Netlfix, Amazon, Hotstar: The streaming wars will likely see a champion in the year 2020
There was a time, not so long ago, when Netflix delivered DVDs, Amazon sold books and Apple made computers. In 2020, the three companies will reportedly spend a combined $25 billion ( ₹1.77 lakh crore) on producing original streaming content. In 2020, the streaming wars will likely find a champion.
It was Amazon’s history of success as an online bookseller, one report says, that encouraged JRR Tolkien’s estate to sell the company the rights to make a television show based of the Lord of the Rings novels. Amazon’s unprecedented bid of $250 million ( ₹1770 crore) wasn’t even the highest. But Tolkien’s estate was convinced that with self-proclaimed LOTR fanboy Jeff Bezos at the head of affairs, they could use the interest around the show to also sell some books.
The Lord of the Rings prequel series is easily the most high-profile piece of original programming fans can look forward to in the coming years. At a reported production budget of $1.3 billion ( ₹9200 crore) for five seasons, it will effectively be the most expensive television series ever made. But Amazon’s model is starkly different from that of its competitors.
The streamer, after years of producing acclaimed but only moderately successful niche programming like Mozart in the Jungle and Fleabag, will focus on tentpole content in the coming years. Besides LOTR, Amazon is also producing an adaptation of Robert Jordan’s fantasy novels, The Wheel of Time.
Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke has stressed that the company’s model “is not about volume play. It is more about relationship driven play with some best creators in the industry.” A similar strategy was hinted at by Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue. He told The Sunday Times that consumers shouldn’t expect Apple TV+ to create “the most” original content, but rather “the best.” This is in contrast to Netflix’s overwhelming slate of original programming, which is seemingly targeted at all major (and minor) demographics. Cue said that “there is nothing wrong with that model, but it is not our model.”
Apple launched its streaming service in November, and in comparison to Netflix and Amazon, who both launched around the same time in 2016, Apple’s library of original content is microscopic. But the most valuable company in the world is spending handsomely on establishing itself as a major player in the market. Its flagship launch programme, The Morning Show, cost more than the final season of Game of Thrones. In the coming months, Apple will release an anthology science-fiction series produced by Steven Spielberg, a musical drama created by Damien Chazelle, a crime series starring Chris Evans, and an adaptation of the novel Shantaram. The streamer has also struck a deal with media royalty Oprah Winfrey.
Not to be undone, Netflix has struck an exclusive deal with Barack and Michelle Obama, through which the couple will produce a several original shows, documentaries and films for the streamer. Netflix also has deals in place with the estate of Dr Seuss and music legend Paul McCartney, among dozens of others.
The streamer is also the most bullish of the lot in its plans for India. CEO Reed Hastings said at the 2019 Hindustan Times Leadership Summit that Netflix plans on investing ₹3000 crore on Indian content over the next year. Around 40 Indian titles are in various stages of development, including a lavish Baahubali prequel series and an adaptation of The White Tiger, starring Priyanka Chopra. Hotstar, which maintains its number one position in the Indian streaming market, is looking to spend ₹120 crore on original content this year, while Amazon plans on doubling its production output, to capitalise on the success of local series like The Family Man, Made in Heaven and Mirzapur. Amazon’s upcoming slate of Indian content includes original series from Asif Kapadia and Ali Abbas Zafar.
In a bid to boost loyal customers, streamers are investing massive amounts into licensing legacy content. With competitors such as NBC Universal, HBO Max and Disney Plus entering the fray, Netflix will lose valuable programmes to their parent companies in the next few years. While NBC Universal spent $500 million for the streaming rights to The Office, Warner Media paid $425 million for Friends. Netflix, meanwhile, paid $600 million for the rights to stream Seinfeld. The rights to stream The Big Bang Theory, meanwhile, are reportedly worth ‘billions of dollars’ and in the hands of HBO Max.
The future of entertainment is handheld. And it’s here.