Two of America’s largest companies have moved in opposite directions in the streaming wars, just as the market becomes more crowded. As Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) launches Disney+, Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) is rumored to be dumping its streaming service, Vudu. The moves occur in a period when research shows people have become exhausted while watching streaming programs, which would put a natural cap on the industry.
Disney+ is considered one of the few services that can take on industry leaders Amazon and Netflix. Disney has the natural advantage of one of the most visible brands in America. It also has a library that most other streaming companies cannot match, with Disney properties Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and National Geographic. It also has the decades-old vault of Disney movies.
Walmart has very little in terms of programs that are unique, and uniqueness has become the coin of the realm in the sector. Witness the billions of dollars Netflix and Amazon have spent on original movies and TV shows. Apple is said to be ready to spend similar amounts to boost its new Apple TV+.
A new piece of research shows that consumers may have reached their limits, at least in terms of the amount of time they are willing to sit in front of a screen and watch streamed content. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine claims that a “whopping 88% of U.S. adults admitted they had lost sleep due to staying up late to watch multiple episodes of a TV show or streaming series — and this number jumps to 95% when looking at 18-44-year-olds.” The numbers seem wildly inflated, except to those many Americans who are actually exhausted after hour upon hour at a screen based on an addiction that probably matches cigarette smoking.
Walmart learned the hard lesson that even with the 100 million “devices” it is on across America, its library is nothing more than movies like “Men in Black” and “The Lion King,” which are available in other places. The first rental on Vudu is free. However, most of the new large services offer similar special deals. Apple TV+ is free for seven days, and then the price goes to $4.99 a month. Disney+ has a seven-day free trial that then jumps to $6.99.
To make matters more competitive, Disney+ will be available for a year, for free, on Verizon 5G wireless devices and Verizon home internet. People who buy a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV or Mac get a free year of Apple TV+. The Disney and Apple bets are that people will like the services so much that they will pay for them the following year.
The free streaming service and bounty of new programs may be whittled down by the price people eventually will have to pay. Or, they may get too tired to watch anything beyond what they watch today.