Streaming service war heats up as the likes of Disney enter the fray
Old-guard financial firms are targeting youngsters like Netflix Inc. with apps that can help customers weed out payments for services they no longer use or have forgotten about -- even as options to take on more monthly expenses multiply.
The applications, including those from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Discover Financial Services, assist users in finding recurring fees and in some cases cancel them or renegotiate their costs. Gym memberships, food-of-the-month-club dues, cable commitments, as well as video-streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, are all vulnerable to impulsive house cleaning. The apps, which sometimes take a cut from the money they save, can also alert subscribers when services hike prices.
That’s ironic considering that Apple Inc., Walt Disney Co., AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. are all planning new streaming services. Hulu reported last month that cancellation rates hit an all-time low. And Netflix, with a 35 per cent revenue jump last year from 2017, has raised prices.
So the new banking tools may not be taking a noticeable bite out of business just yet. But there are signs they might. At Clarity Money, an app owned by Goldman Sachs with 2 million subscribers, two of the three most-canceled expenses are video services, according to Kelly Newton, vice president of marketing. Cord cutting -- getting rid of cable -- hit a record in the first quarter, according to BTIG LLC.
“Every week it’s like there’s a new subscription we’ve signed up for and the bank account is drained by the end of it,” said Mark Schwanhausser, director of digital banking at research firm Javelin Strategy. The new financial tools “contribute to a smarter, more aware consumer.”
Cut the Cord
Consumers have begun to notice that money is streaming out of their bank accounts regardless of whether they use the services, and they’ve begun sorting out the expenses. The apps are banking that making it easier will be big business for them.
A while back, Americans woke up to the practice of canceling US$85-plus monthly cable bills in favor of cheaper individual options -- even if it meant lengthy phone discussions with a cable provider and having to return equipment to their office. Today, the average U.S. household subscribes to three streaming-video services, with 43 per cent paying for both streaming and traditional pay TV, according to Deloitte’s annual Digital Media Trends survey. Nearly half, however, are frustrated by the growing number of outlets they need to access to get what they want to watch.
‘Saturday Night Live’
Mocking the avalanche of offerings, Colin Jost on “Saturday Night Live’’ joked that Disney’s new streaming service was called Disney+, “as in, you now have to get Disney, plus Hulu, plus Netflix, plus Amazon, plus PlayStation, plus cable.”
But for all their future-world cache, streaming services don’t appear to have plans to combat one-click cancellations. Netflix, Hulu, Disney and Amazon all declined to comment. Comcast said it works directly with customers to protect account and personal information.
“This is the single most important aspect of the direct-to-consumer business model that legacy media executives are not prepared for,” said Richard Greenfield at BTIG.
Discover used Netflix as an example in its advertising “simply to describe recurring payments to those who might not be familiar with the term,” said spokesman Derek Cuculich.
Wells Fargo has jumped in, too. The bank is offering “Control Tower,” which scans recurring payments. In advertisements, a narrator tells a character named Jerry that “It’s time to clean house.’’ The bank started the service after a poll showed 31 per cent of Americans had paid for subscriptions or memberships that they didn’t use in the past year. Respondents said they had an average of three paid subscriptions that were unused or not needed.
“Corporations in America today make money when people aren’t paying attention,’’ said Thomas Smyth, whose Trim financial-management app, which cancels unwanted services, has grown to 500,000 subscribers since it launched in 2015. “We live in a subscription economy. If you’re paying for anything and it’s not a subscription today, it will be tomorrow.”