What's Worth Streaming: What will streaming services bring in 2022? Here are 5 trends to watch

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For the first time in two years, the streaming wars should carry on at full strength in 2022.

After the pandemic threw productions into havoc in 2020, with delays lingering through 2021, the pipeline for new series and movies is finally becoming unclogged. And that’s a good thing, because the major streaming services will spend an estimated $ 230 billion-plus on new content next year, according to a recent report by Ampere Analysis.

There are going to be a lot of moving pieces in the streaming game in 2022, from a slew of new series and movies, to potential consolidation, to global expansion, to changes to the very way we watch.

Here are five of the most interesting trends to watch for in the coming year:

The rise of IP

Hollywood learned long ago that capitalizing on familiar, popular intellectual-property franchises (i.e. Batman, Legos, James Bond, etc.) offers the simplest road to making a hit. Streaming services will lean heavily in that direction in 2022 — even more so than 2021.

The most obvious example is Disney+, which is planning to eventually have multiple Marvel and “Star Wars” series running all year long. To that end, next year will bring, among other things, the long-awaited “Star Wars” spinoff series “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” with Ewan McGregor, and the “Rogue One” prequel “Andor,” with Diego Luna. That’s in addition to “The Book of Boba Fett,” which premiered this week, and Season 3 of “The Mandalorian,” which will probably come later in 2022. There’s also a new slate of Marvel superhero shows such as “Moon Knight,” with Oscar Isaac; “She-Hulk,” with Tatiana Maslany; and “Ms. Marvel,” with newcomer Iman Vellani.

From HBO Max’s highly anticipated “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon,” to the USS Enterprise prequel series “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” on Paramount+, to Amazon Prime Video’s nearly $ 500 million “Lord of the Rings” prequel (another trend: prequels), familiar titles will be everywhere.

Netflix NFLX, -0.39% will lead the way, with a live-action “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series, based on the classic anime; the animated adventure series “Magic: The Gathering,” based on the popular card game; an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s epic comic “The Sandman”; the fantasy prequel series “The Witcher: Blood Origin”; a “Chronicles of Narnia” live-action series; and even an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” among many other series. And there’s also Netflix’s own IP powerhouse, “Stranger Things,” which will drop its fourth season probably next summer.

Videogame adaptations have almost universally flopped as movies, but streaming services believe they’ll fare better as series adaptations, as evidenced by the loaded slate of “Halo” (Paramount+), “The Last of Us” (HBO Max), “Assassin’s Creed” (Netflix), “Resident Evil” (Netflix), an anime “Far Cry” (Netflix) and an animated “Tomb Raider” series (Netflix) coming next year.

Meanwhile, Paramount+ is working on reboots or spinoffs of “Flashdance,” “The Italian Job,” “Grease,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Love Story” and “Frasier” (though not all will be ready for 2022).

Consolidation is coming. Someday.

Simply put, there are too many streaming services to survive long term. Consolidation will happen, it’s just a matter of when — though federal regulators may make that path more difficult.

The regulatory backlash to Big Tech is real, and will likely come into full effect in 2022 through antitrust reform and other regulatory and legislative measures.

That could be bad news for the streaming giants. Amazon.com Inc.’s AMZN, +0.58% $ 8.45 billion purchase of MGM Studios is under FTC scrutiny, and congressional Democrats have called for closer examination of Discovery Inc.’s DISCA, -0.12% pending $ 43 billion merger with AT&T’s T, +0.16% WarnerMedia, home of HBO Max.

Much hangs on how those deals go, particularly a potential merger or partnership between ViacomCBS’s VIAC, Paramount+ and Comcast Corp.’s CMCSA, +0.08% Peacock. Forbes reported earlier this year that partnership talks (think Hulu-lite) have been put on hold until the Warner-Discovery deal goes through. But combining the two services makes a lot of sense — they are nearly mirror images of each other, each featuring a solid lineup of shows, deep movie libraries and top-tier live sports, and they would probably fare better teaming up than each going it alone.

Comcast may also yank its NBCUniversal content from Hulu and move it to Peacock, the Wall Street Journal reported in November. That would give Disney DIS, +1.57% full control of Hulu, which it could then absorb into Disney+. Comcast reportedly has a small window to pull the plug in early 2022 — otherwise the current deal will remain in place until at least 2024.

Meanwhile, Lions Gate LGF.A, -1.29% is reportedly looking to sell its Starz unit — with Apple AAPL, -0.58%, Amazon or Comcast seen as potential buyers — and there are always rumors about various streaming giants (especially Apple) interested in buying Lions Gate, AMC Networks or Sony Pictures to bolster their libraries. Billionaire media mogul and Discovery board member John Malone also said earlier this year that he’d be open to a merger with Comcast’s NBCUniversal at some point if the regulatory environment is friendly enough.

It’s that last bit that’s key — expect more M&A action once that friendly environment is established, which may not happen until there’s a different presidential administration.

The binge is dead, long live weekly drops

While 2020 was the year of binge-watching — thanks largely to pandemic shutdowns — 2021 reminded viewers that sometimes the best TV-watching experiences come on a once-a-week basis, allowing more time to absorb plot developments and speculate about what will happen next (See: “Succession,” “WandaVision” and “Ted Lasso,” among others). It also allows more time for, you know, life off the couch.

Weekly releases — the norm for TV networks for decades — are especially beneficial for smaller (that’s non-Netflix) streaming services looking to generate consistent viewership month after month, creating buzz and remaining in the pop-culture conversation for sustained periods of time.

According to a recent report by The Ringer, which cited Parrot Analytics data, 62% of the top 50 new streaming shows of 2021 used a weekly release strategy of some sort, up from about 30% the previous two years. That includes strategies used by Apple TV+, Prime Video and HBO Max, most notably, of dropping the first two or three episodes at once, then releasing one or two episodes a week.

It’s not just the services that benefit — with weekly drops, viewers aren’t overwhelmed with so many episodes at once (a common complaint that may have hurt Amazon’s intense “Underground Railroad”) and can have a more relaxing and memorable viewing experience, rather than mainlining a series in a weekend and quickly forgetting about it entirely.

Don’t expect the binge to go away completely though. Netflix has shown it still works pretty well for its new releases, and most of its rival services will continue to use some kind of hybrid release strategy, depending on the individual series.

More international hits

“Squid Game,” the smash hit series from South Korea, was just the latest (and most popular) in a long line of international success stories from Netflix (See: “Money Heist,” “Lupin,” “Dark” and “Narcos: Mexico,” among others). Expect even more foreign-language series to be developed as Netflix turns its focus to international growth, especially in Asia, India and Latin America.

Other streaming services will follow suit as they expand to international audiences:

• Disney+ says it plans 50 Asian originals by 2023, as it expands to South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

• Paramount+ will soon debut in South Korea and Western Europe and will launch its first Latin American original series, “The Envoys,” in January.

• Peacock expanded to Europe (on Sky platforms) in 2021 and has more than 50 Spanish-language projects already under way in conjunction with Telemundo.

• Amazon’s Prime Video will double down on India, where it has tripled its viewing hours over the past two years, with more programming in the Hindi, Tamil and Telugu languages.

• Apple TV+ will debut its first Russian-language show, the thriller “Container,” in the spring, joining a slate of Israeli shows and the Korean “Dr. Brain.”

• HBO Max is scheduled to debut in Europe in early 2022, after its 2021 launch was delayed in favor of a Latin American focus, and it will look to expand its international library, which included “Gomorrah,” “Beartown” and “30 Coins” in 2021.

As long as there are paying viewers to be had outside the U.S., look for streaming services to keep bolstering their international programming. And the hits will come.

Videogames, live sports and more movies

The streaming landscape is poised to become about much more than just TV shows.

• Netflix is expected to start offering videogames in 2022 alongside its streaming content — essentially a games channel within the app, for no additional charge for subscribers (at least at first). It’s a huge move to open up what could be another massive revenue stream and drive subscription growth with an offering that none of its rivals can match.

• Live sports will also become a more prominent feature for streamers. NFL football and soccer are already arguably the prime draw for both Peacock and Paramount+, and Amazon’s Prime Video will have exclusive rights for Thursday Night Football next season. There are rumors that Apple is among the bidders for rights to stream MLS soccer, after its current broadcast deal expires next fall, and Amazon is reportedly the front-runner to buy the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package, whose deal with DirectTV expires after the 2022 season.

HBO Max has so far avoided live sports, despite Turner Sports being its sister unit under the WarnerMedia umbrella. But that could change under new ownership, if the Discovery-Warner deal comes to fruition. Turner’s TNT and TBS have rights deals in place with the NHL, MLB, NBA and NCAA basketball, which could be a very attractive lineup for sports fans who have cut the cord.

More live sports could also mean partnering with offerings for online sports betting, an avenue Disney has said it’s exploring — opening yet another potentially lucrative revenue stream.

• HBO Max benefited from streaming big-name Warner Bros. movies the same day they hit theaters in 2021. That practice won’t carry over to 2022, but the movie landscape is quickly changing and streaming subscribers will get to see new releases much quicker.

Gone are the days of waiting months for new movies to stream — starting in 2022, HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+ will have access to many new releases as soon as 45 days after they open in theaters, thanks to new deals with their respective corporate-sibling movie studios — Warner Bros., Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Disney+ has also experimented with movie-release formats, most recently with the animated hit “Encanto” streaming just a month after its theatrical release. That may become the new norm for Disney+, rather than the “Premium Access” plan, in which subscribers paid an additional $ 30 to watch a new movie — like “Black Widow” — the same day it hit theaters, only to see them appear on Disney+ for no additional fee a few months later.

Disney+ will also continue to release some big-name original movies straight to streaming, as will Apple and Amazon, and movie-lovers should get a full slate of new releases for the first time since 2020.

Bottom line: Whatever else happens, there should be no shortage of things to stream in 2022.

For monthly streaming picks, check out What’s Worth Streaming.