Does this sound familiar? You're putting your feet up after a long day and you reach for the remote. "Can you remember which one it's on?" you ask your partner, your kids or the cat, shuffling through all the streaming apps on your smart TV. You try Amazon Prime, and Netflix, and Apple TV+, and maybe a Rakuten or Samsung TV too. Eventually you find it, on a completely different app from the one you thought it was on.
Streaming's been heading in this direction for some years now. All the Pixar films were pulled from Netflix by Disney ages ago, and Marvel movies migrated too; Warners pulled Friends and the Big Bang Theory in the US to put them on its own HBO Max, and you can be pretty sure The Last of Us (pictured above) won't be available on Netflix for the foreseeable future. Paramount took back Star Trek ages ago. You get the idea.
The reason for that is obvious enough. All the different streaming services' owners want to be the One Thing To Rule Them All. But despite their best efforts, nobody seems to really be ruling over anybody else – and the result isn't exactly consumer friendly. How many streaming subs are you paying for now? Are you getting value for money, or are you largely paying for content you're not watching? I know for me, it feels like the latter.
But it looks like at least one media giant is starting to think differently: if you can't beat them, sell to them instead.
Follow the money
According to financial news and analysis site The Motley Fool (opens in new tab), at a recent Morgan Stanley tech and media conference Warner Bros. Discovery's chief financial officer Gunnar Wiedenfels put it simply: "We want to use all cash registers that are available to us to get the highest return on every dollar spent."
According to Wiedenfels, Warners cut its streaming losses by a whopping $500 million in the last year by selling some of its content to other distributors. And it intends to move more in that direction.
Warners isn't the only big name that's apparently rethinking its strategy at least in part: for example, Paramount has licensed older episodes of its hit Yellowstone to Peacock, which is owned by Comcast. But according to the Motley Fool, "No other studio appears as ready, willing, and able to embrace third-party monetization of its content as Warner Bros. Discovery is, however, even though the math of these deals makes clear sense for the entire industry."
It makes clear sense for consumers too. One of the reasons the rise of Netflix was so refreshing is that in a market where TV was getting seriously expensive, here was a much simpler, cheaper, customer-friendly proposition. But the market now feels very familiar to anyone who used to bemoan the cost and complexity of cable TV bundles.
Don't get me wrong. We'll always have to pay more to see the big hits first, so they'll almost always be exclusives to specific streamers for at least a short period. That's how you make your money, and it's why so many movies go to the rental and purchase options long before they reach streaming. But I do think Warner Bros. Discovery has the right idea here. You don't need to keep all your content locked away from everyone else forever.