more competition they have, the more they must spend to produce hit shows or movies. Even after racking up subscribers, it can take years to recoup initial expenses.

In fact, nearly every major streamer is still hemorrhaging money. Netflix alone remains profitable. The original streaming platform posted $5 billion in profit over the first three quarters of 2022. During the same period, every other major streamer lost at least $1 billion.

Investors used to encourage this mindset among streamers: growth over profit. But now, in the face of a recession, they’re changing channels. Wall Street wants to see growth of earnings, not just subscribers. This means that streaming platforms need to start justifying their losses to investors and carving clear paths toward the green.

Coming Next Season

This isn’t to say that streaming is going anywhere. More likely, it will consolidate.

Larger companies like Amazon (AMZN), who can afford to lose billions on user growth, should continue churning out content at the same rate for the foreseeable future. Smaller players, however, will have to pivot to avoid being bought out or shut down. For example, Warner Brothers Discovery (WBD), which owns HBO Max and Discovery+, is already preparing to combine the two platforms this year.

For consumers, this means that you can expect your streaming options to dwindle, rather than expanding. This might come as welcome relief for those wondering if rewatching Mad Men, or catching the latest historical documentary, is worth the costs of shelling out for AMC+ (AMC) or BBC Select. For those who heralded the streaming industry as the death knell for cable TV, it may be disappointing to see it shaping up to simply be cable’s second coming.

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