How Many Subs Do You Pay For?
A question for the class: How price sensitive are you when it comes to streaming subs?
I ask because, as Alyssa Rosenberg argued on the bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle this week, she and I (and our cohost Peter) are, well, “rich weirdos.” I mean, we’re not Elon-rich in the sense that we’re not “sexually harass someone on our private jet and offer to buy them a horse so they’ll stay quiet”-rich. (We’re also probably not Elon weird.) But we are in stable, well-paying jobs that, importantly, require us to utilize a lot of these services and, in some cases, allow us to either expense them or write them off on our taxes.
My point, simply, is that we’re not making a household budget that tightly monitors “entertainment expenses.” But there are lots of folks out there who are, particularly at a time when gas and food expenses are going through the roof thanks to inflation and other factors. As new, and painful, costs hit consumers where they feel it most regularly—in the grocery store checkout and during their weekly fill up at the gas station—they start thinking about ways to cut costs elsewhere. Where could they easily save $20 a month?
The question comes to mind given a report in The Information that Netflix cancellations are up among long-time subscribers.
“For at least the past two years, most people canceling their Netflix accounts had been subscribers for less than a year, according to Antenna,” reports Jessica Toonkel. “People who had been subscribers for more than three years accounted for just 5% of total cancellations at the start of 2020. But that percentage has risen steadily over the past couple of years, hitting 13% in the first quarter. Newbie subscribers, meantime, accounted for only 60% of cancellations in the quarter, down from 64% in the fourth quarter.”
Here's how I read this data: losing the people who have subscribed for less than a year is simply part of the business, the annoying “churn” (that is, people signing up and canceling depending on what’s available/new) of owning a streaming service; losing longtime subscribers, however, is a different, more troubling problem altogether. And it’s one that’s only going to increase as a.) Netflix loses its first-mover advantage because b.) more options enter the streaming fray and c.) they are priced more competitively.
I mean, for the cost of Netflix at its most expensive—the premium 4K plan, which runs $20 a month—you could basically get HBO Max’s ad-free tier and Disney+ ($23). If you get the ad-included tier of HBO Max, it’s only $18. Or you could get Paramount+ and the Hulu/Disney+/ESPN+ bundle for $24 a month, combined. Add the free tier of Peacock for $0 if you want to feel really rich. Apple TV+ is maybe the best deal in streaming at $5 per month; combined with HBO Max at $15 per month and you’re looking at two services with about 15 must-watch shows over the last 18 months between them offering you 4K service at no increased cost without advertisements … all for the same price as Netflix.
My point, simply, is this: Things are going to get worse for Netflix before they get better if longtime subscribers are forced by economic circumstances to think long and hard about how they spend their entertainment dollars. Netflix is too expensive and offers too few must-watch properties to be a constant presence on their televisions.
This week I reviewed Men, which is a very weird movie. I’m still not sure if it’s weird-good or weird-bad.
RIP Vangelis. Everyone can hum the theme of Chariots of Fire, but the soundtrack for Blade Runner is one of the towering achievements of 1980s cinema. Pure vibes.
Last week I briefly mentioned that Fred Ward had died; luckily my pal Bill Ryan was able to put together a more thoughtful tribute. I love Bill’s description of Fred Ward as “a brilliant interpreter of the many layers of American male normalcy,” as it really captures why his everyman presence worked in so many different milieus and with so many different directors.
As I mentioned a few weeks back, this email is an Avatar stan account now. Over at the Washington Post, I explained why it should hold up nicely in a theatrical environment that has changed radically in the last decade-plus.
How excited are America’s Dad’s for Top Gun: Maverick? Find out during my summer movie preview with Frank Pallotta.
This is not really entertainment-industry related, I guess, but I wanted to share it because I think it’s important: if you go to a nice restaurant, wear nice clothes. Stop dressing like bums when you’re out and about. Thank you, please carry on.
“If you’re a pop culture writer or critic, don’t blame ‘the algorithm.’ Blame Netflix’s development execs for greenlighting and making subpar TV shows.” Always read the Entertainment Strategy Guy.
Not a link, but: I saw the new Firestarter so you don’t have to. And you don’t want to, trust me. Bad movie. Bad movie! Looks like it was shot for a basic-cable TV network in the early-00s. Avoid.
Assigned Viewing: ‘The Kids in the Hall’ (Prime Video)
We all have weird triggers in our brain, those little snippets of something that spark sense-memory of a different, better time. One such trigger for me is television theme songs, particularly early-90s television theme songs. The opening chords of “Hey Sandy” by Polaris—the song that kicked off Nickelodeon’s indie-tween show, The Adventures of Pete and Pete—never fails to prompt a soft, gauzy grin:
The theme song for The Kids in the Hall hits a very similar sweet spot:
There’s something about the jangly, surf-rockish guitar chords leading into the faster-paced drum rolls that gets the comedy juices flowing.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a Kids in the Hall obsessive or anything, but I watched more than my fair share when the show was on rotation on Comedy Central’s daytime hours in the mid-to-late-90s. (“Girl Drink Drunk,” a cautionary tale about the dangers of sugar-infused beverages decorated with tiny umbrellas, remains my favorite bit.)
My point, simply, is that when I heard the opening chords of “Having an Average Weekend” by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet on Prime Video’s reboot of the Canadian comics’ wonderful sketch show, I broke into that gauzy, involuntary grin, the one that calls to mind cool basements and good times with friends who were, well, just a little off in the head. I guess what I’m saying is that I was inclined to love this from the get-go, so you should take my recommendation with a grain of salt, but man: it’s nice having these guys back in the world of sketch comedy.
I pay for Netflix, Disney+ (annual subscription) and Amazon Prime. And Apple TV+ when a new season of "Ted Lasso" is out. I had a free trial of Paramount+ for a month and watched...precisely nothing.
Eventually I hope to get to the point where I'm subscribing to one service per month and alternating.
I’m price sensitive to streaming subscriptions, but my primary consideration is how often I use the service. I dumped Netflix after its most recent price hike because I rarely watch programs on Netflix. If there is new season of Narcos, I’d consider subscribing for a while, but the current content doesn’t justify the price. I can rent and stream 3-4 movies for what Netflix costs, and I’d rather do that. The services we subscribe to in order of most watched to least watched: HBO Max, Apple TV, Peacock, Amazon Prime (which is much more than a streaming service), and Hulu. I also subscribe to ESPN +, but that is primarily for access to paywalled articles and UFC ( I read about sports but rarely watch anything but UFC/MMA, and then rarely). I also take advantage of free trials, which are great if one remembers to cancel ( I usually do). The Pod with Peter and Alyssa is great!!!