COME ON ALREADY: Deal with streaming’s franchise problem

Jake Buckler likes to make fun of me because I like Star Trek. Oh well, guilty as charged. And as I’ve said before, I tend to grit my teeth and pay the king’s ransom to CBS when new shows are on. But, now that Discovery’s latest season is over, I’ve canceled CBS All Access again. I suggest you do as well, because there’s not a lot there. But since my subscription isn’t up for a while yet I thought I would take a look at what else there was on the service. It is a Trek lover’s dream come true, that’s for sure. You’ll find every episode of every series.

But here’s the funny thing. They have all the films… except two. As I write this they don’t have Star Trek Beyond, the most recent, and Star Trek: Insurrection which, although considered one of the worst, is still part of the whole Trek family.

Seriously.

This isn’t really just a Trek problem. A while back I tried to watch every Mission: Impossible film in order and it was practically impossible. I found them on several different streaming services and had to rent one. Another could only be found with commercials. And as far as the TV series the movies were based on, that’s only available on Pluto TV, which has as many commercials as broadcast.

You’ll find the same issue with virtually any franchise you try to binge. I hate to say it but AT&T’s just as bad… try to watch all the Batman movies on HBO Max and you’ll see what I mean. It’s common to all of them… almost.

Grudging respect to Disney

It took about a year, and they had to buy Fox to do it, but Disney seems to be the only operation that has gotten this right at this point. You can watch every Star Wars, Marvel Cinematic Universe, or even MCU-adjacent film and you’ll find them on Disney+. What’s more, they haven’t backtracked. After the first couple of months, you didn’t see things leaving Disney+, only being added.

So why can’t the rest of the studios do the same? I get it, there are contracts signed years in advance to let streaming apps get different content. I also get that with Star Trek the situation was complicated by CBS’ ownership of the TV shows and Viacom’s ownership of the movies. But that’s all been resolved since Viacom and CBS are finally back in the same stable.

I have a theory, and it’s just a conspiracy theory. Take it for what you will.

It’s misguided but…

I think that this is an attempt to seem competitive, by being anti-consumer. What, you say? What does that mean?

When apps like Disney+ launched, there was this concern that all their content would be huddled together on one service, and then that service would start charging a huge amount of money. It’s a fair concern. If your kid likes watching Frozen, Disney could end up charging $90 a month and you’d probably pay it until you finally said “Let it go.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

AT&T faced similar charges when they bought Time Warner. Critics said they would fence off all the DC content from the last 45 years, along with all the Harry Potter stuff and several other bits. But that didn’t happen. It’s actually been the opposite… sadly HBO Max hasn’t been a reliable hub for Time Warner content up to this point. That’s about the only thing I don’t like about them.

I think it’s possible that some of these apps are intentionally putting their content out to bid because they’re trying to avoid the stigma of “fencing it all in.” Even Disney still offers some of their stuff to Starz, as well as putting it out there for free on channels like Freeform.

The sad thing is that by spreading franchise content around, it actually makes the experience worse for consumers and that’s a bad thing.

So what’s the answer?

I think that it really will be better for consumers when they can watch an entire franchise on one app. Having all the Star Wars stuff on one app makes a lot of sense and it means I hardly ever go back to my old physical media. It may mean that some franchises disappear from some apps, just to keep things competitive. But the big picture is that we live in a bingewatch world and no one wants to have to bop from place to place or pay to rent one installment of a story.

And then, the marketplace will have to respond. If one streaming app or other charges more than it should, people will stop paying. I think for example that CBS All Access charges too much for what you get (which is practically nothing.) AppleTV+ is cheap, but then you don’t get much at all so it’s still overpriced. I have predicted that as people return to their normal lives, it’s going to be a rough time for streaming apps this year. Some of the low-value ones might not make it.

But folks, that’s all part of the process. Let’s hope by this time next year I’ll be a little less cynical about it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.