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Senator pushes Netflix to go free for the winter to combat COVID-19 spread

  • Maine Senator Angus King wrote a letter to Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Apple, and WarnerMedia this week asking them to make their streaming services free for the winter to fight COVID-19.
  • King says it’s important to find ways to motivate people to follow the CDC’s guidelines and stay home during the holiday season, and free Netflix or Disney+ might help accomplish that.
  • Over 17 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the US, as well as 300,000 deaths.

Staying inside has been a necessary evil to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, and one of the few things that have kept many of us sane while we waste away the hours in our homes has been streaming content. Having virtually unlimited entertainment at our fingertips has made this nightmarish year slightly more tolerable, but not everyone can afford to spend $15/month on a streaming service, much less on more than one. People are struggling to make ends meet, with more than 1.4 million Americans filing new unemployment claims last week alone.

With COVID-19 records being broken every week and a long winter ahead, one senator has made a very interesting proposal involving streaming services that might end up saving lives. On Monday, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) penned a letter to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, Hulu, and HBO Max asking them to make their services free to non-subscribers in order to “boost national spirits and protect public health.”


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Apple, WarnerMedia, Netflix, Disney, Amazon — these are businesses, and the driving force behind their streaming services is generating revenue. Giving content away for free would be antithetical to the entire enterprise, but even if this is the longest of longshots from Sen. King, it is certainly worth a shot. After all, if even one person decides to stay in and watch The Queen’s Gambit or Wonder Woman 1984 instead of going out to eat or traveling to a large family gathering, it could save that person from catching or spreading COVID-19.

Here’s the letter Sen. King sent to Reed Hastings, Chairman and CEO of Netflix; Mike Hopkins, Senior VP of Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Studios; Rebecca Campbell, Chairman of International Operations and Direct-to-Consumer for the Walt Disney Company; Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, and Jason Kilar, CEO of WarnerMedia:

As organizations around the country continue to respond to the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, I am reaching out to discuss and consider the unique role that your companies play in providing content-based activities this holiday season.  Specifically, I encourage you to temporarily remove any cost considerations for use of your services for current non-subscribers as a public service to who are seeking to remain safe and indoors this holiday season, as opposed to the risks involved as the nation sees a dramatic surge in pandemic cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance recommending that specific community actions be taken to limit the exposure of the virus, and has additionally encouraged Americans to avoid their usual holiday travel to reduce transmission of the coronavirus. We believe that your companies are in a unique position to help families cope with the effects of this health emergency on typical holiday traditions.

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 15 million people and killed nearly 300,000 to date. There have been over 14,000 positive cases of COVID-19 in Maine alone. As the pandemic has caused medical, financial, and personal hardship for millions across the country, options for responsible, socially distanced entertainment have also remained limited. Many Americans have already turned to your platforms as “safe at home” tools, responsible alternatives to public gatherings at locations like movie theaters, concert venues, and sports arenas. Yet as the weather grows colder across much of the country and safe outdoor recreation options are further restricted, Americans are faced with even further social isolation—and increased free time—during the holidays.  This is a risk; it could also be an opportunity for creative, socially responsible thinking.

At this time, we must find ways to incentivize people to follow guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or 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. While your platforms would likely experience greater traffic as a consequence of extending service, we encourage you to provide temporary service at no cost to non-subscribers as a way to encourage people to make responsible choices and safely navigate this holiday season.

I look forward to hearing what steps you see feasible and able to be accomplished to limit the health emergency that COVID-19 is posing at this difficult time. Stopping the spread of COVID-19 and mitigating its economic and social impacts requires a whole-of-society effort, and this holiday season the social fabric of our society is particularly strained. We encourage you to do everything you can to support and assist American families.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. Please feel free to reach out to my office at 202-224-5344 if you have any questions. I am anxious to hear your response.

As a press release on Sen. King’s website notes, he was able to convince eight internet service providers to expand their access in the early days of the pandemic. Perhaps lightning will strike twice.


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