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Can Waystar Royco Win the Streaming Wars?

With its latest subsidiary, GoJo, Waystar Royco is officially an entrant in the Streaming Wars. The question is, can it win?

Ringer illustration

When you run a family business, there’s no such thing as work-life balance. So it is that, in the latest episode of Succession, Kendall Roy’s birthday party doubles as a deal site. Amid the canapés and compliment walls feting the “Notorious K.E.N.,” Roman laid the groundwork for Waystar Royco to acquire GoJo, a tech company owned by mercurial Swede Lukas Matsson. Over a urinal that only Lukas makes use of in the latest of many subplots to center on pee—“I can’t piss near other men due to we-don’t-know-what reason,” Roman explains—the youngest Roy son makes a semi-decent proposal: Waystar gets GoJo; Lukas gets money, and doesn’t even have to deal with Logan to receive it. After Lukas no-showed the patriarch earlier that day, Roman’s Midas touch is enough to get him back “in the conversation.” First installing a fascist, now hooking a big fish—Roman’s on a roll!

GoJo has come up briefly before. Kendall mentioned it to Josh Aaronson back in Episode 4 as part of his hip young vision for the company. (This week, he tells Lukas not to take the deal, proving Kendall has no principles, moral or fiscal, beyond “what hurts my dad must be good for me.”) Last week, various GOP bigwigs paid lip service to regulating Waystar’s nemesis, Big Tech, even as they promised to give a GoJo deal the green light. But in “Too Much Birthday,” Lukas and his baby take center stage, helpfully vacated when Kendall backs out of a clinically cringe take on Billy Joel. In the process, Succession gets a whole new satirical toy set to play with—close enough to real life to strike a chord, but invented enough to mix and match as the writers see fit.

Whereas Succession’s past story lines have pushed the show into the realm of digital media (rest in power, Vaulter) and old-money prestige (Logan’s white whale, PGM), GoJo puts it smack in the middle of a business sector even more relevant to viewers’ lives—especially if they’re watching on HBO Max. With its latest subsidiary, Waystar Royco is officially an entrant in the Streaming Wars. The question is, can it win?

Succession tends to have the best of both worlds; as fiction, it can pick and choose the juiciest details from its inspirations without being obligated to reproduce them beat for beat. The Roys aren’t the Murdochs, but Kendall and James both love a good rap. “The Raisin” isn’t Donald Trump, but puckish populist Jerryd Mencken talks a lot like Tom Cotton. The show’s approach to streaming is the same. Both sides of the Waystar-GoJo marriage have obvious, if not exact, analogs, which makes the awkward bedmates even more fun to armchair analyze.

Waystar, obviously, is a stand-in for News Corp, Rupert Murdoch’s sprawling behemoth. In our world, News Corp’s response to the rise of streaming was to simply bow out, selling its Fox entertainment assets to Disney in 2019; under new ownership, its intellectual property has helped stock the virtual shelves of Hulu and Disney+. But on Succession, the Roys are still in the game. In his short stint as a Hollywood executive before the series began, Roman green-lit such masterpieces as Dr. Honk, about a doctor who can talk to cars, and attempted to kill The Biggest Turkey in the World, which a future girlfriend unwittingly ended a relationship over when she admitted she enjoyed it. The company even, much to Shiv’s chagrin, makes a few indie movies. That grafts pretty neatly onto Fox, which made everything from Avatar to 12 Years a Slave—the latter under its Searchlight shingle, an award magnet at its peak.

GoJo is harder to pin down. As a Swedish tech company with a presence in streaming and a founder who still runs the show, its closest comparison is likely Spotify. (Full disclosure: Spotify owns The Ringer following a sale last year.) But GoJo is a video streaming service, not an audio one, which puts it closer to Netflix. Streaming also appears to be GoJo’s core business, distancing it from players like Apple and Amazon that use film and TV as a fun add-on—though Shiv does mention that the deal offers opportunities in sports betting and social media, a strange combination. Does GoJo own a property like Bleacher Report, which falls under the umbrella of WarnerMedia?

As for what Waystar stands to gain, Kendall put it best in his abbreviated pitch: “Great UI, shitty content, meet shitty UI, great content.” The solution in Succession may be novel, but the problem it’s solving is all too real. Unlike Disney+, proprietor of Marvel and Star Wars, internet upstarts don’t have the built-in advantage that comes with decades-old franchises fans grew up adoring. That’s why Netflix has invested so lavishly in series like Stranger Things and Bridgerton, both big hits with potential for spinoffs, movies, or even merchandise. And dinosaurs like Waystar don’t have the technical know-how to build a seamless app from scratch. Waystar’s in-house service, which Roman freely admits is a “piece of shit,” is called StarGo, possibly a wink at HBO’s own fallen soldier (or perhaps Disney’s own Star, available in some international markets). To build its stand-alone service HBO Now, the predecessor to Max, the network turned to its own form of outside assistance—MLB Advanced Media, which The Verge once described as “a strange tech start-up hidden inside of a sports league.”

Waystar no longer needs to be too big to get gobbled up, the strategy behind the scrapped PGM deal from Season 2. But even with the Stewy-Sandy takeover attempt in its past, the company still faces existential threats, if less immediate ones. “We have a scale issue,” Shiv argues to her dad, who contemplates letting Lukas walk out of pride. “We have a little window. Miss this, and we end up being a pilot fish nibbling leftovers from Bezos’s fucking teeth.” If neither the cruise ship scandal nor the ensuing DOJ probe nor a hostile takeover kill Waystar, its rivals in tech just might.

Around here is when plausibility runs out and creative license kicks in. He may not be making it for the right reasons, but Kendall has a fair point when he argues the “Odin of codin’” should walk away: “It makes no sense, correct? Amtrak buys Tesla. If anything, you should buy him.” Among Succession’s many model dynasties are the Redstones, longtime owners of ViacomCBS. Imagine if Paramount+ tried to swallow up Netflix—a company whose market capitalization currently exceeds Disney’s. Even if the numbers at play here aren’t the same, the overall trajectories are. It’s the Waystars of the world that are shrinking their portfolios, and the GoJos that are growing. Think of Amazon buying MGM.

There’s still plenty of time for the GoJo deal to implode, as plans on Succession tend to do. In the meantime, it’s an intriguing thought experiment—not to mention a lower-stakes example of how a handshake deal can have a butterfly effect on us peons’ lives. Anointing a president with a soft drink is stomach-churning stuff. A Netflix-Disney hybrid is easier to contemplate. Unlike The Morning Show’s UBA+, or anything aired on ATN, it’s also not unappealing. StarGo is dead. Long live StarGoJo.