Missing archives, less ambitious programming, higher prices: Creators and subscribers say they’re seeing the fallout from television’s big revolution
The critically acclaimed animated show she had worked on extensively was simply deleted, thrown into a black hole of corporate cost-saving measures, along with several titles on HBO Max. The company, she added, even scrubbed every mention of the show from its social media accounts.
“It’s hard because it used to be your show would air and it could go away forever, regardless if it was on cable or network. … But we thought we were protected from that because of streaming. That was always sort of the consolation — we’re not getting paid as much. We’re not getting residuals. But at least we’ll be accessible for a long time to come. And lo and behold, that’s not the case anymore,” Katai said. “It’s a purely bottom-line-driven decision-making process that’s all about maximizing profits over any kind of artistic voice.”
“I don’t feel great about being a writer right now,” she added. “I don’t feel great about being in the industry right now.”
Streaming television is going through an existential crisis, involving the people who make it and the viewers who watch it. Its revolutionary zeal has naturally faded, as that initial wave of near limitless expansion, boundless creative opportunities and vast archival choices crashes ashore, after a spate of megamergers and a drop in new subscribers.
Just when streaming has finally attracted more viewers than cable or broadcast TV, its major players are engaged in a long-predicted war for subscribers, who are becoming all too aware of rising subscription prices and, both subtly and directly, a change in what programs get made and how long they stick around. Commercials could soon become more common, and services may be bundled (for one low monthly price!), already triggering visions of a future that recalls the dark days of cable.
The list of seismic rumblings in recent weeks is long, as chronicled in the Hollywood Reporter, Variety and elsewhere: Warner Bros. Discovery is cutting shows from its archives and unfinished movies from HBO Max as it prepares to merge it with its sister streaming service Discovery Plus, having promised its shareholders a $3 billion cut in costs. Faced with a plunging stock price and worrisome subscriber loss, Netflix plans to add an advertising-supported model for a lower price and may crack down on password sharing. Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus, which can all be subscribed to in a cable-esque bundle, are raising prices after taking a more than $1 billion hit in the fiscal third quarter. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime just debuted the most expensive show ever made — a Lord of the Rings drama — in hopes to gain ground in a crowded market.