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Streaming wars just warming up

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Robert Iger, Chief Executive Officer of Disney, poses in “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” during a media preview event at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, May 29, 2019.

Mario Anzuoni | Reuters

Disney+ is here, ushering in the unofficial kickoff to “The Streaming Wars” — the slew of monthly subscription services that are flooding the market to win your last incremental entertainment dollar.

But in reality, “war” is a misnomer for what’s about to happen in the world of streaming video. Perhaps there will be a day, years from today, when Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, AT&T‘s HBO Max, a hypothetical melded product from CBS and Viacom, Comcast-NBC Universal’s Peacock, a service from Discovery Communications, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi, Lionsgate‘s Starz, Apple TV+ and others all fight for your wallet share, with some surviving and others failing.

In the meantime, the average consumer isn’t going to look at a menu of a dozen options and select three or four, thus determining winners and losers. There are too many complicating factors for such a simple calculation. Some services already exist (Netflix, HBO) and will be largely grandfathered in by their existing subscriber bases. Others come with additional benefits (Amazon) that make “losing” extremely unlikely.

Here’s a more realistic vision of what’s about to happen over the next year.

Disney+

The idea of a streaming war suggests conflict, or at least some degree of unpredictability. But when it comes to the streamers, Disney+ can’t lose, if losing means rejection by most consumers. Disney+ is going to be an essential part of any family’s streaming diet.

There’s not much guesswork here. Disney is charging just $6.99 per month for nearly its entire back catalog of Star Wars movies and related series, Marvel movies and series, Pixar movies, old Disney movies, 30 seasons of “The Simpsons,” Disney Channel shows, 35 original movies and shows in year 1, and much more.

If a streaming service were selling just Marvel and Star Wars series and movies, it would a significant player in the “over-the-top” non-cable world. Disney’s offering is simply too robust to fail.

Indeed, Disney signed up more than 10 million subscribers for Disney+ in less than two days!

One way to define success or failure is if Disney hits its own internal subscriber targets. But those numbers are home-cooked, selected by the company to provide achievable benchmarks. Disney estimates it will have 60 million to 90 million subscribers by 2024. Disney has already struck a partnership with Verizon that will give away Disney+ for free to Verizon unlimited data subscribers and new Fios and 5G broadband homes. MoffettNathanson estimates there will be 18 million Disney+ subscribers by the end of Disney’s fiscal year 2020.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon will be a “winner” by default. Prime Video comes with Amazon Prime subscriptions, and it’s going to make sense for tens of millions of Americans to get free shipping on Amazon. Prime Video, which spends billions each year on original movies and shows including “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” comes as a throw-in for most consumers. It almost definitionally can’t lose, unless Amazon, itself, decides video no longer moves the needle for its Prime subscribers.

NBC’s Peacock

NBC is leaning toward offering an advertising-supported version of Peacock for free to everyone, sources told CNBC earlier this month. While there may be tiers of the service that offer more content (and no ads) for a price, NBC has decided that advertising revenue can make up for subscription revenue. As a result, NBC isn’t really playing the same game as everyone else, and therefore also can’t really lose. A lot of people are going to subscribe to a free service. It’s free.

HBO Max

About 34 million U.S. subscribers already pay for HBO. So when AT&T announced last month that HBO Max would be the exact same price as HBO, it can’t totally lose — at least if “lose” means being totally rejected. As soon as it strikes distribution deals, current HBO customers almost certainly will take the additional HBO Max content for free.

The question then becomes if enough new subscribers will come aboard to cover the billions AT&T plans to spend on new content.

As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said earlier this month, using customer signups as a metric for success is flawed because it’s too easy to maneuver. AT&T says it wants 50 million U.S. subscribers by 2025. But AT&T is giving away HBO Max to its premium unlimited wireless subscribers and top-tier home broadband customers. And if AT&T finds that few people are subscribing, it can simply offer HBO Max to more AT&T customers for free to meet targets. AT&T has about 160 million total mobility connections and customers

Apple TV+

Apple is giving its streaming video service away for free for a year before charging $4.99 per month to customers. But Apple can easily change this offer if it notices that few customers are paying for its limited library of originals, either bundling the service with its more popular music streaming service or extending the offer indefinitely as consumers buy new Apple products. Apple hasn’t released an internal streaming subscriber goal because the whole point of Apple TV+ isn’t to get you to pay for video — it’s to keep you using Apple electronic devices. Like Amazon, Apple will continue to be in the streaming game as long as it wants to be in the streaming game.

Netflix

So if all these other services will win, or at least comfortably exist, does that mean Netflix will lose? Probably not. Because so many of the services are free or cheap or throw-ins as benefits to products you’re already paying for, Netflix isn’t in any immediate danger of losing its place as the centerpiece of streaming solutions.

Netflix also outspends everyone, paying $15 billion a year for content, and has more than 160 million global subscribers. T-Mobile wireless subscribers get Netflix for free indefinitely.

First-mover advantage, brand recognition and massive content spend on original programming will almost certainly keep Netflix as an essential part of an average consumer’s streaming package.

Eventually, it’s possible that millions of subscribers will conclude that a bundle of, say, Disney+ and HBO Max is a good replacement product for Netflix. But while that decision may impact Netflix’s marginal growth, it probably won’t disrupt the company’s global expansion ambitions.

Everyone else

Finally, we reach the contestants in the actual Streaming Wars, at least in the near term — everyone else. Congratulations, Quibi! I’m not sure you will succeed. Starz and Discovery? Maybe you’ll stick, or maybe you’ll need to merge with CBS and Viacom to gain the necessary scale to compete. Everyone else I didn’t mention? You’re here until you prove yourselves.

These are the players Americans could actually refuse to spend money on, driving them out of business with more choice. This is why Hastings noted that a better metric for success may be time spent on a service instead of subscriber numbers.

These streamers are the junior varsity of available products. Of course there will be cut downs at this level.

There are a lot of streaming services. Most are going to stick around for a while. Investors can dial back the Streaming Wars rhetoric.

There’s good news for consumers, too: You probably already pay for a lot of these services, and many of the new ones are free for a while. Your entertainment budget isn’t going to blow up just yet. Relax.

(Disclosure: Comcast’s NBC Universal is the parent company of CNBC.)

Follow @CNBCtech on Twitter for the latest tech industry news.

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Bollywood’s Deepika Padukone’s battle with mental illness, depression

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Bollywood star Deepika Padukone has spoken out about her battle with depression, calling for greater public discussion to help tackle the mental health crisis.

Padukone, who is one of India’s highest-paid actresses, said her experience during a seeming “professional high” revealed the illness’ indiscriminatory nature and inspired her to campaign for other sufferers.

“Mental illness crept up on me when I least expected it,” Padukone said last week.

“The perception and the general understanding was that I was at a professional high,” she said last Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “But what I was also experiencing was this hollow, empty, pittish feeling … I would just cry out of nowhere.”

Padukone was diagnosed with depression in 2014.

The 34-year-old celebrity, who has over 30 movies to her name, said she considered herself lucky that her mother had spotted her symptoms and urged her to seek medical help.

Indian actress Deepika Padukone delivers her acceptance speech during the “Crystal Award” ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 20, 2020.

Fabrice Coffrini

However, she noted that stigma and lack of awareness surrounding mental illness can make it difficult for sufferers to reach out. In India alone, an estimated 7.5% of the population suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to the World Health Organization, yet provisions remain scarce.

That inspired Padukone to set up the Live, Love, Laugh Foundation in 2015 to support other sufferers. The charity aims to spread awareness of mental health issues, having launched India’s first national campaign, as well as working to help people reach diagnoses.

Learning to understand what she was experiencing was the first step to recovery, Padukone said. She encouraged potential sufferers and the people around them to look out for telltale signs of depression, such as prolonged feelings of sadness, sleeping and eating irregularities, as well as suicidal thoughts.

“The toughest part in the journey for me was not understanding what I was feeling,” said Padukone. “Just having the diagnoses in itself felt like a massive relief.”

Padukone was speaking at the WEF meeting — a gathering of global business leaders and policymakers — where she was honored with the 2020 Crystal Award for her contributions to mental health awareness.

In 2018, she was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year.

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More US service members diagnosed with brain injury after Iran missile attack

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A picture taken on January 13, 2020 during a press tour organised by the US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group, shows a view of the damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing US and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar.

Ayman Henna | AFP | Getty Images

A total of 50 U.S. service members suffered traumatic brain injury from this month’s Iranian missile attack on Iraqi bases hosting American troops, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Of those TBI cases, which can include concussions, 31 were treated in Iraq and have returned to duty, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell said in a statement.

Last week, the Pentagon said there were 34 service members diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

Of the 16 new diagnosed cases, 15 service members have returned to duty in Iraq, Campbell said.

Iran launched ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing American troops on Jan. 8 local time. The strike was in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was commander of its elite Quds Force, in a drone attack outside Baghdad’s airport less than a week before.

No one was killed in Iran’s strikes, and a day after targeting U.S. forces, President Donald Trump said that no one was hurt or killed.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman has said that a lot of TBI symptoms are late developing and manifest themselves over a period of time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that some symptoms of concussions and other traumatic brain injury can appear right away, but other symptoms may not be noticed for days or months after the injury.

One of those new cases involved a service member transported to Germany for further evaluation and treatment, bringing the total taken there to 18. That person had been taken to Germany “for other health reasons and has since been diagnosed with a TBI,” Campbell said.

Last week, another Pentagon spokesman said that eight U.S. service members who were sent to Germany were then taken to the United States.

Campbell’s statement Tuesday said that there was no information as to whether anyone else has returned to the U.S.

A service member that had been taken to Kuwait for treatment has since returned to duty, Campbell said.

Hours after Iran launched missiles against U.S. forces, Iran’s armed forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane that departed from Tehran’s airport, in an incident that Iranian officials blamed on “human error” and which Iran’s president has called an “unforgivable mistake.”

All 176 people aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 were killed, including many Iranians and Canadians.

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Global dissatisfaction with democracy at a record high, research says

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Pro-democracy protesters at a Thanksgiving Day rally on November 28, 2019 in Hong Kong.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The world is unhappier with democracy than ever, new research has claimed.

In a report published Wednesday, researchers from Cambridge University analyzed the political sentiment of more than 4 million people, using data from survey projects that covered 154 countries between 1995 and 2020.

The proportion of people who said they were dissatisfied with democracy over the last year hit 57.5%, according to the report, with researchers saying 2019 marked “the highest level of democratic discontent” on record.

Authors noted that over the last 25 years, the number of individuals dissatisfied with democratic politics around the world rose from a third to more than half.

Shifts in satisfaction levels were often a response to “objective circumstances and events” such as economic shocks and corruption scandals, the report said.

Following the financial crisis in 2008, for example, global dissatisfaction with the functioning of democracy jumped by around 6.5%.

Many large democracies, including the U.S., Australia, U.K. and Brazil, were now at their highest-ever level of dissatisfaction with democracy.

According to the report, the U.S. in particular had seen a “dramatic and unexpected” decline in satisfaction with democracy.

When the surveys began in 1995, more than 75% of U.S. citizens were satisfied with American democracy. The first big knock came with the financial crisis, the report showed, and satisfaction has continued to deteriorate year-on-year ever since.

Fewer than 50% of Americans are now content with democracy in their country, marking the first time on record that a majority of U.S. citizens were dissatisfied with their system of government.

“Such levels of democratic dissatisfaction would not be unusual elsewhere,” the report said. “But for the United States, it marks an ‘end of exceptionalism’ — a profound shift in America’s view of itself, and therefore, of its place in the world.”

However, researchers noted that they had found an “island of contentment” in Europe, where satisfaction with democracy had reached all-time highs. Denmark, Switzerland and Norway were among the countries that fell into that category.

Southeast Asia was also described as a regional “bright spot.”

Latin American precedent

Speaking to CNBC in a phone call on Monday, Roberto Foa, lead author of the report, said there were a number of different factors behind the declining approval of democracy.

“In developed democracies, it’s partly about political polarization — this has been gradual in the U.S. but has spiked in the last couple of years in the U.K.,” he said. “Malaise with democracy in the West is often down to longer term economic stagnation and loss of geopolitical influence.”

He noted there was a reasonable amount of research suggesting a rise in unhappiness with democracy tended to provoke changes in political behavior. For example, people would become more likely to vote for populist parties or politicians promising to “shake up the system.”

“We expect a great deal more of this,” Foa told CNBC. “The region that proves this is Latin America — the levels of dissatisfaction have always been very high and we’re seeing (a rise in populist support) there.”

He added that the rest of history could “look more like the south of the Americas than the north” if global satisfaction levels continued to decline.

Cambridge University’s study follows a report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit last week, which found that the U.S. had a “flawed democracy” and the strength of global democracy was at its lowest since 2006.

Meanwhile, research from Edelman last week found that 70% of people around the world believed democracy was “losing its effectiveness as a form of government.”

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