In a bid to expand its global audience, Netflix will experiment with lower subscription costs in some emerging markets, Bloomberg reported on Monday.
News of the price-lowering trial comes before the planned 2019 launch of Disney+, a new streaming service from the entertainment giant that recently launched the sports-streaming service ESPN+ and owns a majority stake in Hulu. If Netflix is able to boost subscriptions by offering a lower pricepoint, it could mean the difference between sustained global domination (a recent report estimated that Netflix streaming accounts for 15 percent of internet traffic) and a battle for the soul of online content, with Avengers movies pitted against every conceivable kind of cooking show.
At a time when companies get ahead through consolidation — each major tech company is an unholy amalgam of mergers and acquisitions — the streaming market is growing increasingly competitive. Along with established industry stalwarts like Amazon Prime Video and HBO, viewers can subscribe to Showtime, Starz, NBA League Pass, YouTube TV, and AT&T WatchTV, to name a few. Maybe it’s just a neoliberal fever dream, but if Netflix finds that the key to making more money is actually charging less, other streaming giants could be forced to follow suit. The market is lucrative enough that companies like Disney have opted to launch independent services instead of continuing to license their content to Netflix. And it’s hard to imagine Netflix, a company more than happy to crush its employees with the iron fist of content in pursuit of streaming hegemony, ceding a portion of the market to its competitors.
For the last few years, Netflix’s prices have held relatively steady, and it sounds like that won’t change in the foreseeable future for larger markets. The company’s main strategy for audience growth in this time has been to provide a deluge of original content, playing up the idea that there was always something to watch for everyone, one of the primary allures of streaming. (Do you want to watch people describe traumatizing supernatural experiences complete with horrifying, low-budget reenactments? Netflix will scratch that itch.)
Disney, on the other hand, will enter the market with a massive backlog of blockbusters, from children’s classics to the entire Marvel universe. For Disney, it won’t necessarily be about offering new stuff, but setting a price that can poach Netflix subscribers and lock down regions like Asia, where paid streaming services have not yet been fully adopted.
At least, that’s the hope for a consumer friendly environment. Competition in the streaming industry could go the way of fast food, where corporations are locked in a race-to-the-bottom to get you the most food for the lowest possible cost. Or it might end up like the airline industry, where you can choose between an extra inch of leg room, or an on-time flight, or a second carry-on bag for a relatively similar price.
If any of this works the way economists say it should, more competition will lead to better consumer choices. But things often don’t work the way they should, and if the only competition we have to look forward to is a few snarky Twitter battles between Netflix and Disney+, we all lose.