CW wants to split up the Arrowverse streaming deal, and that’s stupid

Over on Reddit, there’s a subreddit called “whatcouldgowrong,” dedicated to gifs of people making bad decisions and receiving instant karmic retribution. While the retribution won’t be nearly instant enough, the CW belongs there for the decision they’re in the process of implementing.

Deadline reported this week that CW’s streaming deal with Netflix, which brought shows like Supergirl, Arrow, and The Flash to the streaming giant’s popular service, is not being renewed. Further, new shows Batwoman, Katy Keene, and Nancy Drew are being shopped to various streaming services individually by their studios.

This is dumb, and it’s a “lose” for the viewer, show, and service alike. Have you heard of the Netflix Bump? The CW has, and that makes this decision all the more inexplicable. Shortly after a season of a show finishes, the CW has traditionally put its shows up on Netflix. Once there, a lot of people dive into the adventures of characters like Archie Andrews, Kara Danvers, and Barry Allen and they get hooked.

The Flash - Season 5 - Ep 22 - 17

“We saw this last year with Riverdale,” said CW president Mark Pedowitz at the 2018 Television Critics Association convention. “There was a 147% increase in terms of the new season premiere.”

“In prior years, we’ve seen the same for Supernatural. So there is an effect coming back to the fall for our shows in terms of how people watch them.”

Making CW shows available to stream is, clearly, a great idea, and the CW sees that. But the problem is that not all streaming services are created equally.  Internet analyst firm Sandvine reported last year that while video accounts for 58% of all global internet traffic, BitTorrent usage is once again growing after years of decline.

During the Netflix golden age, BitTorrent usage dropped from 52% of upstream internet traffic (2011) to 26% (2015). It was around then that streaming services started to multiple like Tribbles. Want to watch your show? Gotta check Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, HBO Go/Now, and Amazon Prime – and let’s not forget the upcoming Disney+ service and Warner Bros.’ own unnamed service. DC Universe isn’t nearly as popular, but it’s worth mentioning in this case at the very least. Of those, CW shows could end up on Netflix, Hulu, DC Universe, and Amazon Prime. Most people have one or two of those. Any more and you’re looking at the equivalent of a cable bill.

For us as viewers, that means that finding our superhero stories (and teen dramas if you’re into that) could go from a simple joy to an annoying grind. That’s especially bad for the CW’s DC shows, which culminate every year in a big crossover that encompasses most of the channel’s superhero shows. If future seasons of these shows ended up elsewhere, it could make watching that crossover all but impossible for many people. In short, it introduces cost and confusion into something that was previously simple and part of something people were paying for anyway.

Already, Deadline is saying that Batwoman might show up on the WarnerMedia service, so it seems like the breakup of the DC shows is almost inevitable. Why they don’t put them on DC Universe, a streaming service literally devoted to DC comics, movies, and television and also owned by Warner, I don’t understand.

Let’s sum this all up. CW shows benefit from being on an easily-accessible streaming service with a huge built-in install base that ends up going to watch them live as a result of their streaming habits. CW and Warner Bros. want to, instead, remove the videos from that service in an effort to get a couple more crumbs of the streaming pie that they think are out there, even as internet usage is showing that the pie is already eaten.

On the one hand, I think competition is good. Netflix was a de facto monopoly before, but Hulu and Amazon are offering some genuine competition, and services like CBS All Access are finally starting to put together some impressive libraries.

But despite Netflix being a lobby, it had the net effect of getting people to sit down and watch things legally instead of either dropping them altogether or, worse yet, pirating them.

It’s hard to see from the outside how this benefits the network or the shows in the long term. It looks like someone picking up a handful of sand and then being disappointed when it all slips through their fingers.

As a devout fan of CW, I personally stay caught up with my superstories through CW’s free streaming service, which keeps the last few episodes of a show available for a month or so after airing, but for my busier friends who watch the shows once they’re streaming? We’re going to see a lot of people give up on the Arrowverse if CW scatters its heroes to the wind.