October 22, 2020

Should Netflix, Disney Plus, and others really stop charging during COVID-19?

Some people think streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus should not charge customers for 60 days. Could that happen?

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The coronavirus outbreak caused most governments to shut down businesses starting in mid-March. Since then, a huge number of people have been either been forced to stay at home, or chosen to self-quarantine. As a result, there’s been a huge spike in the use of online services across the board for work, education, and, yes, for entertainment.

Services like Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and others are seeing spikes in users. Indeed, Netflix’s latest financial results showed the service added a whopping 15.8 million subscribers — over double what was expected. Many streaming services have voluntarily cut down their video streaming bitrates to Europe and other parts of the world during the coronavirus crisis, over fears that too many users might overwhelm the internet infrastructure.

During this time, a number of streaming services have extended olive branches to people that have been stuck at home. Some services, including CBS All Access, Shudder, and Sundance Now, have expanded their 7-day or 14-day free trials to 30 days for new users. Other streaming services have even offered up much of their content for free without a subscription. Netflix has posted a number of educational shows for free via YouTube. Several full seasons of shows from Apple TV Plus and YouTube Originals are also available to stream and watch for free.

But should these services go even further, as the coronavirus outbreak will likely continue to keep many people at home in May and June? A recently launched online petition at Change.org has a proposal. According to the petition, streaming services like Netflix, Disney Plus, and others should “[enact] a temporary 60 day stoppage of membership charges . . ..”

Why should streamers not charge for their services right now?

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Why do people want Netflix, Disney Plus, and others to stop charging? According to the petition, while people are social distancing, everyone has felt the need to use streaming services to “alleviate their monotony.” At the same time, the huge loss of jobs as a result of social distancing rules by most governments has created a massive economic strain. Therefore, many people may not be able to afford to pay the membership fees for their favorite streaming services at this time.

The petition adds:

If people can watch as much as they want, whenever they want, this will help alleviate the stress of home isolation, as well as encourage people to stay home. This is a responsible community health strategy.

The online petition launched two weeks ago. As of the writing of this article, it now has close to 50,000 online signatures.

Is this really going to happen? And should it?

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Suspending the bills for Netflix, Disney Plus, and others does indeed have an appeal during this crisis. After all, many wireless carriers are making moves to help economically hurt households, such as waiving late fees and data overage fees. Some carriers are even adding more data to certain wireless plans.

However, it’s highly unlikely that the major streaming services would simply cut out their sources of income for two months, even during this coronavirus event. That would be a disaster for them financially. It would be especially bad for Netflix, since it is almost completely a streaming-only company, while Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus are simply parts of larger businesses.

The other major thing wrong with this idea is that there are lots of streaming services offering ad-based movies and TV shows online for free. Services like YouTube, Pluto TV, Tubi, and many others can be accessed with just a Wi-Fi or cellular wireless connection needed.

Let’s not forget the newly launched Quibi streaming service. From now until the end of April, the service is letting folks sign up and get not just 60 days of free service, but 90 days for free. The service keeps adding new shows every week as well.

Ultimately, no one is forcing people to pay for Netflix, Disney Plus, or any of the other premium streaming services. There’s a lot of free video content to watch online to help alleviate the monotony of staying at home. The issue, at least to us, is whether or not you think the premium services are worth the price they charge during this crisis. Based on Netflix’s numbers, the answer would seem to be “yes,” at least for now.

What do you think? Is this petition outrageous or are you going to sign?

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