Now a new reality dating show coming to Netflix in July has set the online world aflame once again. It’s outlandish, slightly nightmare-inducing, and it might be exactly what the platform needs if it wants to keep HBO Max and Disney+ from gaining on it.
“Sexy Beasts” will test people’s chemistry by dressing up contestants in elaborate costumes and prosthetics, transforming them into creatures like beasts, demons, and dolphins. The participants will then go on blind dates with each other and then make personality-based decisions on who they choose to match with.
Based on the trailer, there’s a “Beauty and the Beast” moment in the end when the couple is revealed to each other in their human, makeup-free forms.
Netflix’s promotional photos of the show, in all of their absurd glory, instantly prompted memes across the internet. You couldn’t log into a social media website Wednesday without spotting the furry and made-up faces of the show’s participants.
“Sexy Beasts” is the latest example of Netflix dropping a new release and immediately taking over the world of pop culture. But it’s also indicative of what Netflix banks heavily on to keep viewers hooked: wild original programming, and the wilder it is, the better.
Netflix defines original content as anything offered exclusively on its platform. That’s been the company’s strength in the streaming market as it competes with Disney+, HBO Max, and Amazon instead of, for example, rounding out its movie selection.
Of course, other platforms have had a similar cultural effect, such as Disney+ with every new Marvel release and HBO Max with its DC content. But those services mainly tether their movies and shows to specific characters. Subscribers love Disney+ because it’s a cozy home to everything Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and more.
And while Netflix also has storyline-driven movies and series, it’s evident with “Sexy Beasts” that the company is determined to keep as many customers entertained as it can with a wide array of content.
That’s because exclusivity will play a bigger role in helping streaming companies get eyeballs – and customers – on their platforms, meaning you may have to sign up for more subscriptions as movies and shows become unique to each platform. Amazon’s $8.45 billion deal for MGM, announced in May, for instance, could be only the start.
“I think really sought-after content where it’s good enough to get somebody to subscribe, a content provider likely wants to have that exclusivity,” Brad Gastwirth, a strategist at Wedbush Securities, told Insider.
Amazon’s MGM deal gives it content to show exclusively
Each streaming platform’s success will in part depend on its arsenal of exclusive content, experts say.
For Disney, that’s its popular Marvel, Pixar, and “Star Wars” brands, as well as its existing intellectual property content, Rahul Patel – an analyst with the UK-based data research firm Ampere Analysis – told Insider. Customers who want to watch content from those brands are likely to shell out the $8 subscription fee for Disney+ since they wouldn’t be able to watch it anywhere else.
For Netflix, which has focused less on its movie selection, that’s its stellar, FOMO-driven original programming, Patel said, like “Bridgerton” and “Tiger King.”
Patel said the recent Amazon and MGM merger would similarly help the tech giant differentiate its streaming platform from rivals. The deal will give Amazon content that viewers can only watch on its Prime service if it chooses to go that route.
“I guess we can assume it will take MGM content off the table for other distributors to offer consumers and offered on an exclusive basis on Amazon,” Patel said. “And that will become part of their strategy to compete with the platforms, which have exclusive basis already.”
For example, “Skyfall,” which was distributed by MGM Studios, is currently on Hulu. It’s unclear how exclusively any MGM content will be offered on Amazon Prime and what licensing deals could keep MGM content available on other services for any period of time after the deal closes.
But if the James Bond film were to hypothetically be pulled from Hulu and offered only on Amazon, the move – as well as future Amazon-MGM projects that are released – could be enough to prompt a “Bond superfan” to buy an $8.99 Prime Video subscription, Patel said.
“‘Skyfall’ being removed from Hulu would perhaps be part of why Amazon would be interested in buying MGM in the first place, “Patel said. “Offering the MGM content exclusively is a big deal and a big part of why they are buying the studio.”
The more exclusive content that streamers offer, the more subscriptions you may have to pay for
Movie companies used to license their content out to the likes of Netflix. But then rights-holders started pulling their content from existing streaming services to offer on their own. Disney, for example, owns Marvel, whose movies were available on Netflix until Disney+ launched in late 2019. Marvel is a huge driver of customers to Disney’s streaming platform, which has more than 100 million global subscribers.
Patel said that’s nothing new. But what is new is studios with popular content that haven’t chosen to go direct to the consumer to date, like MGM Studios and Sony, pairing up with streaming services.
For them, it’s about finding an opportunity to showcase their content, Patel said, and MGM’s merger with Amazon is an example of that. So are the exclusive distribution deals that Sony struck with Netflix and Disney to show the studio’s 2022 movies on the streaming services after their theatrical runs.
Exclusivity will be “a key point when it comes to competitiveness of platforms,” Patel said.
And as streaming services continue to gain favor over traditional TV, media firms are likely happy to oblige, helping further industry consolidation. Film studios without their own streaming service are especially keen on finding a way to get eyeballs on – and monetize – their libraries.
Here are some of the biggest mergers, acquisitions, and deals amongst tech platforms and traditional film companies that have set the stage for the streaming wars.
Disney and 21st Century Fox
Disney bought the film company 21st Century Fox and its decades-old 20th Century Studios subsidiary, in a $71 billion sale that closed in 2019. Disney’s streaming platform, Disney+, launched in December of that year with films like “Never Been Kissed” and “Ever After” available to watch.
Those 21st Century Fox films will join Disney’s already attractive library it built with past acquisitions of LucasFilm -home to “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” – and Marvel.
The Fox deal also gave Disney control of Hulu
Hulu has always had a complicated ownership setup, but Disney now owns a majority of the company and maintains full operations of the streaming platform.
Disney even offers a $13.99 bundle that includes Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.
Netflix announced a deal with Sony in April
The agreement will allow Netflix to offer Sony’s future 2022 films in the US, including installments of the “Spider-Man” franchise with Tom Holland. Other potential future Sony releases could include “Jumanji” and “Ghostbusters.”
After Sony’s movies are released in theatres in 2022, they’ll first go to pay-per-view and then hit Netflix.
As Insider’s Travis Clark reported, the deal gives Sony – which doesn’t have its own streaming platform – an avenue to showcase its films. And it gives Netflix even more theatrical releases to entice paying customers.
Disney will also have Sony movies after Netflix has its turn
The agreement means that future “Spider-Man” movies could eventually call Disney+ home alongside Disney-owned Marvel’s film franchise, which Holland appears in as well.
Sony and Disney ran into a snag in the past over Sony’s movie rights to hundreds of Marvel characters and Disney’s Marvel productions. The solution was for Disney and Sony to agree on the Spider-Man character being allowed to appear in one more standalone film and another Marvel Cinematic Universe installment.
AT&T’s massive WarnerMedia-Discovery merger will create a new streaming giant
The communications giant announced last week that it was spinning off its WarnerMedia content arm, which includes HBO and Warner Bros., both of which AT&T acquired when it bought then-Time Warner for $81 billion in 2018. AT&T plans to merge WarnerMedia with the media company Discovery.
That means content from the two companies’ 100-plus brands, including HGTV and Discovery, would all exist under one umbrella. Such a service could give Netflix, the reigning streaming champ, a run for its money. The deal is expected to close in mid-2022.
Movies include “Silence of the Lambs” starring Anthony Hopkins, “Rocky,” and the extensive James Bond film catalog. Although as Insider’s Travis Clark reported, MGM owns just half of the rights to Bond, with the rest belonging to producers that handle the creative direction of the franchise. That means that it could get tricky if Amazon ever wanted to, say, produce a TV series starring the famous character.
Viacom merged with CBS in 2019 with Paramount already under its belt
Viacom’s acquisition of Paramount may have closed in 1994, but the move set the company up well for what would become the 21st-century streaming wars. So did Viacom’s merger with CBS in 2019.
Netflix launched in 2007 and quickly became a ubiquitous part of household entertainment.
It’s become a household name and an indelible aspect of popular culture. After all, there’s a reason we say “Netflix-and-chill” and not “Hulu-and-chill.”
And while Netflix – and its 200 million global subscribers – retains its place on the streaming throne, the market has become increasingly crowded. Hulu debuted in 2007, and Disney Plus launched 12 years later in late 2019. HBO Max joined the fray in mid-2020 when platforms saw a surge in new signups thanks to the pandemic.
What once seemed like a one-and-done streaming menu – with Netflix being many viewers’ sole streaming platform – has now become an a-la-carte scenario, where customers can mix and match platforms, depending on the offerings they want most.
Over the course of four weeks, I took a closer look at Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, and Disney Plus and put them head-to-head. I compared the apps’ user interfaces and their most appealing selections to decide which ones I could live without.
The bottom line: If I was forced to pick two of the four, it would be Disney Plus and HBO Max. It isn’t that I don’t want or value Netflix and Hulu, the oldest of the bunch. But I’ve grown to love their two competitors so much that I wouldn’t want to let them go.
Each service has unique movies and shows to entice viewers.
For Disney, there will always be an appeal for customers who grew up with classics like “Tarzan” and “Beauty and the Beast.” I still get a rush knowing I have Disney and Pixar’s entire catalog of movies at my fingertips. Disney Plus also has the complete Marvel universe and “Star Wars” franchises.
HBO Max, meanwhile, has its arsenal of licensed programs, like “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City,” and “Game of Thrones,” though the latter is available on other sites as well.
A beloved trilogy is also available on the service – one that many would arguably dish out the subscription fee solely for: the entire “Lord of the Rings” collection, including the extended editions. It’s the only streaming service that currently offers the three movies, though Netflix has in the past.
Hulu has leaned heavily into licensed programs over the years.
That means that older shows, like the ever-popular “Seinfeld,” are available for viewers to binge without cable. It also has an extensive movie selection, as well as things like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” and “Parasite,” which were all big hits in 2020.
And then there’s Netflix, the platform whose releases manage to bring the world together as it did during the pandemic with “Tiger King,” “The Queen’s Gambit,” and “Bridgerton.” When a popular Netflix show drops, it’s difficult to escape the discourse that takes over social media and watercooler conversations.
Perhaps Netflix has always had FOMO working for it, but its dilemma is that other platforms have started to as well with releases like “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”
Netflix and Disney have the best apps for browsing. HBO Max and Hulu’s aren’t so great.
The Netflix experience is smooth, with categories that are appealing and easy to understand, like “Romantic Comedies” and “Movies from the 1990s.” Its “Top 10” program reel is also clean and inviting, and all of its tiles are of similar size, save for its reel promoting Netflix Originals. Netflix also uses a recommendation algorithm to suggest content based on your watching habits, and others like Disney do something similar.
Disney’s is organized and intuitive.
I appreciated how buttons are positioned right at the top to take you to Disney, Pixar, Marvel, or Star Wars’ specific collections. Its categories are also comprehensible, like “Reimagined Classics” featuring the live-action versions of animated oldies (think “Aladdin” and “Mulan.”)
It also has the ever-helpful “Marvel Cinematic Universe in Timeline Order” reel.
HBO Max has some of the best content, but the app layout is wonky and unwelcoming.
The disproportionately sized tiles are irritating, and poorly defined categories like “Underdog Tales” and “Small Town, Dark Secrets” aren’t doing the platform any favors.
HBO Max doesn’t make it easy to find its stellar assortment of movies – you’ve got to hunt for them, but that can be half the fun of opening the app.
Tip: Patiently go through the entire movie collection from A-to-Z and save the ones that even remotely interest you to your watchlist. Then slowly work your way through them over time. Rinse and repeat every now and again.
I’ve rediscovered gems like “Rocky,” “Cold Mountain,” “Independence Day,” “The Mummy,” and Monsterverse movies like “King Kong: Skull Island” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” with that method.
Hulu’s interface has gotten better, but its home screen still irks me.
The movie tiles and categories are incongruous and busy. But when you narrow your search and toggle to Movies or TV, the layout is more streamlined and agreeable.
HBO Max has the most refreshingly unexpected film content.
I grew up in a household with a cable package that included HBO, so my Saturdays consisted of sifting through the channels and giving titles like “A League of Their Own,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Speed,” “13 Going On 30,” and “Practical Magic” a try.
So I’m drawn to HBO Max for what feels like a robust offering of films that I’m familiar with.
Hulu is appealing for a similar reason: it has an entirely different offering of movies that you might have forgotten about, like “No Strings Attached” and “The Wedding Planner.” And like HBO Max and “Lord of the Rings,” Hulu lets me watch one of the all-time greatest classics whenever I want to: Shrek. It’s the only streaming platform that offers the beloved 20-year-old movie and its sequel.
Netflix’s movie selection is not its strongest suit. Instead, the company has emphasized its original TV programming as of late, a feat that it excels at.
Disney’s film selection is stellar, but it’s mostly predictable – subscribers flock to the service because they want Disney, Pixar, and Marvel movies. And thanks to Disney’s 2019 acquisition of 20th Century Studios, there are some good films that I wouldn’t expect to find on the platform, like “Never Been Kissed” and “Ever After.”
I’d give up my Netflix subscription for HBO Max and Disney Plus if I had to.
At the end of the day, looks aren’t everything, which is why HBO Max’s clunky app layout doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s what it offers that interests me the most.
And having my entire childhood VHS Disney collection on a digitized platform is too much of a thrill to abandon.
So if I were hypothetically forced to choose two out of the four platforms, I’d choose HBO Max and Disney Plus.
But the first apps I open in the evening will continue to be either HBO Max or Disney Plus, with Netflix and Hulu acting as supplements.
With so many streaming services to choose from, some may favor others over Netflix – which is why the giant should be worried if viewers ever decide to cut costs in their streaming budgets and narrow their subscriptions.
Netflix said it will spend over $17 billion “in cash” on content this year, according to a Tuesday letter to shareholders.
The company said that expense is contingent upon the continued vaccine roll-out around the world and the safe return to scheduled production. Netflix also said it will “continue to deliver an amazing range of titles for our members with more originals this year than last.”
But Netflix said in its shareholder letter that it anticipates paid membership growth to “re-accelerate” in the second half of the year “with the return of new seasons of some of our biggest hits and an exciting film lineup,” including “a large number of returning franchises.”
Popular programs planned for the back half of 2021 include “Sex Education,” “The Witcher,” “You,” “The Kissing Booth” finale, “Red Notice” starring Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, and “Don’t Look Up.”
Netflix missed its first-quarter subscriber target, adding less than 4 million new customers compared to analysts’ estimates of 6 million.
The streaming giant said it finished Q1 2021 with 208 million paid memberships, according to its shareholder letter released in tandem with its first-quarter earnings report. That number is up 14% year-over-year but is under what was expected to be 210 million paid memberships. The company said the missed subscriber target is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe paid membership growth slowed due to the big Covid-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to Covid-19 production delays,” the company wrote in the shareholder letter.
Netflix saw record new users throughout 2020 as people, driven into their homes, sought social distancing-friendly means of entertainment. But the platform, as well as other streaming services, has seen a dip in original content – down 12 % from last year – in recent months since production was stalled in 2020 due to safety protocols. Netflix said membership growth has slowed because there were fewer programs to debut.
However, Netflix said it anticipates a “strong second half with the return of new seasons of some of our biggest hits and an exciting film lineup.”
Netflix also said it did not believe that competing streaming platforms played a role in the company’s Q1 results and said it expects 1 million new paid memberships in the second quarter of 2021.
“In the short-term, there is some uncertainty from Covid-19; in the long-term, the rise of streaming to replace linear TV around the world is the clear trend in entertainment,” Netflix said in the letter.
Netflix stock was down 10% after the company released its first-quarter earnings report.