About Streaming Competition

Fast Company’s Austin Carr reporting on a joint venture from Verizon and Redbox on Tuesday:

The service will be launched in internal alpha testing today, followed by a beta program in the coming months before the streaming service goes live later this year. It will be branded Redbox Instant by Verizon; it will combine access to physical and digital content; and the [joint venture] will be led by newly appointed CEO Shawn Strickland, who previously worked as a vice president in Verizon’s FiOS business. Such a set up indicates the partnership will rely mostly on Redbox’s branding, which mimics competitors Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant, while taking advantage of Verizon’s network infrastructure.

Doug Stephen, commenting on the news:

More players and more popularity also means more pressure on content providers to adopt alternative distribution. These are all great things for consumers.

Competition is good for consumers, but I don’t think streaming is necessarily where we need more competition. In his excellent book, Pandora’s Digital Box, David Bordwell makes a compelling argument that the film industry is run as an oligopoly, with the studios and major theater chains acting as rulers. For some time, the theater chains were even able to stifle streaming so as not to eat into their business model. Things are changing, but slowly.

It seems to me that we now have a preponderance of streaming services to choose from which yields mostly trepidation over which horse to bet on. Yes, in some cases these services compete on price and everybody wins with lower bills or better features. However, for the most part streaming services compete for exclusive content. All of a sudden we end up with two, three, four services we need to keep paying for every month.

Competition needs to happen at the top. Filmmakers and distributors need to challenge the studio system and get work out there that isn’t tied up in the awkward gerrymandering of streaming exclusivity. We can already stream six ways to Sunday, but if we really want to move into the future, we need to challenge those who make the films. That competition would be better for consumers.