If you’ve been feeling the financial strain of paying for streaming services, know that you’re part of a widespread concern.
The escalating costs of subscription-based services, especially streaming, have been a topic of discussion and worry for many consumers.
Siraj Jalil, the president of the Malaysia Cyber Consumer Association, emphasises that the allure of these platforms lies in their user-friendly interfaces and vast content libraries.
According to Nielsen’s data for 2020, Malaysia registered 14.1 million streaming subscribers, representing about 78% of the viewing population who are aged 15 years and older.
It cited increasing broadband access and smartphone penetration in the country as possible reasons why users turned to streaming.
“As these platforms become synonymous with their lifestyles, any increase in subscription fees may become a point of contention among users in Malaysia,” he said.
Based on feedback from members of the association, Siraj said it’s important to highlight how price increases affect different segments of users.
“Students juggling academic costs with limited pocket money, for example, may find themselves wondering if they should continue subscribing to the platforms or seek more affordable alternatives,” he said.
He added that middle-class families also face the burden of reassessing their digital subscriptions, ensuring that they get maximum value without straining their finances.
“For the elderly and retirees who have embraced some of these digital conveniences as a way to stay connected and entertained, the price hikes may seem prohibitive.
“Now for the low-income households that, perhaps, may have just started to get a taste of these digital services, they may now view them as luxuries rather than accessible entertainment,” Siraj said.
One too many
Kuala Lumpur-based property agent Eric Wong admitted that he felt burdened when streaming companies raised their subscription fees.
“I’ve started to feel the pain a bit. It may still be okay if you have only one subscription. But nowadays, most people would likely have more than one.
“For example, they may use both Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar because each platform has different content. Then they may also want to add Amazon Prime because of some of its original shows,” Wong said.
In an unusual step, Netflix reduced the cost of its Basic plan from RM35 to RM28 per month in February, granting users access to high-definition (HD) content on one supported device at a time.
However, it also unveiled a new policy requiring subscribers to pay an extra RM13 per user should they wish to share their account with individuals staying in separate households.
The most recent revision of Netflix subscription fees in Malaysia occurred in 2020, when the maximum increase was RM4. This adjustment marked the first time the company had altered its pricing since introducing the service locally in 2016.
Disney+ Hotstar, meanwhile, has maintained its pricing since the service was introduced in Malaysia two years ago.
However, the service may crack down on password sharing next year, as Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company is “actively exploring ways to address account sharing” in an earnings call on Aug 9.
He further mentioned the company’s intentions to update its subscriber agreement by incorporating additional terms and refining its sharing policies later this year, including plans to “roll out tactics to drive monetisation”.
The company also raised the price of the Disney+ subscription in the United States, with the ad-free plan costing US$13.99 (RM65) per month (up from US$10.99 or RM51). It has yet to change its prices locally.
Site safety executive Deirdre James said that prior to getting married last year, she used to subscribe to multiple services.
“I’ve cut down on a lot of services and now just subscribe to Netflix and YouTube Music. My husband and I have considered subscribing to other streaming services, but when we looked at some of the recent price hikes, we decided not to,” she said.
James, who is based in Miri, Sarawak, said she has started opting for a family plan, which allows her to add up to five family members.
“I felt it was more worth it compared to paying for a single-user plan,” she added.
James, who also has a subscription for digital storage to keep additional videos and photos, said she may reduce her reliance on the service.
“I’m considering how I can store my photos and videos using USB storage instead,” she said.
Siraj pointed out that there are ways for Malaysians to manoeuvre the rising cost of services.
“Prioritisation is key. A careful evaluation of one’s digital needs can lead to effective budgeting,” he added.
Siraj said users should consider subscribing to a specific service and then cancelling the subscription after they are done watching all their preferred shows.
He described the approach as a “seasonal model”.
Wong, who is currently subscribed to two streaming services, is hoping to adopt this approach.
“I’m planning to cancel one service and resubscribe only when there are new movies or series that I want to watch,” he said.
Users may also want to consider exploring affordable alternatives, such as a mobile-only plan, if they don’t mind watching on a smaller screen.
Moreover, there is a possibility for companies to introduce ad-supported plans, a model already implemented in other countries but yet to be launched here.
As more companies look towards raising prices, cracking down on password or account sharing, and introducing plans with ads, an expert told Yahoo Finance that the gold rush era of streaming is over.
“We have absolutely entered an era where there will be a winnowing and trimming and pruning of the services that a household subscribes to,” Gartner research director and analyst Eric Schmitt said in a report on Aug 18.
He added: “And I think we’ll see more churning and more people moving in and out of services. We’ll see service providers offering multi-year, long-term contract incentives just like was done in the cable business and in the phone business.”
The Guardian, in a report on Spotify’s price hike, stated that streaming services are under pressure to “boost profitability after years of prioritising user growth”.
Locally, the music streaming platform raised the monthly subscription for various plans between RM1 and RM1.70.
The recent price hike marks Spotify’s first adjustment since its 2013 launch in Malaysia. The company said this was a necessity to continue “innovating in changing market conditions”.
A recent report by Deloitte, Digital Media Trends 2023, suggests that users are seeing less value in the services.
The report, based on a survey of 2,020 US consumers, indicates that half of them feel they are paying too much for streaming video on demand (SVOD).
Additionally, about one-third of the respondents stated their intention to reduce the number of services they subscribe to.
It was noted that 44% of consumers have cancelled a paid SVOD service in the past six months, and only 24% have renewed their subscription to the same service after cancelling.
According to the report, users are frustrated because they have to chase content across multiple subscriptions and lose content over cancellation or expiring rights.
They are also feeling the economic pressure, as 47% cancelled to save money.
As rising costs are a challenge for many, Siraj said users have to adapt and find ways to continue enjoying their services.
“Online services in Malaysia are evolving, sometimes becoming pricier. Consumers have the opportunity to make discerning choices. This will become a test of resilience,” he said.