Password sharing, preservation, and rising costs – why are streaming services failing us?

(Image credit: Netflix)

Are you still watching? What was once Netflix’s cutesy reminder to subscribers who had binged too many episodes, nodded off, or were otherwise ‘preoccupied’, has now become a blanket statement for those who are reacting to recent streaming changes – by switching off in their droves.

Out of the big-name streamers, Netflix, Disney Plus, and the newly-christened Max have had a veritable annus horribilis in terms of introducing a wave of changes that have rankled with viewers.

The past 12 months alone has seen Max and Disney Plus clear house on its subscription service, Netflix clamp down on password sharing, and costs rising everywhere. Streamers – once the golden goose of television, offering those watching at home unprecedented choice and value – are now making misstep after misstep. It’s time they put the consumer first.

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Stranger Things

(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix’s latest password sharing crackdown is proof enough that streaming services are failing us. In truth, we all have a laundry list of family, friends, hangers-on, and exes who still have access to our accounts. As of May 2023, that is no longer an option – with primary account holders now having to pay to add ‘extra members’ to their account.

Depending on who you believe, Netflix potentially loses billions of dollars a year from password sharing. Its attempts to stop multiple people using the same account may have greater consequences. One million subscribers have already pulled the plug in Spain this year according to data company Kantar (H/T Bloomberg), while the unseen number – those who spread word about Netflix’s successes through word-of-mouth – is likely to dwindle further. So what if people use someone else’s account to watch Netflix? These people are actively engaging in (that most horrible of business-speak terms) ‘content.’ Now, they won’t be.

Netflix, to put it bluntly, lacks hits and is far too trigger-happy with its cancellations. It hasn’t even reached double-figures for Netflix originals with over 50 episodes. That lack of long-term thinking will hit hard. Its walled-off thinking with passwords will surely make growth stagnate, as well as contribute to a lack of energy and passion behind some of its biggest projects.

Where would Stranger Things be without millions tuning in – and telling others to do likewise? The same goes for Squid Game, The Witcher, Bridgerton, and so much more. When you don’t have a killer app, the medium is the killer app. And Netflix, by being so Draconian with password sharing, is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Batgirl movie

(Image credit: Leslie Grace/Warner Bros.)

But Netflix isn’t the only game in town. And far from cutting off its nose to spite its face, Disney Plus and Max are sweeping the decks to… save money on tax write-offs.

As capitalist choices go, it’s especially ugly and cruel to lose hundreds of hours of material that has been worked on tirelessly by artists. In a zeitgeist dominated by AI shortcuts, it feels like the natural streaming endgame for prioritizing profit over creative progress.

Willow, Hemlock Grove, and Westworld are just some of the headline names that have left streaming services in the past year. Batgirl was also consigned to the bottom line of an accounting spreadsheet, deemed too expensive to release – despite housing Michael Keaton’s Batman, a future Best Actor winner in Brendan Fraser, and a cacophony of diverse talent desperate to have their voices heard.

Goodbye to old favorites


(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney+)

Worse still is the seemingly blasé attitude these departures have towards preservation. With physical media dwindling in all areas of entertainment (indeed, 90% of video game sales in 2022 were digital), it’s become increasingly dangerous and culturally irresponsible to remove access to shows and movies that aren’t available elsewhere. Art – good, bad, and in-between – deserves to be preserved. Disney, once masters of archiving, would be best served by reading Bob Iger’s tribute to the Mouse’s long-serving master archivist Dave Smith – one that should be read in full.

"He was the unsung hero of Disney’s history who, as our first archivist, spent 40 years rescuing countless documents and artifacts from obscurity, investing endless hours restoring and preserving these priceless pieces of our legacy, and putting them in context to tell our story," Iger wrote in 2019. "Dave was a true Disney Legend, and we are indebted to him for building such an enduring, tangible connection to our past that continues to inspire our future."

The Disney of today, which has just removed dozens of shows and movies, might disagree.

On a base level, the key selling point for streamers – choice and value – has been lost. In the US, there are nine services with over 15 million subscribers, each segmenting and fracturing various libraries, archives and collections. Recently, I’ve compiled a guide on how to watch Pokemon and discovered something eye-opening: you need five subscriptions to watch the majority of episodes – and you still won’t even get close to completing the series.

Each calculated move – the crackdowns, the content removal, the one-season cancellations – feels especially egregious in the face of mounting costs. Netflix and Disney Plus upped its monthly prices in 2022 and now, it seems, we’re getting even less value for money.

Something, then, needs to change. Are we still watching? Soon enough, we’ll have very little reason to.

Take a look ahead to the rest of 2023 with our guides to upcoming movies, video game release dates, and movie release dates.

Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.