The future of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services

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Ted Sarandos, 59, co-chief executive of Netflix, worked his way up through the now-defunct DVD industry before going straight to Netflix when the company was still renting DVDs by mail. Mike Hopkins, 55, head of Prime Video and Amazon MGM Studios, was steeped in digital as chief executive of Hulu, the pioneering streaming service owned by Disney, Fox and NBCU, before joining Sony as head of its television unit in 2017. He came to Amazon in 2020 and reports to the company’s chief executive, Andy Jassy, 56, who has no professional background in entertainment.

Over the past five months, The New York Times interviewed those three older executives, and the two younger ones, as well as numerous other owners and senior executives of major media companies to assess the problems facing the industry and what the future landscape could look like.

Rarely do these executives speak so candidly, on the record, about the challenge in front of them. And the meetings on the yacht aside, rarely do executives in that stratosphere get together to discuss strategy. Not only are many of them fierce rivals — Mr. Roberts famously drove up the cost of Disney’s 2019 acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets by bidding against Disney’s chief executive, Bob Iger — but meetings among direct competitors might attract unwelcome attention from antitrust regulators.

In our conversations, there were still plenty of disagreements, but some consistent themes emerged as well — all with major implications for investors, advertisers and audiences.

Streaming has long been hailed as a promising business, because companies like Netflix can add additional subscribers at little extra cost. The more paying subscribers a service has, the more the company’s costs can be spread out over a large base, lowering the cost per subscriber.

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