Streaming Wars Episode III: The Rise of The Silo

Friends, that rascal Jake Buckler has been on other projects this week. That means you’re getting another dose of your old pal Stuart for Streaming Saturday this week.

Episode III? What were I and II?

Yes, I am talking about Streaming Wars Episode III, or if you want to code it differently, Streaming 3.0. The changes in the streaming world are coming fast and I predict by this time next year your streaming habits will be totally different.

Episode I: The Days of Old

Do you remember when you started streaming video to your TV? It might have been 8-9 years ago and you went to one of three services. For most everything, it was Netflix, Netflix, Netflix. The company was known in its early days for having every movie that could possibly be streamed. Not only that, the streaming part was free if you had a DVD plan. Such a bargain?

To catch up on TV that you forgot to DVR, you went to Hulu. Although they didn’t — and still don’t — have CBS content, they had so much else that it didn’t seem to matter. Hulu was your backup plan for those shows everyone was talking about at work and you never heard of.

For the rest, there was YouTube. YouTube was user-generated, it was short-form, it was silly. In its early days, YouTube didn’t even let most users upload videos longer than a few minutes.

Episode II: The Coming Plurality

I like to say that streaming video expanded horizontally. Starting about five years ago and continuing to the present, you got an ever-growing set of streaming services. Instead of one service for all your movies, you needed seven or eight. Or, you rented what you wanted a la carte. For TV, you suddenly had live alternatives and ad supported apps like Pluto. Your spread of streaming services grew so much that your streaming bill started to look like your cable bill.

And here we are at the Rise of the Silo

It started with CBS All Access. Here was one app where you could see only CBS shows. There was older content too but this was really about seeing new content from one studio. You couldn’t see that content anywhere else.

Sound like a familiar plan? Netflix and Hulu doubled down on original content. So did Prime. The companies that took this really seriously were Disney and Apple. Both launched streaming services in 2019 with only their content.

That, my friends, was just the beginning.

Know your studio, know your app

More than ever, you’ll have to know what studio created the content in order to know which app to watch. Each major provider is working feverishly to create its own “silo” where its content can live. Here’s a short list of studios and the apps they own. This is where you’ll find the content they provide:

Studio App
Netflix Netflix
Amazon Prime Video
Disney/Marvel/ABC/Fox Hulu and Disney+
NBC/Universal/Comcast Peacock
AT&T/Warner/HBO HBO Max
CBS/Viacom/Showtime CBS All Access
Apple Apple TV+

As I write this, Peacock and HBO Max haven’t launched. Also, Showtime is a separate app from CBS All Access, but their parent company ViacomCBS is said to be working on combining them.

It’s also notable that Sony hasn’t yet jumped into this fray. The company was the majority owner of Crackle until recently but now has no app of its own. It’s one of the few studios that is still licensing movies to pretty much anyone who will pay. MGM is as well, but at this point in time MGM does not have its own distribution channel of any kind. It partners with other studios for releases.

What you see are six companies (plus Apple which hasn’t been around long enough to be a giant) that control virtually every piece of original content out there. Sure there are hundreds of small production companies out there but they’re reliant on one of these six to buy it and distribute it. And you, as a viewer, are dependent on these six companies for pretty much all your paid streaming.

What about all the other apps?

There are hundreds of streaming video apps. Some are ad-supported, some you pay for, and some are small enough that they’re just free. But I see these all as second-tier providers that will come and go for most people. Sure if you have a particular love for one culture or another you’ll migrate to something like Crunchyroll or Britbox. But It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see a lot of these apps just shut down in the next few years.

Because, in Streaming Wars Episode III it’s all about consolidating power. And if you look, power’s been consolidated pretty well. In fact, in light of Netflix being ignored at the Oscars, I think you could say that for movies, it’s pretty much down to two companies: Disney and AT&T.

Justice League vs. The Avengers

And it’s no surprise that the two titanic studios, the ones that tower over everyone else, are on opposite sides of the pop culture universe. AT&T owns Superman and all the DC heroes, plus Game of Thrones, Friends,and Bugs Bunny. Disney owns The Avengers and all their super pals, plus Dancing with the Stars, the Toy Story saga and Mickey Mouse. These are two content powerhouses and everyone else is nowhere near their level.

Each studio hopes that you’ll come into their silo and never leave. I don’t think that’s really likely, but I will say there may come a time when you don’t have a choice.

Back to your regularly scheduled…

Buckler will be back next week for his regular Streaming Saturday gig. I can’t wait to see what he has to say about this subject.

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 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.