Prediction for 2021

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Time when I try to guess what the big story of the next year is going to be. Well, if there was one person who guessed the big stories of 2020 right, I’d sure be surprised. But my predictions were pretty good. Of course they were pretty safe.

This time around I’m going for the big swing. I have only one prediction and it’s nowhere near a sure thing. As usual, I’ll be back at the end of the calendar year to let you know how right or wrong I was. My track record’s not great, I’ll admit, but it’s fun to do anyway.

Here we go. I predict…

Streampocalypse

Look folks there is going to come a time when we all get to leave our homes safely again. As I write this in December 2020 it looks like the math works out to that being some time in April or May. No matter what’s ahead, there’s an excellent chance it’s over by then. Of course we all remember the prediction that we’d be out of it by April 2020 and that didn’t pan out, but let’s hope, right?

But let’s say that the experts are on target this time. Somewhere in the spring of ’21, we all feel like we can walk outside, go shopping, and even travel without a feeling of existential dread or the judgement of others. What does that do to the world of home entertainment?

Streaming prices are high and just getting higher. In the last month, Netflix and Disney have both announced price hikes. And that means if you take Netflix, Peacock (paid), CBS All Access, HBO Max, and the bundle that includes ESPN, Disney+, and Hulu, you’re close to $75 a month. Keep in mind that’s basically the smallest number of services you can have and still simulate a traditional pay-TV environment. And it doesn’t even include live TV, which will set you back another $30-$50 for most services.

The cord-cutting movement started when the average customer started paying $75 a month for traditional pay-TV. I think people have been willing to look the other way at their streaming bills this year because there’s nothing else to do. But that’s all about to change.

State of entertainment in December ’21

My guess is that there will be some people who go back to traditional pay TV. It’s a surprisingly good value considering all you get for an entry price around $40-$50 a month after fees and taxes. We’ve already seen a lot of that in ’20, although not enough to stem subscriber losses across the industry.

Others will look to free alternatives like Locast and Pluto. Those services don’t have anything like DVR service, so you might still see some other services as well. I expect people to drop down to the free version of Peacock and the ad-supported tier of Hulu, which will give them most of the network shows a day or so after they air. As I write this it’s still possible to watch recent network shows on CBS All Access without paying, but that might change as part of the app’s rebranding to Paramount+.

What about the more expensive services?

Right now, the triumvirate of paid streaming services is Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney+. All of them offer a lot of content but charge a high price. Disney+ is working like crazy to churn out lots more content. HBO Max might just pay for itself with one theatrical release a month. I’ve picked on Netflix in the past but they have so darn much content that they might actually be worth it.

But here’s the sad secret. One of the things people say they like about streaming is that it’s easy to cancel any time. In reality people don’t actually cancel anytime. I predict in ’21 they will.

The long shot: an app for that

In the next 12 months, we could see a new kind of app. Imagine it as an outgrowth of “JustWatch” or that sort of app which lets you find the shows you want. Imagine one app that could let you manage your streaming subscriptions. Every month, it would automatically cancel all of your streaming subscriptions. If you want to watch something on an app, you just resubscribe. They make it so easy to do, honestly.

With such an app, people would automatically shed those apps they don’t use from month to month. Even if you go only one week a month without a subscription to all your apps, that could mean a savings of $75 or more. Those folks with discipline, who are willing to wait a few months for enough shows to pile up on a single app, you could save hundreds.

The impact

I think you’ll see some of these bigger apps lose subscribers and even see drops in revenue. It will probably lead to a crackdown on password sharing, which honestly is long overdue. More importantly it will put those folks on notice that you can’t just use streaming as an excuse to squeeze more money out of people.

So, what will actually happen? If you want, leave a comment below with your predictions and we’ll meet up here in a year to talk about all of them.

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 7,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.