Streaming: All eyes on the Netflix crown
Last year was transitional for the streaming scene, at least in the UK: the promised avalanche of major new outlets to dent Netflix’s dominance rumbled in the background, but showed itself only in snowy fits and starts.
The long-threatened juggernaut of Disney+ was delayed on these shores, with a launch date unconfirmed for much of the year. Apple TV+ landed in November with less of a bang than expected: there was more confusion over technical matters of access than there should have been from a tech corporation of this magnitude, and its initial bouquet of programming underwhelmed. Only all-star drama series The Morning Show, despite mixed reviews, punched through into public consciousness, while Apple’s plans to take on Netflix in the prestige film stakes got off to a rocky start. A day before its premiere, potential Oscar contender The Banker was dropped from the schedule after sexual abuse allegations were levelled against one of its producers.
Another heavily hyped streaming service finally hit the UK in the autumn. Two years after its popular US launch, we got BritBox, intended as an amalgamation of top programming from the BBC and ITV. It has been warily regarded in some quarters. “Why pay a monthly subscription for the free-to-air content covered by my licence fee,” runs the argument – not helped by a robust improvement to the Beeb’s trusty iPlayer service, which last year announced it would be keeping content to stream for up to a year rather than the previously stipulated 30 days. Still, BritBox has announced itself as a go-to spot for classic comedy and comfort viewing in the Midsomer Murders vein. Whether its reputation gets any sexier than that in 2020 remains to be seen.
As for the year ahead, Disney+ naturally looms largest. When, at last, it arrives in the UK on 31 March – nearly five months after its glitzy Stateside debut – it’s hard to says whose sighs of relief will be loudest: parents impatient for the shiniest non-human babysitting service going, or Star Wars nerds champing at the bit for every new episode of The Mandalorian, the spin-off series that made Baby Yoda an exhausted internet meme well before the rest of the world even got to see it. (The preview episodes I’ve seen promise a knowingly silly space-horse-opera with more of a Saturday-matinee spirit of fun than The Rise of Skywalker.)
Disney+ is already making its presence felt by absence elsewhere: Sky and Now TV subscribers may have noticed a heap of Disney-owned programming, from Marvel series to Grey’s Anatomy, vanishing from the service’s menu in recent days. On the flipside, a renewed deal between Sky and HBO means the most anticipated new US streaming service of 2020 – the glossy-looking HBO Max – is unlikely to be headed our way too. (Between this and the ongoing American exclusivity of outlets ranging from mainstream major Hulu to artsy Filmstruck replacement Criterion Channel, British viewers continue to lag behind in terms of streaming options.)
Meanwhile, after that aforementioned soft start, Apple TV+ is looking to kick things up a notch this year. A deal for multiple TV series developed by Alfonso Cuarón should help, while Sofia Coppola’s new film On the Rocks will inaugurate its production partnership with high-end indie studio A24.
Still, they’ve a long way to catch up with Netflix, whose 2020 film slate is positively mouthwatering. After making another run at the top Oscars with The Irishman and Marriage Story, it’ll be bringing us new films from David Fincher (the Hollywood biopic Mank), Charlie Kaufman (I’m Thinking of Ending Things), Andrew Dominik (his long-in-the-works adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde), Spike Lee (Da 5 Bloods) and George Clooney (Good Morning Midnight), among others. For all the next big things jostling for space in 2020, some big things look to remain very big indeed.