By Michael Miller Jr.
No doubt you have seen many articles talking about the “streaming wars”. “Who is going to win?”, “Who is best poised to be #1?”, “Who is most likely to lose their position?”. I mean no disrespect to anyone who has taken this angle on the matter, but “Who cares?” seems to be the appropriate response to such. Something I have felt that was not as well covered, is potentially the most important: Value!
What is it that we are paying for? Why is it valuable? Our relationship with digital media is an interesting one. While many of us say this media is valuable and that we couldn’t live without it, often times we couldn’t show its lack of value any more than we do now by how unwilling we are to pay. While I am no doctor, I believe the very intangible and potentially ephemeral nature of digital media has a unique psychological effects that influences how and how much we are willing to pay for digital media. After all, we are only paying for a license to view the content we are steaming, even if we buy it we do not actually own it.
Before we go into the subject matter of streaming media, particularly movies and TV despite how indistinguishable they often become, let’s talk about something a little different, apps. When was the last time you paid for an app? Chances are, that as you are reading this an applicable app store experience of you spending money comes to mind. Let this be a rhetorical question because, yes, I have paid for apps before as well, but I have “not paid for apps” far more often. Why is that? I believe it is because at large, people do not spend to own apps and mobile games to the value of their function. Mobile apps and games on cellular smart devices are largely ad-supported because of people’s perception of the platform. Pay per use, pay to play and downloadable content strategies are also thriving. Cell phones are mobile, they are utilitarian, they are convenient. Spending $20 to own an app you may not use all the time is not convenient.
Let’s look at the average price for a AAA console game. $60. Now, do these metrics directly correlate? No. Mobile games as a whole do not hold the same standards of fidelity as do console games, and once again a lot of that can be contributed to the platform. This actually adds to a different point I could make about streaming media, but I will leave that for another time. Even with that said, overall spending in apps has increased as has engagement.
We are seeing a similar paradigm in streaming media. People are spending less time in theaters, less time watching traditional TV and more time on their phones and other similar app based experiences, yet they are not willing to spend as much for veritably more content, quality withholding. Another question arises. What are we paying for? I got into a few conversations on Twitter about the value of a streaming platform and their decision to allow binging on their exclusive or original content. Once again, let’s analyze the value of this concept. The impression I got from some of my Twitter mutuals is that the value in binging relies more on the principle that you could watch an entire season of a show. The principle also lies in that you aren’t obligated to pay for more than one month of the service to see that show. At first, this statement sounded perfectly reasonable, but after thinking about it, I am not so sure.
The average price of most streaming platforms for their ad free variation is about $10.00. Let’s consider a 1 12-episode, 30-Minute-Per-Episode, Original TV Show or a 2 hour original movie on a streaming platform and let’s make this entirely quantitative, removing as much other value factors as we can. In order to binge just 1 show or 1 movie on a streaming platform per month I would have to pay $10.00 for 6 hours of series content or 2 hours of movie. Then factor in that the average movie ticket prices as of 2017 are about $9 per movie and climbing. The average cable bill in 2017 according to USAToday.com is $85. I don’t think I need more numbers than that. What 1 show is worth $85?
I guess what I am getting at is, why this worry that we aren’t getting our due value out of streaming? What’s changed? I think there is something to be said of sports and news, one of the biggest things missing from the contemporary streaming on-demand platforms, even though that seems to be changing soon as well. I think I could easily end the discussion there. However, this article is more focused on my fellow movie and TV cinephiles. What does the value look like from our perspective? The honest answer to that is, “I don’t know”.
The one thing I hope for people to take away from this is as I mentioned at the outset is “value” and where does it come from. There are still many factors we have not discussed. We didn’t talk about the actual content, or the ease of use of the platform, we didn’t talk about specific prices or where in the world these platforms are available, on what devices, what kind of viewing experience we are getting versus a more traditional method. This conversation is far from over but what I can say is that as time goes on, the apparent value of all of this doesn’t seem to be becoming any clearer.