CTRL: Disney Plus Closes the Book on the Golden Age of Streaming

I used to be a wide-eyed millennial, equipped with the power of my parent’s Netflix account password and enchanted with the belief that I’d never have to worry about stupid cable packages to binge my favorite shows. I always understood that some things, such as HBO’s Game of Thrones, would never be on Netflix, but those were fringe cases and I’d pretty much be set on everything else. 

For a while, it really felt like basically everything was on Netflix, from movies, to documentaries to TV shows. Once Hulu and Amazon Prime Video launched, things started to get a little different. Hulu initially seemed like a cheap Netflix clone (and let’s be honest, Amazon Prime Video kind of still does), but has since been able to leverage the resources of its titan majority owners Disney and Comcast to claw out a piece of the streaming pie for itself.

Even after the rise of Hulu, most of us still believed we could get by with just Netflix and the occasional Hulu free-trial on a new email. Even then, chances were you’d know at least one person with Netflix and one person with Hulu, giving you enough coverage to watch anything you wanted.

Unfortunately, that’s since changed. Hulu demonstrated that Netflix’s monopoly was penetrable, and the Netflix clones have continuously multiplied from that chink in the giant’s armor. Sure, none of these platforms have been able to cover quite as many well-known titles as Netflix, but in recent years, production companies have become more and more reluctant to give out rights to their properties. Instead, many of these companies have opted to develop in-house streaming platforms, such as HBO’s “HBO Now,” and Showtime’s “Showtime Anytime.” 

Even more common are providers who, instead of creating an independent streaming service, strike deals with third-party streaming providers (such as Amazon Prime Video) to sell their content as an added package. For example, AMC content might technically be on Prime Video, but it’ll still cost you extra, even if you are a Prime Video subscriber. 

Slowly, these first-party streaming services and package deals have stratified the availability of content on cover-all streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, forcing the two to invest more and more into original content production. The new status quo of streaming is becoming clear—no one wants to share their content with streaming providers when they can simply provide that content to viewers directly.

Disney+ is direct evidence of this emerging status quo, effectively ushering in the end of the streaming age we’ve grown to love. Want to watch anything ever made by Disney? Well, then you’re going to have to pay $6.99 a month for access to Disney+, because soon enough you won’t find any of their content on Netflix, Hulu or anywhere else for that matter. 

If that doesn’t seem significant to you, then you might want to read my recent CTRL column from September where I outlined just how much cultural capital Disney has gained control of in recent years. Trust me, you’ll be noticing it soon when it’s gone.

We’re approaching a situation where just having access to a couple of streaming services—much less one—isn’t enough to get the content you want. If you want to stay up to date on the biggest shows, and you’re also a sports fan, you’ll probably need Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Disney+ and either Sling or ESPN+. 

And that’s not even mentioning other big-time or upcoming services like YouTube TV, Apple TV, CBS All Access and AT&T’s WarnerMedia. The number of streaming services is about to become untenable, and the only logical next step is bundles or packages combining multiple services into economically viable deals. In other words—the cable-killer is beginning to look a lot like cable.