Senator urges streaming services to make content free

Maine Senator Angus King says the move could help curb the rate of COVID-19 infections around the holidays
The Netflix app is displayed alongside other streaming media services on the homepage of a Roku Streaming Stick. (Photo: Matthew Keys / Flickr Creative Commons)

A senator from Maine has written a letter to five entertainment executives urging them to make their premium streaming services free through the holidays.

The letter, written by U.S. Senator Angus King, says the move could help curb the rate of coronavirus-related infections because it may encourage more Americans to stay home around Christmas.

King, an independent, said streaming companies shared a social responsibility in incentivizing “people to follow guidance from the [Centers for Disease Control], their employer, local public health officials [and] school leaders.”

“Unfortunately, some Americans are likely to choose to ignore public health advice and carry on their typical holiday traditions instead of remaining safely at home,” King wrote.

U.S. Senator Angus King. (Photo: Handout)

For that reason, King is hoping many of the leading streaming services will drop their subscription fees and make content available to all Americans. He said the platforms will likely “experience greater traffic as a consequence of extending service,” but that the social trade off would be worth it because it would “encourage people to make responsible choices and safely navigate this holiday season.”

Though no streaming services were explicitly mentioned, King’s letter targeted executives at Netflix, the Walt Disney Company, Amazon, Apple and AT&T. Disney operates the Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and Hulu streaming services. AT&T offers HBO Max, a streaming service with content from HBO’s original program library and licensed third-party movies.

It wasn’t clear if any of the companies had received or responded to King’s letter as of Tuesday afternoon.

At the start of the global coronavirus health pandemic, several entertainment companies offered free access to premium content. CBS All Access, a streaming service operated by ViacomCBS, gave users a 60-day free trial to watch TV shows and movies on its platform. Roku offered customers free access in the form of extended trials on more than 20 premium movie and content services distributed through its Roku Channel. AMC, Amazon and Comcast made similar moves, offering free content to users as an incentive for those who fell under stay-at-home orders in various parts of the country.

In addition to the free content offerings, many Internet service providers signed on to a voluntary agreement that saw the removal of broadband data caps as more Americans transitioned to remote working and distance schooling. That move had a secondary effect on TV watching: Customers were allowed to stream as much content as they wanted without worrying about running into overage charges caused by broadband data caps.

The agreement to waive broadband data caps on customers lapsed over the summer, and most Internet providers went back to charging customers who exceeded their allotted data.

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