Why Streaming Services Are Betting Big on Series Over Movies

The Future of Streaming: Shows Reign Supreme Over Movies

by Faruk Imamovic
Why Streaming Services Are Betting Big on Series Over Movies
© Getty Images/Pascal Le Segretain

Netflix has always had an ambitious vision. As Reed Hastings, cofounder of Netflix, once explained, “there’s a reason we didn’t call the company DVD-by-Mail.com”. This foresight was about the service's evolution into a streaming platform.

The choice of the name “Netflix” positioned it as a destination for movies. However, it has become clear that series, not films, are the powerhouse behind its success.

Netflix: A Stronghold of Series

While Netflix does offer notable films, including a few Oscar contenders each year, it is the array of series that keeps its 260 million-plus subscribers engaged.

Even with the occasional frustration of shows being canceled after just two seasons, subscribers remain loyal. Early successes like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black paved the way for the platform's dominance. Today, series such as Ripley (based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr.

Ripley) and the somewhat controversial Baby Reindeer continue to captivate audiences. A recent attempt to compile a list of must-watch movies on Netflix revealed slim pickings. This trend is not exclusive to Netflix; other major streaming platforms also see series outperforming films in viewer retention and excitement.

The Rise of Series Across Streaming Platforms

Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max, despite its heritage as Home Box Office and its vast collection of Warner Bros. films, garners more attention for its series. Upcoming seasons of House of the Dragon and The Last of Us are highly anticipated.

Although Max boasts the Dune films, the buzz around the Bene Gesserit spinoff series, Dune: Prophecy, is palpable. Similarly, Disney+ leverages its extensive back catalogs of Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars films, yet it made a significant mark with original series like Andor and Loki.

Disney CEO Bob Iger admitted the company “tried to tell too many stories” initially, but series like X-Men '97 remain among the most discussed content on the platform. Interestingly, Disney+’s most-watched movie in 2023 was Moana with nearly 12 billion minutes viewed, yet Bluey, a series, far surpassed it with 44 billion minutes.

Even The Mandalorian outperformed Moana in minutes viewed, further underscoring the dominance of series. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video both started without the luxury of decades-old content vaults. However, their success lies in their evolution into platforms offering compelling series.

Prime Video’s two-hour feature Road House may be enjoyable, but it is the eight-episode series Fallout that keeps viewers talking.

Why Streaming Services Are Betting Big on Series Over Movies© Getty Images/Chris McGrath

Upfronts: Streamers Flex Their Series Muscle

This trend towards series over films was starkly evident during the recent upfronts—a critical event where television networks woo advertisers.

This year's event saw significant participation from major streaming platforms. Netflix, Amazon, and even YouTube made notable appearances, with the latter two making headlines. Netflix highlighted its heavy hitters like Stranger Things, Wednesday, Squid Game, and a new show from Mindy Kaling.

Amazon, meanwhile, made waves with announcements such as a prequel series to Legally Blonde tentatively titled Elle, a second season of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and a new Tomb Raider series. These announcements underscore a shift from films to series, with adaptations and continuations of beloved movies now finding new life as multi-episode endeavors.

Sports offerings also featured prominently. Netflix, set to host the NFL’s upcoming Christmas Day football games, joins Amazon’s Thursday Night Football and Disney’s ESPN in transforming streaming services into new-age cable networks.

Sports content fits well with the ad-supported models many streamers now offer, appealing to advertisers and providing a familiar experience for viewers.

YouTube: Pioneering the Future of Content

YouTube, while distinct from other streaming services, showcased its unique value during its Brandcast event.

With stars like Billie Eilish gracing the stage, YouTube emphasized its focus on creators rather than traditional Hollywood productions. CEO Neal Mohan highlighted YouTube’s status as the top streamer in hours watched, noting its role in “redefining what TV looks like” and using AI to push creative boundaries.

The platform’s recent deal with the WNBA exemplifies its commitment to diverse content offerings. Mohan's vision includes making creators eligible for Emmys, arguing that their innovative use of AI and boundary-pushing content deserve recognition.

This stance reflects a broader trend towards valuing short-form video and creator-driven content, a stark contrast to the long-form series dominating other platforms. As streamers vie for the next big hit, younger audiences are already hooked on content from creators like MrBeast and quirky internet phenomena such as Skibidi Toilet.

Embracing the Shift

The landscape of streaming is clearly tilting in favor of series over films. This shift is driven by audience preferences and the strategic positioning of platforms to replace traditional television networks.

While movies will always have a place, the engaging and episodic nature of series is what keeps viewers returning. As streaming services continue to evolve, it will be fascinating to see how they balance these elements to maintain their grip on the ever-competitive market.