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Into the Spider-Verse is leaving Netflix, and it plays into 2020’s biggest streaming problem

End-of-year turnover is always rough, and it’s going to get worse

Image: Sony Pictures Animation

Two of the biggest movies people want to talk about this week are Wonder Woman 1984 and Pixar’s Soul, but there’s another film that can’t be missed: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Sony’s critically acclaimed 2018 animated superhero movie, which saw Miles Morales step into the web slinger’s suit and save the world with the help of a few other Spider-beings, is leaving Netflix on December 25th. That’s two days from now. It’s also unclear where Into the Spider-Verse will end up. Sony doesn’t have a major streaming platform, and none of the other big streamers — HBO Max, Disney Plus, Peacock, Apple TV Plus, or Amazon Prime Video — have announced that it’s arriving.

Streaming shuffles aren’t new. Movies and TV shows leave Netflix (or Hulu, or HBO Max) every single month. Ephemerality has defined streaming for years. It’s why sites like JustWatch have found massive success, helping people who flock to Google to find out where the movie they watched on HBO Max has wound up, or why tweet threads about the importance of physical media pop up every single week. (This is where I plug buying Blu-rays if possible, especially because streaming also coincides with impermanence, and titles can seemingly be edited at whim.)

Year endings also tend to see more titles leave likely because more licenses expire. This is where 2020 becomes especially interesting; it’s the beginning of big, noticeable exclusivity plays. Before HBO Max, Disney Plus, and Peacock launched, the rights owners were prepared to license their titles to the major streamers.

It’s a lucrative business — if you don’t have your own streamer. Netflix paid a reported $300 million for first-run Disney movies in 2012 (although the deal didn’t kick in until 2016). It was a major milestone moment; Netflix beat out Showtime and Starz for that premium window offering. That “Pay 1 window” becomes a bidding war; think of how movies go from theaters to Blu-ray / digital retailers, and then wind up on HBO before they’re played on broadcast networks like ABC. Netflix signed a similar deal in 2013 with DreamWorks Animation. Back in the early days of the streaming bonanza, it was also fantastic for subscribers. With new mega deals, and one of the biggest TV libraries available that included shows from every major network, Netflix had basically everything people needed.

Everything’s changed now. Netflix is far from the only streamer on the block, and in the United States specifically, it’s facing several waves of new competition. In 2019, television research group Ampere Analysis noted that about 20 percent of Netflix’s library included titles from NBCUniversal, Fox, Disney, and WarnerMedia. Three of those companies have since publicly announced the importance of building their own streaming services, taking back much of the content they’ve licensed out to Netflix and other streamers and adding it exclusively to their own products. (The fourth company, Fox, got swallowed up by Disney.) It’s not just Netflix, but Netflix remains the quintessential example. Netflix’s library is literally shrinking — something executives have effectively shrugged off as Netflix pushes into making more original series and films than ever before.

That change is as clear as day when looking at Netflix’s list of titles leaving by the end of the year. All seasons of The West Wing? Gone. You’ll have to sign up for HBO Max to view those. The Office? Going to need a Premium Peacock subscription to watch any episode from season three through its finale. Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 is about to become a Disney Plus exclusive, while Dexter and Nurse Jackie will likely find their way to Showtime’s OTT service or whatever Paramount Plus is going to be. (More details on that in the new year.) For those doing the math at home, that means instead of spending $14 a month to watch all of those shows, it’ll now cost approximately $45 a month.

Movies and TV shows from content owners may still end up on Netflix. NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS have spoken about the importance of licensing while setting up their streaming businesses. But the biggest titles, the ones that executives think people will sign up for, will remain exclusive.

For companies like Disney and WarnerMedia, it makes sense. I’m sure people are watching Friends on HBO Max; whether it’s driving subscriber growth remains to be seen. Other titles that WarnerMedia doesn’t need exclusively get sold off somewhere else — like Rick and Morty, which is also on Hulu. It’s a similar deal with ViacomCBS, which licensed South Park to WarnerMedia (it now streams on HBO Max) for more than $500 million. Eventually, the rights will revert back to the original content holders, and they’ll do another calculus as to where South Park can make them the most money.

What’s impossible to ignore, however, is how much our streaming experiences have changed in less than a decade. It used to be that if you wanted to watch something, there was a 90 percent chance Netflix had it. If Netflix didn’t, it was probably on Hulu. Now, it practically takes a college degree in content ownership.

All of which is a long way of saying, “Who knows where Into the Spider-Verse will end up?” So, if you want to watch it on Netflix, do it now.