Brainiac On Banjo #040: Stream On, Big Media, Stream On…

Frequent readers of Brainiac On Banjo (seriously; there must be something better for you to do) have been absorbing my incessant prattle about streaming media for a while now. Yeah, I think it’s important. Streaming is bringing about the biggest sea-change to the entertainment world since we dropped the atom bomb.

“Really?” you might ask. “Bigger than television? Bigger than VCRs/DVRs? Even bigger than microwave popcorn? Why?” Well, that’s a fair question, and thank you for asking.

It took television a while to become big. In constant dollars, tiny TV sets cost a lot of money, the image was low-resolution and often full of “ghost” images, and the youngest person in the room had to stand by the set holding the antenna in the proper position in order to watch anything. The sundry video recorders, mechanical and virtual, freed the viewer from a strict allegiance to the clock, and microwave popcorn saved Indiana from certain economic doom.

Steaming has taken time-control one step further: content creators no longer have to fight for a Donald Trump-sized handful of open slots on the broadcast networks. Cable television no longer is a monopoly unless it is your only source of wi-fi. It’s launched an employment boon for actors, producers, writers and other such entertainment reprobates.

“Do I think that’s good or bad?” you might now ask. That’s another good question; thank you. My answer is – I don’t know, but it I don’t think it matters. In a couple more years we’ll probably start abandoning streaming services for something else. I don’t know what; ever since the 1967 movie The President’s Analyst, one of the most prescient films ever made, I’ve been waiting for brain nanotech that will provide instant, wireless communication and allow Google and Facebook to copy our innermost thoughts. You can’t stop the future… although we can try.

This week’s big media war is between two companies about to jump into this river. They are the two largest media empires – again, this week – and they are so humongous even Forrest Tucker is telling them to keep their pants on.

Disney, owners of Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, ABC, ESPN, 20th Century Fox, and a mouse and a duck, announced their service will cost a mere $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year… at least to begin with. They’ve already started work on their original programming for their November launch, and they’re strip-mining their possessions from their present holdings for steaming fodder. I, for one, am looking forward to their Loki series starring Tim Huddleston.

AT&T is the other one, and they now possess something called “WarnerMedia” which used to be the profitable parts of Time Warner, nee Time Warner AOL, nee Warner Communications. They possess DC Comics as well as HBO, Warner Bros, DirecTV, CNN, TNT, New Line Cinema, Castle Rock, Turner Entertainment, the Cartoon Network, a chunk of The CW, and a realty business.

As of this typing, they have yet to announce their brand-new programming, but they have told us the cost: about $16 or $17 a month. This includes HBO and Cinemax. They are keeping vewy vewy quiet about their DC Universe, and HBO Now paid streaming services. Assuming they role those services into their new mega-streamer, it’s not very expensive to those who already pay for both, but it’s a bitch if you don’t take either. I’ll bet this all gets fine-tuned before their launch. DirecTV Now, which lost a great many of its customers during its short life, is expected to be rolled into this new thing, somehow.

My guess is that Disney’s service will: 1) eventually change its name from Disney+, and 2) be a big hit even if they don’t, if they keep to that price point. But AT&T has a taller building to leap. Netflix might lose a lot of its base to these two, but they’ll still be around pumping out more new product than you can watch in Vandal Savage’s lifetime. CBS All-Access is doing rather well with its limited programming, and it should do better if CBS and Viacom (Paramount) merge once again.

The question is, how much are viewers willing to pay in the aggregate for these services? Even if they cut the cable, they’ll still need good wi-fi. And a good job.

Perhaps the most entertaining event programming we will see in 2020 – outside of the presidential election, of course – will be the most unintentional comedy of them all: Streaming Wars!