So you thought by cutting the cable TV cord you would avoid exorbitant monthly fees and those dreaded commercial interruptions. Now, you’ve subscribed to so many streaming services that your monthly tab is higher than before, and it turns out that’s the least of your problems.
Lately you’ve noticed ads pouring into streaming. Last week, subscribers to Amazon Prime were confronted with the news: “Movies and TV shows included with Prime now have limited ads. You can upgrade to be ad free for $2.99 a month.”
All of this relates to a fundamental truth in the media business that many consumers can’t seem to understand or accept: Television programmers and producers like money, and advertisers have a longstanding willingness to spend it.
Disney+ now charges $7.99 per month for shows with commercials and almost double, $13.99, to skip the ads. Max also adds a $6 bump for its ad-free version. Netflix, the largest streamer, costs $15.49 per month, but if you’re willing to endure the ads, you’ll pay only $6.99.
Hulu, the first major streamer to peddle ads, charges an additional $10 a month for its no-ad version — bringing the fee to an uncomfortably high $17.99. Paramount+ has an ad version, and Apple TV+ is expected to add commercials soon.
The beauty of streaming — for providers, not consumers — is that its commercials are difficult to bypass. Workarounds such as TiVo made it doable for broadcast and cable, but not with streaming.
Consumers aren’t the only ones miffed about the influx of ads on streaming platforms. Producers, who used to format their shows with planned commercial breaks, stopped doing it when they moved to ad-free platforms such as Netflix and Max. Now, the ads are back, creating a creative dilemma.
Veteran producer David E. Kelley told the Hollywood Reporter that his series “Nine Perfect Strangers” was “horrible” when presented with commercials on Hulu. “We sold it as a one-hour show, and it was served like a pie — but it was pudding,” he said. “You can’t cut pudding into slices, and that’s exactly what was done.”
The biggest gripe for both producers and consumers is what they perceive as bait and switch. They turned to pay-cable and premium streaming outlets based on an implied promise that commercials wouldn’t intrude, only to find that they’re back, more obnoxious than ever.
Truth is, TV distributors, regardless of their platform, were never going to abandon Madison Avenue for long. A 30-second commercial in next week’s Super Bowl costs $7 million. Do the math.
Peter Funt’s latest book is “Playing POTUS: The Power of America’s Acting Presidents,” about comedians who impersonated presidents.