The Harry Potter Films Are Now Exclusive To Comcast, And The Streaming Sector Remains Oblivious To Piracy's Looming Resurgence

from the history-repeats-itself dept

The rise of streaming video competitors is indisputably a good thing. Numerous new streaming alternatives have driven competition to an antiquated cable TV sector that has long been plagued by apathy, high rates, and comically-bad customer service. That's long overdue and a positive thing overall, as streaming customer satisfaction scores suggest.

But as the sector matures, there's a looming problem it seems oblivious to.

Increasingly, companies are pulling their content off central repositories like Hulu and Netflix, and making them exclusive to their own streaming platforms, forcing consumers to subscribe to more and more streaming services if they want to get all the content they're looking for.

Want to watch Star Trek: Discovery, you need CBS All Access. Can't miss Stranger Things? You'll need Netflix. The Boys? Amazon Prime. The Handmaid's Tale? Hulu. Friends? AT&T. This week it was Comcast's turn in announcing that the Harry Potter films would now be exclusive to Comcast's new streaming service, Peacock. Of course it's not as simple as all that. The titles will appear and disappear for the next few years, being free for a while... then shifting to a pay per view model for a while:

"According to Frances Manfredi, president of content acquisition and strategy for Peacock, the Potter movies will play on the service during multiple windows between October and March. The first window will last for a month, with the movies then airing on NBCU’s linear broadcast and cable networks (and, potentially, their websites). They’ll then return to Peacock early in 2021. It seems likely that Peacock and HBO Max could continue to share custody of young Mr. Potter and his friends through 2025, though as of yet, no deals have been worked out for future shared windows."

No, AT&T and Comcast probably aren't going to "share" the Harry Potter films, meaning that to watch them you need to embrace the Comcast ecosystem. And while superficially you can easily understand why companies would want to lock down massive droves of exclusive content to drive subscriptions as the streaming wars heat up, there's a certain myopia going on in terms of the impact. There doesn't seem to be much of an awareness of that while competition is certainly good, having too many cordoned off exclusivity silos and too many content licenses shifting under the feet of consumers could generate confusion and drive more people to the simplicity of piracy.

In fact, there's some early anecdotal evidence this is already happening, and a few studies predicting it will get worse as every broadcaster and their moms jump into the streaming space. A 2019 Deloitte study found that nearly half (47 percent) of US consumers already suffer from “subscription fatigue,” and 56 percent were frustrated by quickly changing licensing deals.

Yes, some of this will settle slightly as "me too" competitors are shaken loose by competition. And yes, unlike traditional cable, it's great that you can cancel and restart these services at any time (though like AOL or Wall Street Journal digital subscriptions, history suggests they'll make cancellation harder and more cumbersome as companies lock down their share of the pie). The problem also creates a wonderful opportunity for folks to design better platforms that help aggregate all available content and subscriptions in a way that's not an annoying nightmare.

So it's not like this is a problem that impossible to navigate. But the problem remains that most cable companies, broadcasters, and tech giants are all rushing toward the streaming trough without really appreciating that they risk driving users to piracy if they forget to focus on simplicity and cost. And in a few years when piracy rates soar, if history holds, most of these executives will wind up blaming everybody (people just want stuff for free!) and everything (VPNs!) but themselves and their obsession with siloed exclusives.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: competition, exclusivities, harry potter, piracy, silos, sreaming
Companies: comcast


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    jilocasin (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 2:06pm

    Short sighted monopolists, what do you expect?

    Uggg... more short sighted monopolists.

    Unfortunately this is what you get when the people that own the studios try to get into the streaming space. They can't seem to help themselves trying to use their control over content (and internet access for those that are also ISPs) to illegally to give themselves an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

    If they wanted to strive for the loyalty and long term security of the sector, they would be licensing their content to as many services as possible. Let various streaming companies (Netflix, Hulu, Apple, etc) compete for the best service, interface, options and let the market decide. It wouldn't matter who won as they would get licensing revenue from everyone. As it is we have streaming providers like Netflix and Amazon forced into creating their own content, since the companies that produce third party content can't be counted on not to pull it and try setting up their own streaming service. Unfortunately most of these Netflix wannabees don't have the breadth of content to support their own service. Seriously, subscribe to CBS All Access just for Star Trek: Discovery?

    In the end I fear it's just going to be another case of copyright holders overvaluing their content in regards to the platforms, and the user experience that delivers them. We'll see less and less mainstream content on legal streaming services, instead people will go outside the system to acquire it.

    The successful companies will be those that provide the most value and the widest range of content under one roof.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 4:15pm

      Re: Short sighted monopolists, what do you expect?

      Uggg... more short sighted monopolists.

      This is vertical integration, which isn't the same thing as a monopoly. A monopoly is when there's only one provider in a particular service area. Online streaming video is not that -- which is exactly the problem.

      I suppose copyright is, itself, a type of monopoly, and the rightsholders have monopolies in that sense.

      If they wanted to strive for the loyalty and long term security of the sector, they would be licensing their content to as many services as possible. Let various streaming companies (Netflix, Hulu, Apple, etc) compete for the best service, interface, options and let the market decide. It wouldn't matter who won as they would get licensing revenue from everyone.

      It would matter very much who won, because if any one provider won, then you really would have a monopoly. As well as a monopsony.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 1:54am

      Re: Short sighted monopolists, what do you expect?

      "We'll see less and less mainstream content on legal streaming services, instead people will go outside the system to acquire it."

      ...going full circle to once again donning the tricorn hat and singing the "yo-ho, a pirates life for me.." while running a torrent client 24/7?

      Yeah. It feels like every damn time the movie industry get schooled in how a market works they slide right back into thinking they are somehow exempted. I wonder if it's just something in the tinseltown water supply?

      "The successful companies will be those that provide the most value and the widest range of content under one roof."

      For a brief while until the creaky old fossililized incumbents force them to bend knee. Netflix was more or less forced under the MPAA umbrella from the "we fear no pirates" stance simply because they'd like to be able to buy licenses for content other than their own.

      Every time some company comes up with a sensible business model which actually works that company either gets strong-armed into joining the old boys club or squeezed out of existence, closing that window of opportunity.

      I think we'll see a solid resurgence of piracy, followed by numerous malicious and ineffective attempts to curb it, until at some point in the future it gets bad enough for the citizenry and governing bodies as a whole to give up completely on copyright.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2020 @ 2:29pm

    Take 'piracy' out of the equation for a bit and think about what consumers want from the stations/suppliers more than anything and surely that is ease of availability to watch, isn't it? The last thing i wanna do is hunt through a myriad of services to find something, then see what it's gonna cost in time and convenience before i can even settle for the evening. Then, if it works like Sky that moves stuff around, claiming 'new to do and so' when in fact all that's happened is a time change, with the same stuff on as last week, what a waste of time, money and effort! Even worse, every station forgets that people only have a certain amount of money, cant afford everything regardless of what is put out where, at what price! There seems to be no end to stations greed but when its joined with stupidity, no one gains!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 10 Aug 2020 @ 3:05pm

    I'm happy enough to never watch the movies and TV shows that these execs give all evidence of wanting people to not see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2020 @ 6:39pm

    I wonder if content creators will figure this shit out or not, and strike deals with services accordingly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2020 @ 11:34pm

      Re:

      I think you overestimate either the amount of influence or clout content creators have, or their scruples. It's not like content creators haven't been spearheading copyright trolling operations themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 11:29pm

    "Want to watch Star Trek: Discovery, you need CBS All Access. Can't miss Stranger Things? You'll need Netflix. The Boys? Amazon Prime. The Handmaid's Tale? Hulu. Friends? AT&T. This week it was Comcast's turn in announcing that the Harry Potter films would now be exclusive to Comcast's new streaming service, Peacock"

    Things get amusing when you start looking internationally. Here in Spain, Star Trek Discovery is on Netflix (Picard is on Prime), the first 2 seasons of The Handmaid's Tale are on Prime (3 seasons on HBO), while Friends and the Harry Potter movies are on both Prime and Netflix. So, still slightly annoying, but you can get most things by subscribing to a smaller number of services.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SirWired, 11 Aug 2020 @ 4:44am

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

    It's telling that even though the Harry Potter films are owned by AT&T/TimeWarner, they were willing to let them go to Comcast for what we can assume is a tidy sum instead of reserving them for HBO (HBODirectGOMaxNow)

    Doesn't exactly show a lot of confidence in AT&T's own strategy.

    P.S. An update on the HBO Max / Peacock vs. Amazon/Roku $hitshow might be in order. If Roku doesn't relent, my next device is gonna some Google-powered thing, even though I've been a happy Roku user for years now. (Peacock seems like a pretty decent deal...) Roku's selling point used to be its relative content neutrality; no more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bob (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 4:31am

      Re: Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

      If you want Peacock, grab yourself a Fire Stick. It's not officially available for it, but it does work. Search You Tube on how to load it on a Fire Stick and you're all set. I used to be a die hard Roku fan until I learned how much more "flexible" the Android OS is. And for some reason I get way fewer ad breaks with Pandora on Roku than with the Fire Stick, so that's now the only thing I use it for.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2020 @ 5:20am

    My household has loads of streaming services because reasons.

    The most bizarre and wtf moment I had was trying to watch Babylon 5. It used to be on streaming services, moved streaming services, then became an overpriced digital download. :-/

    Off to the high seas! YO HO!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Aug 2020 @ 12:51am

      Re:

      "The most bizarre and wtf moment I had was trying to watch Babylon 5. It used to be on streaming services, moved streaming services, then became an overpriced digital download. :-/"

      The sort of wtf moment most of us remember from old times, at that. The new tinseltown has gone full circle, hell-bent on repeating all the mistakes of their predecessors, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory out of shortsighted naívety and greed.

      "Off to the high seas! YO HO!"

      I wish I could say that wasn't sadly predictable. The copyright cult is just too tantalizing a grift scheme to pass up for the unscrupulous con men in charge.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 12 Aug 2020 @ 1:39am

        Re: Re:

        Babylon 5 seems to be one of those series that has ended up with nightmare distribution despite having a strong cult following. I did a quick search on Justwatch to see how it compares, and while in the US it indeed only appears as a paid rental, also in the UK, but it doesn't appear to be available at all in Spain. Meanwhile, a quick glance at the wiki page suggests that there's be a lot of problems distributing on DVD, while they haven't even bothered upgrading the discs beyond changing the cover art in years.

        So, yes, it should be perfectly understandable why someone being told "you have to pay $2/episode for something you used to watch broadcast for free, despite you paying for a bunch of streaming services" or "we won't even give you the option to buy" might lead one to piracy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2020 @ 6:54am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Babylon 5 is very difficult to upgrade: it was filmed on widescreen video (albeit at high res for the time), the CGI was all done at TV resolutions so the widescreen CGI on DVD is cropped and enlarged down to potato quality, and most of the 3D animation files were deleted or lost at some point so they'd have to be completely re-scripted before they could be re-rendered at higher resolution (let alone ported to a modern engine and rendered with raytracing etc.)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ninja, 11 Aug 2020 @ 8:07am

    I've resorted to file sharing again this year after not bothering for years. Not because I give a damn, I don't. I decided that if it isn't on my preferred service then it doesn't exist. But my family and my partner don't think that way. And I'm happy to help because the alternative is this exclusivity fuckery.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 7:10pm

    The real problem is every exec is sure they can make more money doing it themselves.

    I mean iTunes is the devil, but there are only a couple competitors. Willing to bet most of them have the same pricing deals b/c the market isn't what it once was & its cheaper to make sure its available than to look for an extra penny. (Music is also making big bank by ripping off artists & still blaming the pirates).

    People do not want 12 different platforms to subscribe to.
    10 different platforms who will refuse to allow anyone to make a single box that supports them all.
    7 different platforms that will offer various tier levels so they can get ad revenue still.
    5 different platforms that will have "exclusives" but make it hard to use when you want.
    3 different platforms who will only offer 4K streams ignoring how 'amazing' the broadband in the US isn't.
    1 platform who will hurt their growth by getting pissy when an unnamed character is given a cute name by fans & becomes a meme & going full dipshit trying to crush it all out... then decide to make merch to cash in... in 3 years.

    Then customers find out they can just type a name into a search, click a link, wait 30 minutes & have the episode of what they wanted to see when & how they want to.

    Nope can't see how they can keep shooting themselves in the dick & blame the gun for not being big enough...

    The world changed in a huge way.
    The grand old days of windowed releases & ignoring consumer demand in other countries as not being important enough to release a 1st run movie there is over.
    The world is mostly connected, people hear about shows that no ones bringing to their country & want to join in... but them wanting to see it now doesn't fit with the pattern we've used for releases since 1964 & we can't change the pattern!!! We'll lose money!!!

    Stop lying about loses.
    Stop pretending we still need ice men bringing ice to keep our food cold.
    We aren't using the pony express to send movies across the country, there is no reason things can't open everywhere at once or be offered on a streaming service (maybe a small extra fee for getting a 1st run film for 3 weeks or something)
    But for the love of everything, stop making your own streaming empires. You fragment the cash, you are forced to compete for no good reason, & maybe not running your own service you might figure out you all hold hundreds of years of content that people might want to watch again... if it was available.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 Aug 2020 @ 11:15pm

      Re:

      "I mean iTunes is the devil, but there are only a couple competitors"

      Erm, it depends on what you class as a competitor, but I'd say that's false in my eyes.

      "Willing to bet most of them have the same pricing deals b/c the market isn't what it once was"

      I'd also disagree here. There's more competition than ever. Now, the problem is always going to be that no matter who the end distributor is, they are going to be licensing from the same source. If that source refuses a discount up front, then the prices are going to be the same across the board unless the individual retails wants to take a hit. But, they won't do that with digital goods like they would with physical goods, because there's no point at which they have to clear out inventory to make room for new stock.

      "People do not want 12 different platforms to subscribe to."

      No, but conversely anyone who subscribed to 12 services is a fool. That just means you're overpaying for a bunch of stuff you don't watch (since nobody has time to watch 12 services' worth of content), you're no better than you were with cable and you're subsidising that business model. Vote with your wallet smartly - pick one or two core services that give you the best value for money, top those up with one or two more specialised services that fit niches you're interested in, switch those out when you decide you want a change and use free trials when you can.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Aug 2020 @ 12:57am

        Re: Re:

        "Vote with your wallet smartly - pick one or two core services that give you the best value for money, top those up with one or two more specialised services that fit niches you're interested in, switch those out when you decide you want a change and use free trials when you can."

        Or pick it all up through torrents so you don't have to waste more of your spare time shopping for the services catering to your specific needs than you'd do watching the content you'd be paying for.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 12 Aug 2020 @ 1:43am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Or pick it all up through torrents"

          I'd rather pay for what I consume, thanks. I'm not interested in standard Hollywood production line crap, so I like to support independent filmmakers and boutique services.

          "you don't have to waste more of your spare time shopping for the services catering to your specific needs"

          I'm not sure what half-assed methods you're using, but I go to justwatch.com, search for the title I'm interested in and use that service. If it's not there I either search again for a different country and use a service there, or I find something else to watch (every service has a lot of unique gems that are worth seeking out). Not as easy as being able to get virtually all music I want to listen to via Spotify or YouTube, but not difficult unless you make it hard for yourself.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 10:52am

      Re:

      It's something of a prisoner's dilemma. Everyone would benefit if everyone shared content, but content owner X benefits the most if everyone else shares their content while X keeps their stuff exclusive.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.