Streaming Wars: The (Digital) Force Awakens

By Momal Khan

There’s a scene in Marvel’s Black Panther where Shuri says, “Just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” 

In today’s world of digital streaming, where entertainment is just a click away and isn’t something that you need to go very far to seek anymore, this couldn’t be more true.

The viewer-experience has seen a paradigm shift in recent years, and even more so since the start of the pandemic. Film fans have gone a year without the big-screen experience, so streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ have become convenient options. The streaming wars are in full swing, with both platforms fighting neck-and-neck in who can secure the most subscribers. 

But with all the efforts to build hype around releases, bring out classics from the archives, and a ton of other tactics, the theatre industry still has a role to play. There is something about the theatrical release- the collective audience gasps when a character is revealed, the chilling jumpscares, the moment after a Marvel movie when everyone sits eagerly through the credits to catch the bonus scene-  that is irreplicable watching from home. 

Lining up to purchase tickets at the box-office and renting DVDs from the local video store may now seem like a thing of the past, but does the prevalence of streaming services mean the death of the theatre business? Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob doesn’t think so. 

“Having been in this business for over 30 years, I’ve got to be honest with you. When the VCR came out, everybody said it’s the death of the movie business. You know what happened? More people became aware of movies and started to go into the theatres more often,” says Jacob. 

This could very well be the case when the movie-going experience resumes, as people rush to get their entertainment fix in theatres after a year of being confined to their (not as big) screens at home. For the time being, however, streaming platforms have been able to provide subscribers with the content they love, and may have very well redefined the future of movie and TV show consumption. 

Recently, Disney+ announced they have reached 100 million subscribers since launching in November 2019, a stunning feat considering analysts actually predicted it would take 5 years to reach 90 million. In contrast, 100 million is the same subscriber count it took Netflix 10 years to accomplish; it currently sits at 203.7 million. 

Disney’s rise to the top was catapulted by the critically-acclaimed Star Wars series The Mandalorian. The hype for the series has grown steadily since its release in 2020, and as Disney+ keeps up with regular releases of content to keep its subscribers hooked, it looks to be well on its way to snatch the #1 streaming service title in the near future. 

Analyst Richard Broughton thinks The Walt Disney Company is well-poised to win the streaming war within three years, with their key to success being a focus on quality versus quantity. 

“The others have volume, Disney relies on the quality of its brands. It has shows and films that people, fans, feel they must watch,” says Broughton. 

It will be interesting to see how the streaming wars play out over the course of the next few years. Especially as many of us are confined to our homes with more choice than ever before about what to watch and where to watch it, streaming services have more or less kept the movie-going experience alive by offering a safe alternative to theatres. 

To read more about the Canadian government’s plans to modernize the rules around broadcasting and the internet, click here

To read more about how the pandemic has affected movie theatres, click here

Photo by iam_os on Unsplash

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