By the end of the year 2020, it’s very possible that families will treat their Netflix accounts the way we all thought of MySpace by 2010. I can’t prove this, and predicting the future is often a fool’s game at worst, and fodder for misguided science fiction at best. And yet, after Disney announced its new streaming bundle on Tuesday, it seems like Netflix is existing at that moment at the end of a Mortal Kombat fight when that creepy video game voice yells “FINISH HIM.” Netflix has about a year left of being super relevant for families.
First of all. I’m not happy about Netflix quickly becoming irrelevant; mostly because I don’t think contemporary slang can really stand the phrase “Hulu and Chill.” People will still refer to Netflix in reverent tones after it dies a swift death. Will I be one of those people? Sure. And after a few glasses of $10 grocery store wine, I will even recall fondly the days before Netflix was streaming and it was just the place where you mailed DVDs at a post office box and they sent DVDs back to you. But none of this will matter. As the Portlandia guy declared back in the heyday of those Netflix envelopes; Netflix IS OVER.
Here’s why. On Tuesday, the highly-anticipated streaming service Disney+ revealed a new streaming bundle consisting of Disney+, Hulu and ESPN. This will cost $12.99 a month, which is the exact same price as the standard HD two-screen plan for Netflix right now. Right there, families who are planning on getting Disney+ can do the math. With Disney+ you get the entire vault of Disney animated movies streaming, plus a smattering of Marvel movies, Star Wars movies, and yeah, that new Star Wars TV show — The Mandalorian — that starts streaming on November 12. (This show is being run by Jon Favreau by the way, you know the guy who directed the first Iron Man? Anyway, I digress. You get it. This streaming service is big.)
So, families were already going to pony-up the $6.99 a month for Disney+, but now that you can fold-in Hulu and ESPN, too, it’s a no brainer. Hulu is kind of like a lame version of Netflix anyway, right?
Actually, going forward, Hulu is totally poised to do what Netflix does for people only better. This is true for two reasons; original programming and old shows and movies.
Let’s start with old shows and movies first, because, for most people — and particularly for families — it’s the whole reason you have something like Netflix. You can watch re-runs of Friends or The Office endlessly. You can remind yourself how great Cheers was. You get it. But, by January 2021, The Office won’t be on Netflix anymore, because NBC is yanking the show off. And you can bet good money this will keep happening with even more old-school shows; which is what people in the business like to grossly call “library content.” But, guess who already has old-school sitcoms — from Seinfeld to Broad City —streaming on its platform? Yep. Hulu. And, now that Hulu is controlled by Disney (which is also ABC and Fox) it’s a good bet that even more old TV shows you like will migrate over to Hulu. Even some new big network TV shows — like Fox’s sci-fi show The Orville — will switch to being Hulu-only in 2020.
Families also rely on Netflix for a library of kids’ movies, too, which overwhelmingly means Disney and Pixar movies. While not all Disney and Pixar movies will be yanked from Netflix on the Disney+ launch date of November 12, eventually, Netflix will likely exist in a universe where it simply can’t have Incredibles 2 and Mary Poppins Returns, to say nothing of The Last Jedi or other Star Wars movies. In short, by the end of 2020, all the Disney movies you watch with your kids, will, for the most part, no longer be on Netflix. Or if there are Disney movies there, it won’t be the good stuff.
Okay, but what about original programming? People will still want Netflix because of all the cool and hip Netflix original shows like Russian Doll, right? What about Stranger Things and Black Mirror? Well, that’s a good point, but I would wager that most families care less about using Netflix for original programming as they do for older stuff. In other words, if I’m only subscribing to Netflix to see the next season of Stranger Things or Black Mirror, I might just cancel my membership, and then get a new one for the month those shows come out and then, you know, cancel it again. Imagine you didn’t have a Netflix account last month, but you wanted to watch Stranger Things and Black Mirror. Well, because all the episodes are dropped at the same time, you could get a 3o-day-trial Netflix account, and then cancel the sucker after you watched the new episodes you wanted to see.
Though it was hot for a while, the binge-model for new shows no longer has the same novelty it had back when Netflix was first pumping out these big shows. (Also, in 2016, Stranger Things was a sleeper hit, nobody thought it was going to be huge before it was.) The point is, HBO would have never dropped entire seasons of Game of Thrones at the same time because it would have totally devalued the show. Ditto for Disney+ with the new Star Wars show and ditto for Hulu and its original programming. The Handmaid’s Tale (a Hulu original) sometimes drops two new episodes at the same time, but not entire seasons. Meaning, people have to keep their subscriptions longer in they want to watch the new shows they love.
But again, families mostly don’t care about the latest show. We really want to watch stuff we want to watch, and if the trifecta of Disney+, Hulu and ESPN can tick most of those boxes, then Netflix will very quickly become nothing but a fond memory.
If anything, Netflix may want to double-down on the mail-order side of the business. Because if we can’t get a certain movie on streaming and we want to watch it on DVD, where else do we turn? I’d pony-up $6 bucks a month to walk down memory lane with a red envelope in my hand for a special trip to the post office. So, if Netflix wants to stay relevant, that’s my advice: Make “Netflix and Chill” be all about getting outside to put an envelope in a mailbox. Otherwise, they’ve got nothing.
Disney+ launches on November 12.