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Sound and Vision: streaming services have become too risk averse

OPINION: Video streaming services have, surprisingly, been around for ages. Prime Video opened its digital doors in 2006, Netflix followed suit in 2007 and iPlayer became the incarnation we know later in the same year. To put it in some sort of context, they’ve been around for nearly half my life.

It’s taken that amount of time for the video streaming wars to really heat up. Studios that were happy to license their libraries to Netflix and Prime Video have taken it upon themselves to launch their own streaming outfits and gain a piece of the pie in what’s becoming a streaming ‘gold rush’.

I’m not a massive advocate of digital stores or streaming (despite the welcome convenience they offer), with areas that are a little too vague concerning digital rights and access. Sony and Nintendo putting the kibosh on digital stores for older consoles is a worry, as are issues surrounding the transference of digital rights from one country to another. If the promise of digital was that things would live forever in the ‘cloud’, the reality has revealed we don’t really own said items, simply purchase access or license to watch them.

That’s a little off topic for what this column is to delve into – not that there are too many streaming services (I’ve already discussed that), but that streamers are fast becoming risk averse, propped by franchises and familiar faces rather than new ideas and original content that engages viewers.

That what was I took from the announcement of Paramount Plus coming to the UK. Content lined up for the service includes a spin-off to the upcoming Sonic sequel: 14 South Park movies in the next seven years, another Teen Wolf series – a revival of a TV reboot based on an 80s film – and a prequel to Sexy Beast (a film that is 22 years old).

You could lay similar criticism at the door of Disney+, which is diversifying its output but outside of Star Wars and Marvel seems to have no other big hitters. 20th Century Studios is churning out sequels to dormant franchises (Home Alone, Hocus Pocus), while Star Wars has made a spin off (The Book of Boba Fett) from a spin off (The Mandalorian) from a series (Star Wars) that’s produced 12 films in the last 45 years. I wouldn’t say that’s the freshest line of thinking.

Disney Plus Baby Yoda

You would have thought streaming services would have been a breeding ground for experimentation, to try new things, allow new voices to come through and create original content that these services could build on, but it is fast moving in the direction of everything new is actually old. Prime Video’s latest popular series – Reacher – already had two Tom Cruise-starring films prior to it; the next big anticipated series is The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power…

The outlier in this is Apple TV+ and BBC iPlayer. Apple’s focus on originals may be hit and miss but it’s an approach that’s more interesting than other services. And iPlayer has started 2022 like a rocket with The Responder, This Is Going To Hurt and A Very British Scandal hitting the service in recent months. All of which are different to the consistent stream of increasingly bloated franchises.

The fear is studios will slowly but surely eat their own tails. The need to gain traction in the market by serving consumers more of what they know is not necessarily a recipe for success. I think people crave diversity and variety in their entertainment diet, even if it’s an unconscious thought, and being served similar meals will eventually leave them bored and looking elsewhere.

It’s strange to think 80s and 90s cinema brought the likes of Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Friday the 13th, The Matrix, Ghostbusters, Predator, Scream, The Truman Show, Ring and countless more original ideas and properties. Look at streaming services now and has anything had the same sort of impact, anything new to say? When did original become so old-fashioned?

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