Whether you’re trying to decipher your HBO Go from your HBO Max, figuring out if Hulu is included with your Disney Plus bundle, or scratching your head over whatever Peacock is supposed to be, you’re not alone. Even FX Networks chairman John Landgraf has acknowledged how confusing the current streaming landscape is for general consumers.
Landgraf spoke to reporters on Wednesday about the network and the industry-at-large, and spent some time addressing FX’s earlier partnership with Hulu. Under Disney’s ownership of the network, FX has found a new home on Disney-owned Hulu. The hope is that FX’s slate of critically acclaimed series will help bring in new Hulu subscribers and reduce the amount of customers looking to cancel. That has also brought with it some confusion. Certain shows are FX on Hulu exclusives, while other FX shows continue to air on the cable network. Meanwhile, some FX shows are still on Netflix because of preexisting deals. And that’s just one network example.
“I think this is a confusing time for consumers,” Landgraf said. “I’m hearing that from time to time, too.”
Part of the issue is there are “probably too many brands, too many channels, [and] too many locations” for people to have to sift through, Landgraf said. While this is a problem he believes will ultimately resolve itself, it’s impossible to ignore how much effort navigating the different streaming services can require. Even removing the countless original series and films coming out from every major (and minor) streaming service, keeping up with massive tentpole franchises is complicated, too.
“I think this is a confusing time for consumers”
Take Harry Potter: WarnerMedia made a big show of touting the series, which it owns, as streaming on HBO Max when Max launched in May. A few months later, the entire Harry Potter collection left, moving to NBCUniversal’s Peacock. The movies will stream there for a few months before moving to NBCUniversal’s broadcast television channels, and then move back to Peacock. This is a practice called windowing — and while it’s existed for decades, the era of direct-to-consumer entertainment means audiences are more aware of where programming is, and when it leaves, then they might have previously, flipping through 500 channels in their cable package.
(Disclaimer: NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast, which is an investor in Vox Media, which owns The Verge.)
Landgraf spoke to this, suggesting that there’s really “no such thing as a television brand.” There are only “television locations.” He summed up his theory by pointing to streaming as two classes: the streaming products that people buy (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, HBO Max) and the brands that exist within those products (Marvel, Lucasfilm, HBO, Adult Swim, FX).
There are streamers where there is no difference between the product and the brand, like Netflix. Netflix is both the brand (a Netflix original) and the location. This is the easiest for people to follow. If something is a Netflix original show or movie, it’s only going to be on Netflix. (This can sometimes change in international territories, however, driving home another layer of confusion.) Then there are streamers where the product is not necessarily synonymous with the brand. Hulu, for example. Hulu houses many brands, FX included. But Hulu as a product is not necessarily synonymous with its content offering — one that many have argued is the best available right now.
“A platform can be one thing and a brand can be something that resides on a platform”
“What I don’t know is, over time, will consumers become comfortable with or figure out the notion that platforms and brands can either be the same thing, like Amazon and Netflix, or separate things?” Landgraf said. “A platform can be one thing and a brand can be something that resides on a platform.”
Disney has “made a decision to structure their platforms” the latter way, Landgraf added, noting that early indications with subscriber numbers suggest “that has been a really good outcome.” Disney’s brands might be separate tiers, but similar to Netflix, those franchises are woven into the very fabric of Disney’s identity. Marvel Studios, Pixar, and Lucasfilm are synonymous with Disney. Now, Disney is trying to do the same with FX on Hulu.
It’s more difficult for HBO Max to try to market its brands, which include Studio Ghibli in the United States, when the HBO Max banner really only screams one particular brand: HBO. Landgraf noted that HBO started as a location (a channel) and became a brand; HBO is synonymous with quality television even more so than a premium cable channel. WarnerMedia then used the brand and “turned it into a new location,” creating HBO Max.
Still, Landgraf is optimistic the issue will sort itself out. It might take a few years as the new streamers find their footing and subscribers, but he’s optimistic some of the confusion will go away in the long run.