The Netflix Era: The Advent of Streaming and What it Means for Television

Not very long ago, when you wanted to follow a particular television show your only option was to catch it every night it aired a new episode.  For some, this was not possible, because their schedules fluctuated so much that they were never certain if they would be free on those certain nights when the show was on.  But then came something different.

Both Hulu and Netflix came to the video on demand conclusion at around the same time (Netflix was around for about ten years beforehand as a DVD rental service).  The two services grew in popularity as DVD sales fell around the same time frame.  Netflix is undoubtedly the more well-known of the two, being that it offers DVDs as well as on demand streaming, the advent of which drastically changed the way people watch television.

No longer were people bound to the strict schedule set by television time slots.  They could watch a show they wanted when they wanted, and even stop watching in the middle of an episode only to pick it up later at the exact same spot.  For people with busy schedules, it was a lifesaver.  It also lead to the phrase “Netflix binge”.

The only major flaw to this system is that the streaming selection is based entirely on licensing, which means that some shows won’t be available to stream via Netflix or Hulu (i.e. Game of Thrones or other HBO shows).  There are of course other ways to watch these shows, but those ways are slightly less legal……

“Wow what a great idea,” you might say, “but what about regular television?  Won’t it die out?”  Well…not necessarily.

The way these streaming services work is that they are only allowed access to the episodes after they air, so if you want to be among the first to see it you have to catch it on television.  The other thing is that the licensing fees probably go a long way toward making up for any possible profit losses by people choosing to watch it through Hulu or Netflix rather than on TV.  And considering Hulu was a joint venture between a bunch of television broadcasting companies, I’m not entirely sure how it all works.  It’s very feasible that video on demand views might somehow count for ratings (at least with Hulu…Netflix is another matter I’m guessing).

But regardless, it seems that more and more people choose to use services like Netflix or Hulu (I solely use Netflix myself these days).  It’s great for those of us who, like I said, have busy schedules and can’t find the time to watch shows when they air.  And some of the more exclusive television stations have started offering their own streaming services.  Even HBO, which has been notoriously stringent with its streaming (you had to buy the HBO package to access it), has lifted some of its restrictions, allowing more people to view their programs without resorting to other methods.

However, broadcast television’s future is still uncertain.  They’ll  either continue operating in much the same way as they have been for a long while yet, or they might adapt to the changing market and opt for a more digital streaming style of television.  But with cable and satellite companies still plentiful in the market, I doubt they will be adapting at all for quite a while.  So despite the shifting market, I don’t see them changing much in the next few years.

So now that digital streaming has been solidified as a staple of our households, where’s the next step?  The answer, again, lies with Netflix.

Netflix was the first digital streaming service to offer original programming (I believe), and they have even revived shows that were cancelled long ago (such as Arrested Development).  Hulu started offering original programs themselves not long after, so it seems to me that this is going to be the next step for television.  Unlike regular television, most of these series release in one big chunk, a season at a time.  So it is theoretically possible to watch an entire season of the show the day it comes out (the “Netflix binge” in full force).

Some of the Netflix original shows you might have heard of include Hemlock GroveOrange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Daredevil (which I have not seen but have heard great things about).  It’s definitely a new era for television, much different than the beginning where families gathered around a tiny brown box with a staticky and colorless picture.  Now we have full-blown HD quality shows, production values that sometimes rival those of movies, and numerous ways to watch them not just on our TVs, but on our phones, tablets, and computers as well.

I think that the digital streaming revolution will continue in much the same way as it has.  The technology will get better, the original programs will get better, and more and more people will be switching to solely streaming.  But there will still be a lot of holdovers from the older age of television, the people who still remember those old brown boxes with nostalgia and don’t feel like upgrading to a new system.  That, combined with the finicky nature of the internet, makes me think that traditional television will still stay around for a quite a long time.  It’s old and reliable.

Mind you, I’m not criticizing those who think that way.  It all depends on one’s situation in life.  Not everyone can afford to be paying for high-speed internet and a streaming service, so they choose to stay with a regular broadcast program.  Some people have no interest in anything cable, satellite, or Netflix has to offer.

So while change will keep happening, it’s going to take a generation or two before things truly look different.  And you know what?  That’s perfectly okay.


That’s all I have for this week.  Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.


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