Will back catalogs win the streaming wars?

Cast of Friends leaning over a table, playing a game - streaming wars

Netflix has seemingly cornered the market on streaming original shows. With major titles like Stranger Things, The Witcher, Orange Is the New Black, Grace and Frankie, Big Mouth, and plenty more, it has some popular series but also a massive library of other original titles. As time goes on, though, the streamer is seeing its back catalog of older shows dwindle.

Check out: The best original streaming shows on every major platform

That may very well account for its increasingly low standing with subscribers. Amid a dip in subscribers, Netflix now also faces the reality that it has the lowest “value satisfaction” of all the major streamers, according to a recent poll by Whip Media. That means people no longer think Netflix is really worth the price of admission compared to the competition.

We obviously can’t put all the blame on the loss of many beloved titles from its back catalog, but it can’t have helped. Netflix was once one of the only streaming destinations online. As such, it licensed tons of shows and movies from almost everyone. But as companies like WarnerMedia (now Warner Bros. Discovery), NBCUniversal, Disney, and Paramount launched their own subscription services, they naturally became more protective of their prized libraries.

HBO Max has been catching up to Netflix in the streaming wars.

Among them, one of the major standouts has been HBO Max. Mixed in with original series like The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Raised By Wolves, Station Eleven, and Minx, the Warner Bros. Discovery subsidiary also offers access to titles from HBO, Warner Bros., the Cartoon Network, the CW, New Line Cinema, and many more. HBO Max ranked first for “value satisfaction” in that same poll that saw Netflix losing public confidence, and we think it owes that to its extensive back catalog of shows.

HBO Max logo

HBO Max

HBO Max is your home for Warner Bros-made movies and TV shows like The Lord of the Rings, the DC Comics superheroes, and more. It’s also the home for new and original movies and shows available nowhere else.

Discovering classics, revisiting favorites

The Sopranos eating dinner at a restaurant - HBO library

One of my favorite streaming “discoveries” of the last year was The Sopranos. (Yes, as an entertainment writer, it was a huge gap in my viewing history, but there are only so many hours in the day and far more TV shows than that.)

I certainly wasn’t alone. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the classic HBO series has enjoyed a huge resurgence, especially among new, young viewers. It remains a smart, gripping, and even timely show more than two decades on, and it’s a prototypical example of prestige TV, paving the way for some of the best shows of the last few years.

Young viewers have discovered The Sopranos en masse in the last couple of years.

That’s the beauty of HBO Max. I have easy access to The Sopranos and other HBO classics, plus newer titles like Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Girls, Game of Thrones, and plenty more. If I missed them the first time around, I can go back — either alone or as part of the cultural zeitgeist — and get caught up. Those classics can be discovered anew by a fresh audience at any time, divorced from the constant stream (pun intended) of new content.

See also: The best shows on HBO Max

A similar and maybe even stronger case can be made for revisiting favorites. Warner Bros. Discovery broke the internet in 2019 when its NBC classic Friends was removed from Netflix, only to later make its way to the company’s own nascent streamer HBO Max. NBCUniversal similarly made headlines when it reclaimed its fan-favorite sitcom The Office, now hosted exclusively on Peacock.

What’s more comforting than ending the day with old episodes of Frasier or The Golden Girls?

Rewatches mean big money in streaming. What’s more comforting than ending the day with old episodes of Frasier, The Golden Girls, Law & Order, or Batman: The Animated Series? In 2017, a bizarrely specific subreddit even bemoaned the removal of Futurama from Netflix not just because its members loved the show, but rather because they needed to have it playing to comfortably go to sleep. I’m personally gearing up to rewatch HBO’s stunningly good The Leftovers — once I finish The Sopranos.

HBO Max has made major headway in the streaming wars

HBO Max interface - Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - HBO Max library

Over the years, Netflix’s prices have continued to rise, even as its own third-party back-catalog titles have disappeared. Hence the diminishing perception of its value.

The cheaper HBO Max, on the other hand, has been a value contender from day one. The back catalog of already popular titles is surely no small part of that. It includes a healthy balance of movies and TV shows, and among those is a treasure trove of older titles to supplement the Max originals. But HBO Max isn’t alone in this: Hulu, Disney Plus, Peacock, and Paramount Plus also draw from the libraries of their corporate overlords to compete with Netflix’s considerable head start.

Related: The best Netflix original shows

As time goes on, Netflix originals will age, and some will surely remain favorites. There must be people who go to sleep to the sound of, say, BoJack Horseman. And cult titles like The OA and Sense8 certainly have their repeat viewers. But reaching that “classic” status will take time, and while Netflix has a head start on streaming originals now, it’s still lagging by decades on its back catalog.

That means HBO Max is catching up in the streaming wars, and catching up fast.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of seasons of The Sopranos left to get through.

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