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Is the golden age of streaming over?

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Streaming has all but replaced cable and terrestrial television as the host of culture’s viewing habits. Long gone are the fixed features in viewing calendars and need to be at the right place, right time to watch the latest episode of your favorite series.

Beginning with the likes of Netflix and Hulu in the early 2010s, there is now more than four times the amount of rival streaming platforms, all backed by major studios - and all vying for audience attention and subscriptions.

The early years saw Netflix in particular boasting many original series which gave them an air of prestige as cable’s replacement. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Narcos all adorned the service, all original concepts not tied to any previous franchise or canon. 

In 2015, Netflix launched their first major collaboration with another studio with the release of Daredevil. The Marvel Cinematic Universe series tied into several more, such as Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Here is where the streaming game began to shift in a different direction. 

The winds of change

Quickly, rival studios realized their major movie franchises had potential beyond just blockbuster cinematic releases. Netflix suddenly saw rivals pop up more frequently, with the end of the 2010s seeing HBO Max, Paramount Plus, Apple TV Plus, Amazon Prime Video, and most importantly, Disney Plus. If anything, streaming was looking more like cable television it had replaced.

Comic book legend Alan Moore told Channel 4 in 2014 that Hollywood “can only recycle things that have already been done or adapt things from media where they weren't intended as films [...], Hollywood clearly hasn't had an idea in the last two or three decades”. Strangely, this is now becoming prevalent in television.

HBO Max recently rebranded itself to simply “Max” in April 2023, citing a desire to shift the image of the service from adult drama programming to be more kid friendly. Around this time there came the news the Harry Potter series would be rebooted for the service, sparking indifference and ridicule. 

The film series is essentially timeless already, and a fixture of pop culture. Audiences knew and cared about the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson and their journeys in the series. Those films are still actively watched by fans, and there’s never really been a call to reboot them - the last mainline film only came out in 2011. 

Deathly Hallows made $1.3 billion, so you can see why a studio would look back to the franchise in their hour of need, even if it may look uninspired. 

Is streaming just becoming too Hollywood?

Moore’s words now reflect the Hollywood shift towards streaming with their franchises, and an inability to let go, or allow films to naturally claim their spot in pop culture over time. Perhaps it’s desperation from Max’s owner Warner Bros. whose financial struggles are well publicized. 

But the theme here is streaming television is much more like Hollywood than it had been before. Reboots aplenty, and a fear of franchises naturally fading out of popularity over time. There’s still plenty of original content and original ideas made as streaming originals, but Disney Plus’s arrival has brought with it this shift thanks to its properties like Star Wars and Marvel.

Original series will still come out, but few services will back them with the money quite like they’d do for easy brand recognition of a Harry Potter or Star Wars. It’s quite reminiscent to the end of any golden age in culture - built upon heavy experimentation and catching lightning in a bottle before it suddenly is produced with formula-like efficiency. 

Don’t fear the change

When the Golden Age of comics ended in 1956 it didn’t mean the following ages were rubbish - far from it. 1962 saw the creation of heavy-hitters like Spider-Man and new trailblazer creators like Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, which changed the industry forever. 

Streaming shouldn’t be in fear of the end of its golden age, instead it should look to its next era as a great opportunity to try new ideas, voices, and experiment further. Each age brings with it lessons, and for streaming the golden age taught it how big new ideas are. 

Stranger Things, Squid Game, and Yellowstone all prove how a new, fresh idea can be far more effective than a rehashed franchise. Perhaps the newly rebranded Max should place some trust in renegade new thinkers with ideas like these, because culture can’t just continue by living in nostalgia. After a while, you run out of things to be nostalgic for if they never end. 

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