Content exclusives from streaming services are hurting customers

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Content exclusives from streaming services are hurting customers

Rihanna’s Anti was released last week. It’s very good.

It also isn’t selling a whole lot. Some say fewer than 1,000 copies in the US.

"Duh, that’s because Millennials hate capitalism and that’s why they’re all voting for Bernie Sanders and streaming their music instead of buying it."

Good point! And that’s why it’s bad that Anti is currently only available for streaming on Tidal. You probably don’t subscribe to Tidal, because no one subscribes to Tidal, and you’re not going to shell out $9.99 (or $19.99 for "Tidal HiFi") just to listen to the new Rihanna album.

Or are you?

Exclusive releases on streaming services, whether it’s music or movies or TV shows, are bad for customers because they make entertainment too expensive and too complicated.

On their faces, streaming services don’t cost that much. Take video streaming: Netflix just upped their monthly subscription cost across the board but it still only clocks in at $9.99. Amazon Prime Video is $99 for the year and comes with all of the other Amazon Prime benefits like free shipping, photo storage, and more. Hulu subscriptions start at $7.99 but there’s a handful of content available for free.

There’s a lot of overlap in what’s available to watch on these services. (Hulu, notably, has current seasons of shows, but only some episodes are available even with a paid subscription, and some shows you can only watch on a computer, and sometimes you’re redirected to a network’s site to watch it instead, because Hulu is a labyrinth of nonsense. It’s also collaboratively-owned by a bunch of legacy studios. Coincidence?) Where you spend your under-ten-dollars-a-month doesn’t really matter.

But then you start getting into exclusives.

You don’t want to be the only one not watching Netflix’s Daredevil or House of Cards, right? Oh, and Mozart in the Jungle just won a Golden Globe, so you have to have Amazon Prime. And Hulu’s Casual is getting good reviews, plus now they have The Mindy Project and you’ve always liked that show so…

Suddenly under-ten-dollars-a-month is upwards of $25. And those are only the main players in the space, and it doesn’t include music streaming, where you have Apple, Google, Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, Amazon Prime (with perhaps a new service on the way), and more.

It’s the sort of thing that spurs piracy online. You’re already paying $9.99 for Spotify and you’re not going to pay double just for Rihanna, so you find a torrent instead. It’s the justification that makes Game of Thrones the most pirated show of the year (again): "I don’t want to have to pay for HBO Now, too. Why isn’t it on Netflix? Or Amazon Prime, which already has a lot of HBO shows, but not the current ones."

It’s also keeping streaming from really taking off. I know, that’s crazy to say considering how Netflix has grown and the accolades that streaming originals are winning at award shows, but on demand, multi-device, well-produced content should be even more popular than it is. But people stick with cable subscriptions because for all their flaws – bundling, upselling, treating customers terribly – you’re subscribing to a single, unified cable package instead of having to manage an ever-increasing number of streaming services to put together your entertainment-watching puzzle.

Want to stream Rihanna's Anti on Spotify? Too bad.

Yes, you’ll see the occasional "Your cable provider is dropping your favorite channel!" warning while you’re watching TV, but those usually get worked out in backroom deals and for the most part you know what you’re getting. Channel availability is largely the same across providers. Time Warner Cable isn’t producing critically-acclaimed shows. You don’t have to be a Comcast subscriber to make sure you’re up to date on watercooler talk. There’s no need to subscribe to AMC and Comedy Central and FX separately. You just pay your cable bill every month and it’s all there. For a lot of people, the extra money you’re paying for a cable subscription over streaming (which isn’t as much as you’d think when, again, you’re paying for a half-dozen or more services) is worth not needing a spreadsheet to keep track of what’s available where.

But while streaming services are busy fighting each other, they’re not caring about the fact that it isn’t good for you, the customer.

There are other, better ways for them to win your dollar: streaming quality, cost, ease of use, availability of platforms, customer service, and extra benefits like Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlists. These all make for a better customer experience without making you have to choose what you’ll enjoy, and that’s what you should be paying for.

Music streaming services haven't gotten into original content – yet. Examples like Taylor Swift and now Rihanna show they're at least testing the waters of exclusivity. Anti isn’t available for physical purchase for those of you who want to grow your vinyl collection. You either have to buy it digitally or stream it. And if you’re going to stream it, you’d better sign up for Tidal.

How much is it worth?