A late-night text suggesting “NBCUniversal streaming service and chill?” doesn’t seem quite as inviting as a “Netflix and chill?” summons via SMS, but it’s the future we’re heading toward nonetheless. A future accelerated by today’s news — or today’s tragedy, depending on which millennial you ask — that “The Office” is leaving Netflix in January 2021 to serve as the binge-worthy anchor of NBC’s planned streaming platform.
Indeed, the Great Streaming Wars are upon us. Consider this the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Gone will be the days when homebody couples can rely on a single subscription to provide appropriate levels of white noise while crafting, cooking, cuddling or canoodling. Also gone will be the days when, with just a click or two, streamers can switch from their favorite ’90s sitcom to last year’s superhero bash to a documentary on polar bears.
If you think dividing your attention (and your paycheck) among Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and HBO NOW is too much, then just wait. Want to watch “Friends”? You’ll likely have to pay $7 to $12 a month for the Time Warner streaming service. “Avengers: Infinity War”? Sign up for Disney+. Those aforementioned polar bears? Most likely on some endangered-species-specific service that hasn’t been invented yet.
Streaming services, once thought the great consolidator of content and a vastly cheaper alternative to cable, will begin to fragment culture. The seeds have already been planted by rival media conglomerates. A friend of mine recently helped compose music for a show called “Hit the Road,” an original comedy starring Jason Alexander available on… the AT&T streaming service? Who knew that existed?
One could even envision a future in which the streaming services might get so expensive, and so fragmented, consumers may have to consider some sort of ad-supported service in which programs are broadcast live on different “channels” as a viable alternative. Only time will tell.
For now, I’ll be bingeing through “The Office” for the 88th time before it leaves Netflix for good at the end of 2020. After it departs, like most millennials, I’ll just wait until my parents subscribe to NBC’s streaming service.
And when that fails, I’ll find a way to borrow a friend’s password.
Brian Boyle is The Times editorial page intern.