History repeats itself as streaming platforms take on the roles of TV channels
With proper broadband internet access hitting mainstream availability worldwide, we have also witnessed the rise of streaming video content beyond ‘casual’ platforms such as YouTube and certain unsavoury domains of the internet. Faster internet connections have allowed entire movies and what used to be referred to as ‘television programming’ to become accessible over the internet in high-quality streamable formats. The conveniences offered by such services are rather obvious – not only do they eliminate the need for viewers to be tied to a television channel’s program schedule, unpausability and relentless barrage of commercials, but they also allow them to enjoy a vast number of shows of their choice – a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of shows – at their own pace and timing of convenience. These shows can be watched on any smart device of their choice, without requiring the viewers to own a physical copy of the program on any medium, or to download and store a local copy of the videos on their respective devices.
Netflix was the first major player in the streaming game, rapidly establishing its service as a must-have by not only offering a vast number of shows both new and old, but also by eventually coming up with a whole host of ‘Netflix originals’ – shows and movies made with the authorization and support of Netflix, available for viewing exclusively on the platform. The platform even breathed new life into certain high-potential shows by renewing them past their original cancellation or hiatus periods. For a vast number of people, Netflix managed to supplant cable TV services along with their myriad of pitfalls and inconveniences. The benefits of streaming media were far too many to be ignored, and many users, who did not care for regular TV programming, realized that this was all they needed.
Although competitors were slow to emerge, they did show up eventually. Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Now and Apple TV made their appearances one by one, with enticing new exclusive offerings of their own, each with their own star-studded casts and crews. With each platform loudly touting their exclusives and new arrivals with great aplomb in their attempt to attract subscribers, the choice to subscribe to Netflix was suddenly not the most obvious one, and anyone who wanted to keep track of specific shows across different platforms discovered that they needed simultaneous subscriptions to each streaming service – a prospect that was not only inconvenient but also disturbingly expensive. And now, with the arrival of Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+, the viewers’ choices aren’t getting any easier to make.
Unlike cable TV, which offers a vast number of ready-to-watch channels of many different genres, along with a handful of premium pay-per-view options, the catalogues of each streaming service is designed to cater to the requirements of any viewer under its umbrella. But while their variety of content is massive, the fact that the tastes of many a viewer would span the contents of multiple services continues to remain a constant challenge and a persistent hurdle to be overcome. The challenge, of course, is the fact that these services aren’t exactly cheap, especially when subscribed to together, and the total bills rack up quite quickly. For example, if someone wanted to watch ‘Stranger Things’ on Netflix, to check out ‘The Boys’ on Amazon Prime Video, and maybe sneak an occasional peek at Disney+’s ‘The Mandalorian’, they would need to pay for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ all at once, something that naturally would not make sense for a lot of budget-limited wallets, and would inevitably lead to an either-or scenario for many viewers.
Netflix still continues to enjoy their first mover’s advantage in this sector, with its brand awareness growing all the time, and the highest number of subscribers, catering to 15.8% of video viewers around the world. Its repertoire of offerings is growing at a rapid pace, and the entities in charge of its content are also stepping up their game to fully take advantage of the added recognition the streaming service occurs. It is interesting to note that even many nations which are considered havens of piracy – ours included – have welcomed the arrival of streaming platforms, simply because of their instant availability (with no wait time) and lack of necessity for on-device storage – and even among them, Netflix has already made its mark. It is highly likely, though, that Disney+, with its own vast content library (which includes their entire repertoire of glorious classics that have survived the test of time and nostalgia, as well as newer productions, and a few fresh new exclusives), will quickly prove itself to be a formidable rival to the streaming titan.
However, challenges do exist in this crowded battlefield. With each service requiring their own app, many non-techie customers would consider it a hassle to maintain them all, at least initially. Right now, no option exists which can unify the contents of the streaming services under a common umbrella and make them accessible from within a single interface. While every streaming company is devoting vast amounts of resources behind their research to create combinations of offerings that would make it very difficult for a subscriber to simply give up on it and move to another service. Therefore, because of the added expenses of having to subscribe to multiple services, many viewers are simply moving or reverting to pirating shows of their choice, which is technically the worst-case scenario envisionable by every player in this arena – no one would profit from such a scenario, unless some way emerges to combine the streaming services and/or make them more affordable.
The definition of video-based home entertainment has already undergone a massive paradigm shift over the last decade, and the intense competition is a welcome development, as such competition always comes to benefit the consumer. But as the streaming wars intensify, it still remains to be seen which services would be left standing at the end of it all.