Former Review Geek writer Eric Ravenscraft is a big proponent of the streaming shuffle: subscribing to just one service at a time, watching all of its exclusive content, then moving on to another one. It’s a great way to see a bunch of exclusive shows and movies while saving money—remember, that’s supposed to be the point of cord cutting.
It keeps you from subscribing to multiple services all at once (Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+, etc.) and only watching a tiny fraction of their libraries while paying for some content that’s available in multiple places.
But streaming services appear to be catching wise to this consumer behavior and are now reacting to it in a variety of ways. They’re trying to make sure you stay subscribed longer with some less-than-obvious tweaks to their scheduling and libraries.
Back to the Vault
Observe HBO Max, the new unofficial home of the DC movie universe—it’ll get the first crack at the much-ballyhooed “Synder Cut” of Justice League next year. But I hope you weren’t planning on doing a full run through of all of DC’s current movies thus far (Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League, Aquaman, Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, and Shazam, by my count) when it lands. HBO Max will remove some of its selection of DC Comics movies starting in July, including Justice League, Batman vs Superman, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, and some older movies like Batman 1989 that aren’t in the current continuity.
HBO told ComicBook.com that it will “rotate” these movies in and out of its library on a monthly basis. Why? They’re all owned and distributed by WB, a corporate cousin of HBO by way of WarnerMedia. I suppose (and to be clear, it is a supposition) that HBO Max wants to keep subscribers on the hook for multiple months with an intentionally fresh mix of movies. Or to be less charitable: if you wanna complete your superhero watching experience, prepare to pay for multiple months.
Update: After blowback from consumers reading articles like this one, HBO Max is extending availability of DC Universe movies until the end of 2020.
HBO isn’t new to this kind of thing. Eric, now writing at OneZero, also observed that when the big-budget fantasy series His Dark Materials and superhero action show Watchmen aired in 2019-2020, a viewer who subscribed just as the one started would begin their third month of service would start a day or two after the finale of the other. So, anyone looking to get their maximum amount of value and watch both shows would be on the hook for an extra fifteen bucks that they didn’t necessarily want to spend.
Disney’s been doing this with Disney+ too, bucking the trend of online-only services enabling “binge watching” by doling out The Mandalorian on a TV-style weekly schedule. Strangely, when Disney+ came to the UK almost six months after its US debut—and when every Star Wars fan had already been spoiled for “Baby Yoda”—it stuck to that weekly schedule instead of putting all the episodes up immediately.
This meant that anyone who subscribed to the UK version of Disney+ immediately had to wait eight weeks—two billing cycles—to get the full story. One can only presume that Disney will continue with a TV-style weekly release system, and artificial scheduling in international markets, with its bevy of Marvel and Star Wars shows still to come.
Not All Bad
It isn’t all bad. Viewers can still wait until these big-budget series are completed and just binge them all—assuming they’re not terrified of spoilers, and assuming that no one starts rotating exclusive series in addition to movies. And movies that are included in a streaming service like HBO Max or Netflix, which then leave for another platform or none at all, can still generally be found for rent for less than the cost of a month of service. Those who are leaning on streaming services as a more flexible, cost-effective alternative to traditional cable and satellite TV are still coming out in the black.
But frugal TV streamers should be aware of these artificial speed bumps being placed in their binging path. It’s likely that we’ll be seeing a lot more of them as the industry shifts inexorably to online-first models.