Photo Illustration: Vulture; Photo by HBO
If there was a scientific entity that could measure Schadenfreude as a Geiger counter captures radiation, the levels within a 20 mile radius of the Netflix headquarters in Hollywood right now would be off the charts. That fact became clear while I was working on this year’s streaming rankings for New York The magazine’s TV edition, which uses industry sentiment as a key measure to determine who is up or down in the battle for the platforms. Hollywood and Wall Street types have long been wary of the ways the streaming giant disrupted TV business, but most still reluctantly accepted Netflix as the new king of the city. This year? Not so much.
In my conversations with 14 power brokers (and power-hungry insiders), it became clear that Netflix’s well-documented problems have given people a license to express every single doubt they’ve ever had about the invaders from the north (ie Silicon Valley). Although some still consider Netflix to be the most powerful streamer out there, most ranked the two-year-old HBO Max as No. 1, while many others ranked Disney + or Apple TV + ahead of Netflix. Streaming heavyweight still has its defenders, pointing to its huge leadership in subscribers and global scale as reasons to be on guard against those who write off the service. But a veterinarian in the PR industry captured the dominant feeling: “Outside Stranger ThingsNetflix is a mess. “
As with last year’s survey, I gave our panel of insiders complete anonymity so that they could express their completely honest opinions about the state of the power business. The group of 14 – composed of agents, producers, studio and network managers and industry analysts – ranked the eight major subscription platforms and then explained why they voted as they did. I asked them to consider not only the quality and scope of the applications on the services, but how well their user interfaces work and how often they found themselves using the apps. Here’s how they voted and what they had to say about their choices.
Note: We spoke to several people in different segments of the business, so the descriptions used below (PR managers, Wall Street analyst, producer) do not refer to individuals, but rather to their role in the entertainment industry.
Analyst for the electricity industry: Year three with nothing to say and not really try.
Studio manager: Universal must stand behind this platform as Disney, Warner and Paramount already have with their internal streamers. It is still an opportunity and a real brand to take advantage of, but the window closes quickly.
PR Manager: I have never sampled Bel-Air. But I loved We Are Lady Parts; it was amazing. Honestly, subscribe to the service for Yellowstone. A real miss for Paramount + that their biggest show is on a competitor’s side.
Reality TV Producer: Their programming is questionable, their interface is terrible, and I will never understand how they do not make more noise with their deep libraries.
Medium: Peacock is nowhere. I have no idea what they’re making.
Wall Street Analyst: When do they throw in the towel?
Wall Street Analyst: Surprisingly strong first year with good content momentum and energy, plus commitment from the company to use. Perhaps the largest increase in perception from year to year.
Medium: This place is a garbage campus that does not know if it will be CBS + or Showtime, and in the meantime is bad to be both. Last stop for anyone with any sense.
TV presenter: Two words: Kevin Costner. It’s still very, very, very early.
Streaming Analyst: The lower overhead costs compared to competitors, the content catalog and the link to Paramount’s movie page make me pretty sure that Paramount + will see sustainable success.
PR Manager: I watch The offer, and I like it very much – but given the lack of chatter around the show, it seems like only three of us are watching. I tried Hello but have never seen more than one episode. I’m not sure how they can stay competitive with the board.
PR Manager: The boys is great … the navigation system is a disaster. Who designed this website? It is counterintuitive for how someone searches for content. Unlike how the other services give you suggestions, it’s just a collection of what’s on your main page.
Studio manager: Effective use of action shows with large budgets to sell toilet paper.
Streaming Analyst: I can name at least three Apple TV + series I have loved in recent months. I can not say the same with Prime Video. At least they have older series and movies I can watch when I’m bored.
Producer: It’s easy to forget even though I order something every day from Amazon. The brand is powerful; they need to do a better job and remind me of what they have.
Wall Street Analyst: Lord of the Rings better be good.
Studio manager: Great content and some of the best leaders in town, but if they postpone the merger of this platform with Disney + for too long, Disney will have dismantled all of Hulu’s value before it could even take advantage of it.
Reality TV Producer: This is the one you should see because Hulus’ purchase has become so much more sophisticated – especially in the unwritten world. The acquisition and makeover of the Kardashians is hard to argue with (although I think they have even less to say than they did on E!).
Medium: Hulu have so few shows, but what they have is pretty good. They have to put all this under Disney and finish the labels.
Wall Street Analyst: Need to stop using on yesterday’s TV as linear TV viewership is declining.
PR Manager: More than anything else, I admire that these guys put a lot of elbow fat in the advertising campaigns around their shows and movies. Their launch and pricing campaigns compete with HBO Max.
Streaming Analyst: Outside of the live TV service, Hulu’s role as a stand-alone streaming service still feels insecure. Now its role in the Disney + package feels much more understandable, and maybe that’s all it needs to do – be the other 30 percent of the equation that gets people to sign up for the package and not just Disney +.
PR Manager: I feel that Apple is anti-Netflix: quality over quantity. When I go there, I at least expect something good or well thought out.
Streaming Analyst: I like Apple TV +. They have one of the strongest hit rates in the industry. But it is a service that does not light up the Nielsen lists, even with mentioned programs such as Severance pay. I often wonder if it’s about achieving the goal that Apple had in mind – getting people to use more services, keeping people within the ecosystem, etc. Without a strong library of content or IP to keep people healthy, it still feels like a vanity project.
Producer: For an extraordinary increase in programming on the top shelf. Still overlooked, but probably not for long.
Wall Street Analyst: The content is definitely first class and memorable, just not sure that the subscriber base is large enough or sticky enough to have significance in this market. If it was not Apple, not sure why it would exist.
Studio manager: Some of the best programs, but they still feel overly indexed on sci-fi, and without a library to support growth, it can be limiting.
TV presenter: Two words: Best picture!
Medium: Had a tough year and could not happen to a more arrogant group of people. But they are so far ahead of everyone else when it comes to subscribers, international business and general speed that it feels too early to act as if the wheels are getting off the wagon.
Wall Street Analyst: Still the market leader, still the largest share of viewing time for streaming, so I would be stupid to ignore these features. But: The product flow has been meh, and they have to think new about film and excessive strategy. The introduction of ads will be interesting to see because it is not a layout.
Streaming Analyst: Netflix needs to start relying less on its own internal, self-service, algorithmic data to make as many of its decisions as it does. It is a feedback loop with a closed loop. Data is crucial, but it is a beacon. Netflix needs to focus on longevity development, not just the fast-paced hit.
Producer: There is no denying that there is still a tangle of subscriptions, but the luster is fading. There is a reason why they added the message where they asked if you need help finding something to look at. This is because the aisle with something for everyone has become quite crowded. Feels like they are being beaten with exactly what they have designed: unique script programming. Nevertheless, good marketers should never be underestimated.
Studio manager: You can not count Netflix – the scope and ubiquitous subscriber base is still significant – but they need a strategy that can help them compete with all the new entrants.
PR Manager: With the immortal words of Yogi Berra, no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.
PR Manager: Whatever they pay Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau is not enough. The Star Wars empire strikes back big time with Mandalorianen, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and some great future series. Also, even the “nice” Marvel is still a must-see.
Medium: If you combined it with Hulu, it would feel like HBO Max.
TV presenter: The service seemed pretty thin at launch, but Disney said they would bring the brands to Disney + and they delivered … big time.
Wall Street Analyst: Consistent in its niches, but too limited in terms of content breadth – hard to believe another year apart from Hulu.
Streaming Analyst: My question is whether Disney can still achieve the growth multiples promised to the street, or whether Disney is taking the opportunity to adjust the projections for Disney + subscriber growth. I hope it’s the latter.
Producer: Less is more works. Buzzy content, young appeal, and they’ve figured out an episode drop that makes you come back and still feel like streaming.
Studio manager: The best overall original content and a library that feels worth the monthly fee – but with the new Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav, who is in charge, could, and most likely will, change for a penny.
Medium: Some notable shows, and HBO is still a powerful marketing machine. The jury is out on how Discovery affects them, but guessing the answer will not be good.
Streaming Analyst: HBO Max is an indisputable master of space. The looming question is whether the inclusion of Discovery content will enhance the experience or create an inflated, uncurated, frustrating experience that sacrifices what makes HBO Max great for scaling as quickly as possible.
PR Manager: They’re on a crazy run. It feels like they have at least one culturally relevant show that always happens, sometimes two or three. If you told me I could only keep one, this would be my choice.