I decided this week as I didn’t really have a film to review that I wanted to talk not necessarily about particular films but how we actually are now accessing those films. Now, this is hopefully going to be changing in the next couple of months as the current pandemic status suggests that we should be getting back to cinemas within the next few weeks. But, in the meantime, I think we have to consider the possibility that without serious financial backing for cinemas they are going to disappear within the next couple of years.
Now, all of the major studios have been looking for subtle ways to wind down the cinema experience and move people to streaming services; the pandemic more has just given them an excuse to speed up that process, and we’ve certainly seen it happen now. Warner Bros have already said that all their films coming out this year will receive some on-demand streaming access, mainly through HBO Max in the United States, and in the UK most of them are going to Sky Cinema. And Disney have moved a lot of their bigger releases to cost extra on the Disney Plus Service. And, of course, this means that if cinemas go we’re going to be paying a lot more for our films. Netflix, for example, could with the spate of competition charge more for their subscription service; Disney could have several tiers of subscriptions services in order to access new releases, or worse: charge even more. When I bought Mulan for the review I did, I ended up paying £10 more than it would have cost to me to go and see the film by myself in the cinema. Now, you could argue that it’s good value for money in, say, a family household of two parents and two kids whereby you would have probably cut the ticket price in half.
The reason I bring this up is not just to encourage people to go back to cinemas and what damage I think could be done to the film industry if the cinema experience collapses; that’s an entire list for another day and I think I’d rather make it at a time when we have much better immunity to COVID so I don’t feel like shaming people into taking unnecessary risks with their health. It’s more to point out that if we’re going to be spending more money, I feel like I should look at all the streaming services that are on the market and determine which one gives you the best value for money and quality content in a variety of categories. I don’t hold subscriptions to all these services but I have looked at what is available on each. I really wanted to keep this mostly to the aspects of films since that’s what I normally stick to in these documents, but I will broaden my horizons briefly.
Incidentally, Anime-focused streaming services will play less of a factor in this one since they have such niche appeal they probably deserve their own document. And also, the Anime streaming service scene could see a major uptake in the amount of money we spend on them given Sony is in the process of buying Crunchy Roll and has also bought Manga UK, which, when combined with their previous acquisition of Funimation Entertainment means they are practically holding a monopoly on the scene with very minimal competition. So, for each of these categories I’m going to give my top 3 on which I think nail it. And I’ve gone through all these different services: BritBox, Now TV, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, and Netflix. I also briefly also looked into Sky Cinema but that presumes you hold a Sky subscription, so it won’t play too much of a factor since I think I really should stick to just on-demand streaming services. Let’s begin!
When it comes to variety, I can say a lot of these did have variety but they’ve now kind of all become slightly niche. Even Netflix is starting to lose a lot of its variety: You turn on Netflix nowadays and you are given an abundance of slick true-crime documentaries and appalling teen comedies. Well, either appalling teen comedies or appalling teen dramas that have some of the most awful characters and writing in recent memory. I won’t go into some of them because some in particular that are featured on Netflix has one of their writers send you defamatory emails when you try to criticise them. Look it up if you feel the need to—both the writers handling of criticism and the film itself are incredibly depressing. Disney obviously is the one you would believe would be lacking in this category since it’s entirely laid down to Disney projects, but you have to remember that when you get Disney you get everything they own, and I think people would be surprised how much variety you do get for a Disney Plus subscription, mainly through the more adult-oriented content of getting a Star subscription. And, considering that it’s not much more expensive than Netflix, it’s a good value for money whichever way you cut it. But I’ll come back to that.
Amazon Prime does tend to have that variety but they don’t seem to really be able to compete too much in this category. For one thing, you go through what you get in a Prime subscription; you’d be surprised just how much original content is on there. I think the only reason we don’t notice that is because Amazon does a terrible job marketing most of their projects. The only one I ever see repeatedly marketed to me is The Grand Tour. As for BritBox, well, I really have never seen the point of it—it just basically feels like all the British channels getting together to try to rival Netflix and doing it poorly. If anything, it’s kind of highlighted that this service is pointless. All these channels would have been better off making license deals with another provider and they probably would have made more money that way. I don’t see who’s picking up BritBox subscriptions. Most of the oldest content on there is very easily accessible through DVD collections which go relatively cheap. Seriously, just go to your local secondhand shops and I bet you’ll find half of them for about £5.
In this case, I’m going to say third place goes to Disney Plus: While Disney Plus does have a good variety with having the Fox content, the Marvel content, Star Wars, and, of course, Disney’s own productions, it doesn’t change the fact that you are only going to get Disney content on here and there are definitely going to be times where you are going to want to watch something and it won’t be available. Second place goes to Amazon Prime as it does have a very good variety but it’s ultimately weighed down a bit by the fact it doesn’t make that variety very visible and you really have to dig through all the content to find what you’re looking for. The winner in this category though is Netflix: while it is starting to lose its variety in its original content, I cannot deny Netflix does come with the biggest variety of entertainment. For one thing, unlike all the other streaming services, it actually is attempting to have Anime content, even if it is annoying the Anime community by not doing same-day broadcasts unlike its contemporary competition. It also does a better job advertising all the content you can expect in the different categories. There’s a reason why we kind of get stuck in the menus trying to pick something whenever we turn on Netflix.
For this category I’m looking for which one of these streaming services can apply some niche appeal. I already mentioned before that Netflix are really trying to get into the Anime game and have a good variety of Anime movies, but Amazon also has some excellent Anime on its service; it just doesn’t seem to be interested in localizing any more of them. For crying out loud, if you liked Game of Thrones, you would love Vinland Saga—while it’s more grounded in history, it has a very similar tone to it. Elliott, Ren, Reece and I also picked it as our Anime of the Year for 2019; we can’t recommend it enough. Now, that is also where Amazon is starting to fall down. It does have some excellent original content, however. Superhero fans I think are much more serviced now by Amazon than they were with Netflix as while Netflix still has access to the Marvel stuff prior to Disney making their own streaming service, so this is a kind of “for now” situation, the superhero content is not really there on Netflix now, especially considering Disney’s dominance on the genre. This means, despite the fact that Amazon has access to The Boys and the recently released Invincible (which I also highly recommend checking out), it’s not really changing the fact that Disney really has the strength over this one with just the fact it has the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe as a back catalogue. Therefore, you’ve got the best set of superhero movies and TV shows off the bat.
So, how does that stand then overall? What other niche appeals are out there? Well, if you like good crime documentaries, Netflix is definitely outright winning. Ever since Making A Murderer was a huge success they have put tons of money behind these sorts of projects and have created several imitators. You’re never going to be short of them, even if they are to a certain extent kind of damaging. I particularly want to bring up the example ‘Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer’ which by the end of the documentary even points out that they’ve basically been incredibly reckless and given the killer in that case exactly what he wanted: infamy and attention. BritBox actually gets back some appeal here since it obviously caters very well to the fans of classic BBC, ITV and Channel 4. But, as I mentioned, it’s giving you access to a lot of things that aren’t that hard to track down. In fact, BBC iPlayer is actually getting much better at maintaining their content. Apple TV I’ve also looked into but it doesn’t really have niche appeal which is one of my big problems with the service; it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anything very interesting at this point in time.
I’m going to say third place goes to BritBox. While I do admit it’s quite easy to get access to these things, I can’t deny that it does succeed in the niche it’s aiming for. Second place is going to go to Netflix: not only do they have a lot of good niches, they’re very good at focusing in on them and using the algorithms to recommend you stuff in those categories. But the winner here is obviously Disney Plus; it’s undeniable that Disney Plus is the best service for niche appeal since its entirely a niche market for who’s going to enjoy this.
This applies to any charges on top of the subscription, so this is where value for money really is going to come into handy. Most of these subscription services are currently around the same price: around £5-7 a month. And for what you get, I think all these things have at least one thing I was really looking into. But I also wanted to look into which service did the best job. Incidentally, I’m not going to count services that had absolutely no extra charges in this one since I believe the list would otherwise be entirely made up of things like Apple TV and BritBox for not charging any extras as far as I could see. Hell, even some of the best stuff on Apple TV does not require an extra charge; it truly does just require a subscription service. So this really then comes down to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus again, all of which do offer extra charges at certain points.
Disney Plus and Amazon Prime are both for new releases—I had to pay extra to see, say, Godzilla vs. Kong. Disney, all of their films that would have gone to cinema had there been no pandemic all cost about the price of cinema tickets for two people, and Netflix do have some extra charges for receiving content in 4K. Netflix is obviously winning this since their additional charges are pretty much optional and only apply to a select group of people that have access to a certain level of HD content. So, it really comes down to how the charges felt between the services.
Well, Disney’s charges not only feel rather unnecessary since they could easily hold back on a lot more of the releases than they’re doing and wait for cinemas to open to give them a financial boost but they also have a real issue in that these films cost a lot more than Amazon. Put it this way: I spent about the price of one cinema ticket to see Godzilla vs. Kong and that was to get the addition with 4K, but I purchased standard to see Mulan and paid more. Whichever way you look at it, that’s less value for money. And it also implies that Disney are seeing this as a possible permanent option and not a temporary option like Warner Bros and Amazon are seeing it as. Therefore, I have to say that Disney Plus comes third in this one—the extra charges aren’t going to cost much more than they would for larger families, however the smaller group consumers might start seeing their bills go up with the additional content. Second place is Amazon. They are quite pricey but they’re not really awful, and I didn’t actually spend much more than I would have had I actually gone to the cinema in the case that I mentioned. Netflix obviously wins this as their additional charges are much more minimal and only apply to a certain group of consumers.
This really comes down to what these streaming services have. Many of these have some overlap, however only a few have exclusive content. For one thing, I can watch most of Only Fools and Horses on BritNox, and I have access to Tom Moore’s latest film The Wolf Walkers on Apple TV. Now TV I really couldn’t see a point in owning as it had very minimal exclusive content and not much that was very exciting. Obviously virtually the entire platform of Disney Plus is made up of exclusives, including all the Disney films, several Disney series with the majority of their content currently on there (exceptions notwithstanding—I really don’t like the fact I haven’t been able to see Season 3 of Duck Tales), and they even have some surprising extras like the recent recording of Hamilton which is the first time that a lot of people have been able to see that given how expensive it is to see in the live capacity when we could. And I think it’s a good boost to its service.
Netflix has definitely got some great exclusive content but it’s really starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel. I can’t begin to tell you how many terrible teen movies—which I stand by not disliking because I’m not the target audience but because they’re appalling and their messages terrible—are on Netflix. But they also have terrible horror films, true-crime documentaries that really blur the line between morbid curiosity and genuinely informative, and a lot of bottom-of-the-barrel content that clearly no one else was going to take. However, Netflix does have some very good exclusive content, including the beyond amazing Violet Evergarden which everyone with a Netflix account needs to watch, and I do not say that lightly. There’s also Beastars which is definitely a more adult-oriented version of Zootopia, which I think got a rather negative output when people acted like it definitely only appealed to the furry community. Having watched the entire season, I can definitely tell you that’s entirely inaccurate. And, of course, there’s other non-Anime related content that’s fantastic on Netflix: Daredevil’s great, for example.
Amazon does have some niche appeal; I’ve already talked about Vinland Saga and Invincible which I really enjoyed but I actually quite enjoyed The Man In The High Castle as well. And to see The Grand Tour on there is always a highlight for me. But the thing about an exclusive is it’s supposed to be what draws you to it, and I don’t feel as drawn to Amazon Prime; I mainly got the service to get next-day delivery. It wasn’t until a few projects came on there that I started really taking advantage of the streaming service.
In this instance, I’m going to say third place will go to Amazon Prime. The exclusives on there are really good, there are just not as many. Netflix somehow gets second place as some of the exclusives it gets are amazing but others are the worst of the worst, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop series which is so misleading in its health claims I genuinely want to see Netflix get sued for their disregard for public health by airing this. I’m not joking; I genuinely believe it’s that harmful. Don’t even watch it out of morbid curiosity. Top place though goes to Disney Plus, however—it’s got a wealth of exclusive content which you won’t find anywhere else. And it’s not just the Disney films: the Hamilton recording will appeal to a lot of people; The Mandalorian is great even though I haven’t dived that much into it at this point; same goes for the Marvel series that they’ve been slowly uploading. And that’s really bringing the appeal.
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