By Jon Swartz
The sharks are circling Netflix Inc., and they smell blood in the water.
Blood as in hemorrhaging users and a stock in freefall. Its salvation, ironically, may be a gangster epic that looks like a heavy Oscar favorite.
The start of the traditional fall TV season in late September has been teeming with ads for new streaming services from Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +0.48% and Walt Disney Co. /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -1.31% , both of which debut in November. Comcast Corp.’s /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA -0.10% NBCUniversal service and AT&T Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +0.14% HBO Max are due in spring 2020.
The onslaught of content could be as overwhelming for consumers as the cutthroat competition is among the combatants.
Keeping track of what program plays on what service is tough enough. Adding to the acrimony, Disney is banning Netflix ads across its TV networks, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. (Disney, Comcast and AT&T are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising over the next year to promote their new streaming-video services. Netflix spent $1.8 billion on advertising last year.) Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger resigned from Apple’s board in September on the same day Apple announced pricing for its streaming service.
It all makes for must-see streaming-TV as Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +1.31% kicks off the earnings season among the principal combatants next week.
What we might learn about each of the major players during earnings season:
(See sidebar.) Earnings will be reported Oct. 16.
AT&T Inc. (Oct. 23)
AT&T’s as-yet-unpriced HBO Max, due in spring 2020, is the new streaming home of “Friends” and an exhaustive list of original shows and movies from the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Joss Whedon, Jordan Peele, Stephen King, and producer Greg Berlanti (“Dawson’s Creek,” “Riverdale”). It also owns the exclusive rights to “Sesame Street.”
Top-quality, yes. But how does it coexist with HBO Now, and does it water down the HBO brand?
Many of the people who made HBO a powerhouse have departed, though HBO Max has poached executives from Nickelodeon and Disney to oversee family programming, the CEO of Otter Media to handle digital.
Amazon.com Inc. (Oct. 24)
Amazon Prime Video, which starts at $12.99 a month, has been Netflix’s main rival until nearly every major content provider made the plunge into streaming. It’s got plenty of content — Thursday Night Football, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and the new anthology series “Modern Love” starring Tina Fey and Anne Hathaway — if you can find them in its clumsy interface.
This is one of the criticisms of Amazon, thought it remains the No. 2 streaming service after Netflix.
Amazon Prime Video will close out 2019 as the second-largest subscription OTT service provider with 96.5 million viewers, up 9% from 2018, according to eMarketer. By 2021, Amazon Prime Video’s audience is expected to equal a third of the U.S. population, eMarketer said.
In comparison, Netflix is expected to reach 158.8 million viewers by the end of 2019, eMarketer said.