Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) deserves the credit for much of the transformation that is ongoing in the media landscape. The company is the modern pioneer in the streaming video segment, but it didn't take long for a number of well-heeled competitors to enter the nascent space with plans of stealing market share. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) introduced Prime Video as part of its customer loyalty program, eventually allowing stand-alone subscriptions. Hulu decided on an ad-based model that continues today, even for those that pay for a subscription, and dozens of other companies have gotten into the over-the-top market.
While many have tried to steal Netflix's thunder, the company still rules the roost, with 125 million members worldwide. That hasn't stopped the competition from trying to up the ante, and several recent developments show that while Netflix remains the de facto champion, we're still very early in the game.
Is HBO changing its strategy?
Now that Time Warner has become part of AT&T (NYSE:T), HBO will be answering to a new set of corporate overlords.
The premium cable channel has long relied on the quality of its content to stand out in the crowded and changing media space. In a recent interview, HBO creative consultant Frank Rich said the company's content is head and shoulders above what viewers find on Netflix. "Our point about HBO is, we don't dump everything out there," he said. "And a lot of Netflix stuff is great, but not all of it." Rich is best known for his work on the award-winning HBO hit Veep.
Under its new ownership, however, HBO may be required to ramp up its output to compete in a world increasingly ruled by Netflix. John Stankey, who will head the entertainment division for AT&T, said in an interview that he plans to increase the amount the company spends on original programming. "I fully expect we're going to be investing heavier in content development at HBO ... Clearly there's an opportunity internationally, where HBO could choose to have more direct relationships with end users than what they have today."
Sounds like he actually does want to compete with Netflix -- and maybe bypass cable operators.
Apple ramps up its pipeline
While many have long feared Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) entry into the streaming video space, the company has sat idly by, content to supply shows like Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke: The Series to subscribers of its streaming music service.
Over the last few months, however, the company appears to be signaling that it plans to get serious, signing a number of high-profile deals with the likes of M. Night Shyamalan, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Aniston to create programs, as well as rebooting Steven Spielberg's '80s anthology series Amazing Stories. Most recently, the company has decided to make a feature-length animated movie, according to a report in Bloomberg. Apple is in negotiations with award-winning Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon to head the project, though a deal has yet to be penned.
There's also a report that Apple has struck a multi-year deal with Oprah Winfrey to create original content for the iPhone maker, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The agreement covers series and movies, as well as apps and books. The story suggests that Oprah will retain ownership of the content.
The star power involved in these latest deals seem to point to a growing interest by Apple in potentially launching its own streaming service, though the company has yet to confirm its intentions.
Amazon has long played second fiddle to Netflix, but the e-commerce juggernaut is taking a page from Netflix's recent playbook of dealing with the creative minds directly. Just since the beginning of June, Amazon has signed several "first-look" deals with A-list talent that gives them first dibs on projects. Amazon struck an agreement with Jordan Peele and his production company Monkeypaw Productions, who already has multiple shows set to appear on Prime. The company also inked a similar deal with Nicole Kidman and her Blossom Films regarding movies, original series, and digital content.
This marks a strategic change for Amazon, who recently hired Jennifer Salke to take charge of Amazon Studios after its previous head left following allegations of sexual harassment. Salke said that the company wasn't going to produce the same type of volume as Netflix, saying:
I think we're going to provide something different than what our competitors or at least what Netflix is doing ... we want to curate and be the best home for talent, and create real, true strategic and creative partnerships with writers, who might be looking for a place with less volume. We want to be very prolific, and we're going to be aggressive, and we have the full support of this company.
The common thread
If there's one theme that runs through these recent developments, it's that everyone is actively trying to find a way to compete with Netflix. The streaming giant caused a massive shift in the media landscape and now others are scrambling to adapt. If you have any doubts, look no further than the recently completed merger of AT&T and Time Warner, or the ensuing dogfight between Disney and Comcast over who gets to take Fox to the ball.
At this point, it's Netflix's world and other companies are just trying to find a way to live in it.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Danny Vena owns shares of Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney and has the following options: long January 2019 $85 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.