What The Hell Happened to Streaming in 2020?

Streaming services grew into behemoths as we all watched at home, but is their success good for creative content?
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With everyone stuck at home and movie theaters closed, streamers have quickly become the primary source of home entertainment. While we inch ever closer to the end of the pandemic, the actions and movements of streamers in 2020 will have implications far into the future.

The Good: The Focus on International Content

With its deep pockets, Netflix continues to be considered a haven for forward-thinking and difficult-to-fund projects. This year saw Netflix release David Fincher’s passion project Mank, Toronto Film Festival acquisition and Nollywood sci-fi film The Lost Okoroshi, and Oscar hopeful Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It continued successful series like The Crown, introduced new high-budget shows like The Queen’s Gambit and Hollywood and viral sensations like Tiger King, and backed serious creatives like Steven Moffat’s Dracula series.  

As Netflix continues its global expansion, its focus has turned to Asia, where it continues to produce and acquire original content for the market. It has increased its anime presence with Dorohedoro and Eden and now offers a strong selection of Korean television shows, Bollywood films, and slowly but surely a promising selection of contemporary Filipino films and series. 

The Bad: The Oversaturation of Content

Not all of Netflix’s bets have panned out, and its influx of content has led to oversaturation, which can devalue even the best of its selection. Many great shows end up getting buried beneath a mountain of passive content. 

Netflix content has often been compared to made-for-TV movies and series, and with its various infotainment documentaries like Explained, reality TV series like Best Leftovers Ever, and various mid-level stand-up specials, it is difficult to make the argument against its penchant for background noise content, which can be harmful to the whole industry. 


The Bad: The Hollywood Drama 

Many streaming services are at the mercy of a different kind of business model. HBO Max recently revealed that they would be taking on much of Warner Bros 2021 film slate within 30 days of its theatrical release window, to the chagrin of directors like Denis Villeneuve and Christopher Nolan. Most of the team behind the films were not even informed of the move until minutes before the announcement, with some even finding out on Twitter. 

The streaming wars have become a spectacle, taking attention away from the content itself and becoming something of a morbid arms race. 

With HBO Max currently floundering, Warner Bros is betting on this new high-level content to gain subscribers, but forgoing theatrical gross can cost many of the films’ profit participants millions. Many have called it one of the worst decisions in Hollywood history. 

While there is nothing inherently bad about this decision, the streaming wars have become a spectacle, taking attention away from the content itself and becoming something of a morbid arms race. 

The Good: The Rise of New Voices

The rise of upstart, local, and boutique streaming services such as Upstream and iWant, as well as various streaming events, has allowed access to a new range of content that otherwise would not have found an audience.  

Newer Filipino films such as Midnight in a Perfect World from Dodo Dayao, festival hits like The Animals from Gino Santos, and the highly anticipated restoration of Mike De Leon’s Himala were all streaming at various points during the pandemic. Complex exhibition and distribution deals have often kept strong Filipino cinema from reaching a wide audience, and without these new streaming services, they would stay as festival novelties that never quite played to Filipino audiences.

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The Future

As the big streaming services prove to be impenetrable behemoths with less and less focus on the quality of their shows, hopefully 2021 can see a continued rise of upstart streaming services that reach out to smaller, higher quality films, especially ones of international origins, in contrast to the blockbuster, algorithmic offerings of the larger services.


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Enrico Po
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