Big media companies are getting a lot bigger. AT&T and Time Warner are in the process of merging, despite the Department of Justice’s best efforts, and Disney finally beat out Comcast for control of 21st Century Fox. Of course, Comcast already owns NBC Universal and Illumination studios (proud home of the Minions franchise), so it’s not doing too bad on its own. Nearly every company is getting bigger and more vertically integrated.
At the same time, nearly every company that makes video is finding its way into the streaming media business. Disney is planning its own Netflix competitor for 2019, backed by content holdings like Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. AT&T plans to launch its own Time-Warner focused equivalent around the same time. Similar competitors from Amazon and Comcast are already taking shape. With the streaming subscription business growing this fast, everyone wants a piece — and they’re ready to fight for it.
That fight will have real implications for consumers as studios pull back licensed content and silo it into paid subscriptions. Right now, a single Netflix subscription will get you Marvel movies and DC shows alongside in-house originals — but soon, both of those may leave for parent-company subscriptions at Disney and Time Warner respectively. It’s a kind of streaming Cold War, as each company tries to leverage its own franchises into a standalone subscription bundle.
It’s too early to say exactly what that will look like. It could be good news for specific fandoms, with skinny bundles letting you zero in on all the Star Trek or Lucasfilm content. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep up on everything, get ready to pay a lot more monthly fees.
Disclosure: Comcast holds a minority investment in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.