Customers will be the biggest winners in the upcoming streaming wars as there will be plenty of free stuff and very deep discounts in Apple, Disney and AT&T’s WarnerMedia challenge to Netflix with their emerging plans. HBO Max will land in May 2020 and existing HBO subscribers will be getting the best deal.
That includes a free year of Apple TV Plus for customers of new Apple devices and a free year of Disney Plus to higher-tier Verizon customers. Some existing HBO subscribers will also get the supercharged version, HBO Max, at no additional cost.
Experts say these services can worry later about holding onto customers — perhaps by offering must-see shows they can’t get anywhere else or tying discounts to other services that are difficult to drop.
“Next year is a race to aggregate consumers,” said Kevin Westcott, who heads Deloitte’s U.S. telecommunication, media and entertainment consulting business. “The first war is getting them to sign up for a service. The second war is retaining them.”
The new services have to attract users with marketing blitzes and the promise of original shows and movies, then build a big enough library of old favorites to help keep them. Already, HBO Max will have “Friends ” exclusively, and Disney is taking back its older movies from Netflix.
A lot of shows and movies won’t be available at launch but will be added over time. Free helps in the meantime.
Netflix has spent years building up its 158 million subscribers worldwide. Hulu has 28 million. The new players want to ramp up subscribers quickly to show they can compete.
So the services have launched the digital equivalent of the old cable promos: lure you in with discounted rates, then jack up the price after a year or two. But digital customers have more choices than cable customers of yore so a big question is whether they’ll stick around.
Apple TV Plus debuts Friday for $5 a month with just nine shows and a few more coming soon. It’s already cheaper than the $13 a month Netflix charges for its most popular plan. Buyers of any new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac or iPod Touch get a year for free. That suggests a market of 40 million customers, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said.
Disney Plus, which arrives Nov. 12, is also cheaper than Netflix at $7 a month. Disney struck a deal with Verizon to give customers of all unlimited wireless plans and some home-internet customers a free year. Members of Disney’s free D23 fan club were also eligible to buy three years of Disney Plus service up front for the price of two years. Disney is targeting 60 million to 90 million worldwide by 2024.
AT&T’s HBO Max, which launches in May for $15 a month, is the most expensive of the new services. That could make it tough for AT&T to reach its goal of 50 million U.S. customers and 75 million to 90 million worldwide by 2025.
But AT&T will make the service free for about 10 million existing HBO subscribers, or about a third of its U.S. subscribers. HBO Max will also be included with AT&T’s higher-tier wireless and broadband offerings.
“I don’t think customers are going to have to make difficult choices about cutting one in order to add another for the first few years,” said MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett.
But companies can’t run the services at a loss forever, and when discounts end and prices rise, customers may flee. After all, the services add up fast, and signing up to multiple ones could end up costing as much as the cable packages people are ditching for streaming.
There’s a lesson to be drawn from the latest TV-industry attempt to counter cord-cutting. Cable-like online packages like Sling TV and YouTube TV have ended discounts or raised prices, causing customers to flee and new sign-ups to slow down. Sony announced Tuesday that it will quit offering PlayStation Vue, one of the first to challenge traditional TV packages.
Even the dominant player isn’t immune. Netflix has raised prices slowly, which helped shield it from price shock, but its latest small increase has hurt customer growth.
Westcott, the Deloitte consultant, compared the streaming promotions to efforts to lure wireless customers from competing companies.
T-Mobile has long offered Netflix free to many customers. Verizon includes six free months of Apple Music with some of its unlimited plans. Many offer other deals like paying off your phone early or getting a phone for free if you switch.
“They were constantly looking for ways to steal you off other players,” he said.
How will these services keep users once they’ve reeled them in?
The companies can constantly refresh their services with new shows and movies, Diffusion Group president Michael Greeson said.
Cathy Yao, an analyst at Diamond Hill Capital Management, also said companies can try to create “stickiness” by bundling the services with other products and services so a customer is less inclined to unsubscribe.
For example, including HBO Max with wireless and broadband services will make consumers more likely to stick around for all three, Yao said. It’s similar to how Amazon packages its streaming service with its $119-a-year Prime loyalty program.
Ultimately, content will be king, experts say. The services are investing billions into creating new shows and building up their libraries to find or create the next “Stranger Things.”
Apple TV Plus inked high-profile deals with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Aniston. Comcast’s NBCUniversal reportedly paid $500 million to take back “The Office,” and Netflix reportedly paid even more to claim global rights to “Seinfeld.”
“The weapon of choice for retention is exclusive programming,” said Peter Csathy, founder of Creatv and an industry consultant. “All of these behemoths are investing billions of dollars in originals with the hope of finding the next ‘Game of Thrones’ that becomes ‘Must See TV.’”
HBO Max Hits In May 2020 At $15 Per Month
AT&T said Tuesday that its HBO Max streaming service will launch in May for $15 a month, joining a crowded field.
The company has said HBO Max will become the “workhorse” for its video business as cord-cutting of traditional TV expands. It hopes to migrate people who pay for HBO in different ways today to the new platform. The service grew out of AT&T’s $81 billion purchase of Time Warner, which AT&T overhauled and rechristened WarnerMedia.
HBO Max will challenge Netflix alongside Disney, Comcast, and Apple. It will be the most expensive of the new services that have announced prices, which could make it challenging to expand its customer base.
It is also the same price as HBO Now, the current HBO streaming service for people who don’t get the cable channel. Company officials expect existing HBO customers — those subscribing either via cable or HBO Now — to switch to HBO Max, which will offer far more to watch.
Some existing subscribers to HBO’s cable channel or HBO Now will get free access to HBO Max, AT&T said.
The company said it will launch a version of HBO Max with ads in 2021, a new twist for a brand known for being ad-free. The company wants to reach 50 million subscribers in the U.S. by 2025, and 75 to 90 million worldwide. It expects HBO Max to be profitable starting in 2023.
The service will offer movies and programs from HBO and the WarnerMedia library, including “Friends,” which it will pull back from Netflix. Other hits like “The Big Bang Theory” and “South Park” will also be available.
It’s aiming for kids with “Sesame Street” and an Elmo talk show. And it will have superhero movies from DC.
The service will also launch 50 original series in the first year, half targeted to younger adults and the remainder split between shows for kids and for adults. The service won’t release a season’s worth of episodes all at once, as Netflix typically does.
AT&T will bundle HBO Max with some unlimited wireless plans as well as certain “premium” home TV and internet plans to promote the streaming service. It will work with other cable and satellite companies to get them to offer the HBO Max service for their customers too.
It plans to invest roughly $2 billion into HBO Max in 2020 and about $1 billion annually for a few more years. (Netflix will spend $15 billion this year alone on shows and movies.) AT&T executives stressed an emphasis on quality.
AT&T is looking to future-proof its video business, which has been shrinking as cord-cutting accelerates. Customers are departing its previous attempt at a new-TV tack, the online-cable substitute today known as AT&T TV Now, as AT&T sought to make it profitable and raised prices.