The streaming video business is still in its experimental stage and that means for every Netflix and Transparent that succeeds, there are businesses and programs that fail. Here’s a look at the stinkers and the biggest streaming failures.
Failed Streaming Services
There’s no limit to the number of good ideas out there – or at least ideas that seemed good at the time. What many streaming video entrepreneurs find out is that starting a business isn’t easy especially when your competitors can pay for better lawyers than you can.
There’s one problem with being clever about copyright law. Companies with more money than you have lawyers much cleverer than you. That’s what did in streaming service Aereo. It’s clever idea: lease a TV antenna and an internet-connected DVR to individual subscribers so they could watch live TV and recorded content over the internet. Aereo argued that their system gave each of its customers “their own” antenna and DVR. That was no different, Aereo claimed, than a customer using an antenna and DVR in their own home. So no conflict with copyrights.
Broadcasters disagreed. They argued that Aereo was no different from a cable company and should pay rebroadcast fees. The courts agreed with the broadcasters, Aereo appealed, the courts still agreed with the broadcasters. Finally, the Supreme Court said the broadcasters were right. Aereo filed for bankruptcy in 2014 and sold its patents to TiVo.
Based in Provo, Utah, VidAngel launched a service to help families watch movies and TV shows without all of the sex, cussing and violence. To do this, they ripped and edited mainstream DVD content into a more family-friendly format. They claimed copyright laws didn’t apply because they “sold” the edited DVD to its customers who streamed the movie and then “sold” the DVD back to VidAngel.
Disney, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros took a dim view of VidAngel’s approach. The movie studios filed an injunction in 2016 that forced VidAngel to stop streaming during the lawsuit. VidAngel’s lawyers, apparently convinced that they would lose the lawsuit, filed for bankruptcy to give VidAngel time to develop its new business model…. Last month they started filtering Amazon and Netflix streams.
Because that’s totally different.
OnLive launched as a subscription-based “cloud gaming” service in 2010. It promised gamers that they could play popular games without investing in high-performance gaming PCs or consoles. The games would instead run on the company’s servers, letting players stream video of the gameplay to any device.
That promise seemed to be the dream of many gamers, but OnLive struggled to get anyone to join. By the time it collapsed in 2014, The Verge reported, OnLive’s expensive server infrastructure only hosted 1,600 concurrent users – despite company claims of 1.5 million active users.
OnLive executives finally gave up in 2015 and sold its intellectual property to Sony which used it to strengthen its own PlayStation Now service.
NBCUniversal launched its comedy-centric streaming service Seeso in early 2016. Priced at $3.99 per month, it gave subscribers access to licensed programming like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live. The service even funded original content like the real estate show Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ and live-action role-playing series HarmonQuest.
Seeso could not compete with Netflix’s massive investment in stand-up comedy. A year after its launch, Deadline reported that Seeso had attracted fewer than a million subscribers. Executives jumped ship and people were laid off. Finally, Seeso posted its farewell on Facebook and closed down.
Several of its original series found homes elsewhere. The second season of HarmonQuest premiered on VRV. Hulu picked up There’s… Johnny! which is set backstage at The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Failed Original Programming
The streaming services are throwing so much money around that it seems like any director or show-runner with a pulse can land a contract to produce original content. Judging by some of these stinkers, Netflix and its competitors may want to take a more thoughtful approach.
Death Note (Netflix)
Death Note is a series of Japanese manga (comics) that was so popular in Japan and around the world that it led to Japanese animated and live-action productions. Netflix’s Death Note is a live-action adaptation for American audiences that achieved something remarkable – it alienated audiences more than critics. Rotten Tomatoes rounded up the critics’ reviews and gave Death Note a 40% score on the Tomatometer. The audience, however, gave it a measly 25%.
Asian characters whitewashed into pretty Americans combined with an overstuffed adaptation from the original manga and anime to create a movie that the Los Angeles Times’ Noel Murray called “a 100-minute ‘previously on’ montage for a cable TV show.” Alison Willmore’s review in Buzzfeed damned it with faint praise: “it’s still better than Ghost in the Shell.”
Crisis in Six Scenes (Amazon)
Amazon seemed to score a coup when it convinced Woody Allen to direct and star in an Amazon Original TV series. The filmmaker seems to have taken the Amazon bucks and phoned it in to produce Crisis in Six Scenes. The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman called the series “thinner and not smart enough in its premise” compared to Allen’s films and, as a TV show, was a “curiously plodding and frankly half-assed effort.”
Variety’s Sonia Saraiya found the entire concept tone-deaf given Allen’s marriage to his former partner’s adopted daughter and accusations of sexual abuse from his own adopted daughter. (And this was before the Weinstein scandal sparked harassment house cleaning across Hollywood.)
The poor response from critics and Amazon Prime subscribers seemed to do the trick: there won’t be a second season.
Planet of the Apps (Apple Music)
Apple’s first original TV series was a Shark Tank-like competition between app developers to launch their businesses. Only available through Apple’s streaming music subscription service, Apple Music, Planet of the Apps’ ten-episodes barely hit the radar of mainstream reviewers. The technology press praised the show, not because it was any good, but because of what it meant for Apple’s future in streaming.
Mashable’s Kerry Flynn advised readers who missed the show not to worry because “it’s really not that thrilling.” Engadget’s Cherlynn Low called the “tepid take on the high-stakes world of… app funding” both “strangely condescending” and “barely entertaining.”
Stay Tuned, There’s More
The silly money flowing through Hollywood and Silicon Valley means these streaming failures won’t be the last. 2018 promises a bumper crop of failed businesses and original flops. Stock up on the popcorn.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.