Previously published on The Artifice.
“My family are huge TV watchers. We will, unfortunately, subscribe to everything”, states an anonymous comment made by a viewer in a public survey.* It is common to feel impotent towards new movies and tv shows releasing online every week. The Internet made content accessible for the public, but the catch is that the viewers feel the need to keep up with it all both financially and otherwise.
Streaming is replacing the beloved TV in the average household. Whether it is Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, (or all three!), there is a guest in the house who will literally cut the cable, and, it may be here to stay. So, how did the average consumer welcome streaming without a visible transition? It started with a live internet video by some tech company nerds in 1993. It was a poor attempt that used up half of the available bandwidth of the entire internet. In 1994, the New York Times referred to the Rolling Stones as “the first [major] rock band in cyberspace” to promote their music to millions of streamers. As you can imagine, there was some controversy about who was first and what should’ve been written in Rolling Stones’ press releases. Fast forward to 2005, Saturday Night Live (SNL) released its first video short on Youtube, right around the time that the service started becoming popular. In 2007, Netflix (NFLX), previously known to be a mail-order service, introduced its on-demand platform and became an influencing figure as both a content-producer and provider. Today, the same company has 24 Oscar nominations (2020).
The Inevitable Death of Television
The Universal TV Problem is perhaps rooted in its adaptable nature. In the 40s, the black chunky boxes found their place in the American home and made their debut a little later internationally in the 70s. As Media Theorist Neil Postman discussed foreseeingly in the 80s, the average family (despite their income) started positioning their couches to face the television. And the television found its purpose as the entertainer, silence-filler, and now, a mere accessory.
Our brains spend too much uncommitted time in front of the television to truly commit to its information. The television is rapidly dying along with the broadcast news. We retain less and less of what we hear and even forget where we heard it from. It is not to say that there weren’t any attempts at bringing different content with a monetary cost like subscription TV—However, nothing seemed to help the fate of once adored television.
What Now? A New Place for the Televisual Content
While the traditional network executives have been busy planning detailed marketing strategies, streaming services are releasing a notable number of original shows every month. The subscribers are seated to be entertained by different content continuously, leaving no time for boredom and rewarding a few of the eager viewers with the binge-watching curse. Yes, the entertainment machine takes a new form in 2020, however, the viewers have all freedom they would need to make the choice on their exposés.
Binnur Karaevli, the director-producer, and screenwriter of Netflix’s critically acclaimed The Protector [Hakan Muhafiz], stated in an interview (Vancouver, BC) “Future is really the streaming services. Of course, the networks will continue, but right now, we have Netflix, Amazon [Prime], Apple [TV], and recent additions like Disney Plus and HBO Max.” Karaevli is the first Turkish filmmaker to score a deal with Netflix (NFLX), the global market leader. Netflix is projected to have an 86.3% penetration in the US market.
Streaming Services: An International Powerhouse
Streaming services are writing history while the traditional broadcast TV is rapidly losing its viewers. Amongst other reasons, it may be true that streaming services are the reason for the decreasing rate of television viewership. Karaevli states, “It’s a completely different way of doing business [compared to local filmmaking in Turkey]”, she adds, “Doing the first one [globally-accessible production] is always challenging—but exciting, too.” The streaming productions do not target a specific local group nor suffer from network or government bans, which means they can offer fresh opportunities for diverse content. Karaevli suggests, “In fact, it is helping the industry. The streamers are international so, it is a huge plus.” Prior to the rise of the stated services, US-based networks like ABC, NBC, targeted the American culture. “Today, streaming services you can access productions from Turkey, and all around the world— which I find exciting!” says Karaevli (See, references for further information on the interviews).
Familiar Faces: The Mouse House
2019 solidified the presence of streaming services in the average household with releases of highly expected services like Apple TV and Disney Plus. Specifically, Disney was expected to be Netflix’s biggest rival. As the President of Marketing Asad Ayaz stated in an interview, it was important for Disney to market the films that spoke to the now-older audience and expand their horizons for the youth. It was inevitable for Disney to develop the much-talked remakes to achieve these two goals at the same time. It is forecasted that Disney Plus will have 60 to 90 million global subscribers by 2024. According to A.J. Black, the author of Myth-Building in Modern Media, there are already too many services in the market. Black states, “People will inevitably dip in and dip out of subscriptions, but it could lead to some trying to lock down customers for long[er] subscription periods”, and adds, “If they do, that could cause problems if too much content is still diversified across platforms”.
Gold Standards Established by the Users
The results from a public survey conducted upon the development stage of this article showed: 86% of the viewers stuck with Netflix, followed by Amazon Prime (41%), Hulu (25%)*. It was surprising to see Disney Plus (16%) was not amongst the first choices for the viewers. However, it should be noted that there are simply too many countries that Disney Plus has not been released yet. 48.94% of the streamers stated they would be purchasing a Disney Plus membership upon its availability in their countries. 81.63% of the streamers were satisfied with the service they have been using.
Streamers first considered 1) a wide range of older shows (78%), 2) the purchase price (77%), 3) original (new) shows (69%), and 4) brand reputation (30%) to affect their decision of purchasing a membership. Others noted, “interface design and usability”, “advertising”, “lack of exclusivity and geo-blocking”. Streamers also preferred to have “access to episodes all at once (85.19%)” over having “access to one episode on the release date (14.81%)”.
What the Streamers Say
“I don’t care about new originals; I base my purchases solely on the shows and movies I am specifically looking to watch. Thus, I am about to drop Hulu and Disney+ and will use Netflix until I have seen everything on there I care about. I have zero brand loyalty.”
“I would only pay for a maximum of 2 streaming services. I think what each company has done in creating their own service is stupid and I refuse to pay for it – instead, I’ve just gone back to torrenting, which is a shame because I prefer legally streaming but I can’t afford 5+ memberships.”
“There’s too many available right now – we’re back to where we started with cable.“
“Streaming services should be about service, but currently they revolve around exclusivity (which I find an immoral monopoly) and geoblocking (despite being provided through the internet, which is global). Because of that moral objection I don’t subscribe to any and resort to the moral alternative of piracy.”
“It’s smart business. Streaming has the potential to eventually eradicate common TV entertainment…or…they have the potential to be put on TV channels of their own, to be a part of cable/satellite packs at everyone’s disposition.”
“It’s turning back into Cable. People are going to be back to pirating shows before long. I am concerned about the withdrawal of physical media from the market.”
“Until a streaming service can reliably provide me with anything I want at a moment’s notice better than my own library can, I’m not interested and I’ll continue to use my own library.”
“Stream services are dying. The appeal used to be you’d have one or two sites that had practically everything, so it was a nice convenience price. But now everyone and their mouse want a slice, and we’re dealing with a bunch of sub-par services where you’re lucky to find a single worthwhile show. So yeah, back to just stealing what I would otherwise more than happily pay for if they didn’t make it so pointlessly hard to do so”.
“Streaming is going to die, everyone will go back to pirating again.”
The Grand Finale
Streaming services already created a need to catch up with the flood of neverending content, and pulled TV’s plug– It is even beginning to threaten the business of movie theatres. The business model used to be based on streaming platforms pulling older seasons of shows and attracting viewers to the newer content that could be found in the traditional TV. The production of original content exclusively for the online platforms started taking life away from the TV, and potentially movie theatres. To be fair, if a consumer can watch an Academy Winner movie at the comfort of their home, why would they attend a niche film festival and pay extra for it? (Streaming productions often make their debut as a part of these festivals and find their way to the on-demand platforms a short while later).
It would be cruel to ignore other truths: Streaming is currently reviving the film industry, opening doors to international content, and allowing viewers to choose what, when, where, and how much they want to watch certain content. In short, streaming services give the viewer their freedom. However, this also has monetary costs. As the anonymous comments state, the availability of content in separate platforms forces the viewers to purchase several memberships. In practice, it makes sense; in reality, the average person cannot (and likely will not) spend 50 bucks per month to watch a new form of TV. And, they most certainly will not want to be tied to years-long subscription periods.
A significant number of streamers already seem like they are going back to illegal methods to access online content. Pirating seems to be the only way to make a leap out of the diverse number of exclusive content that these platforms offer. This will eventually hurt the film industry, but for now, it is still the golden age of streaming services.
*Should you require additional information about the survey results stated above, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) by Neil Postman
Binnur Karaevli interviewed in-person by Hazal Senkoyuncu in Vancouver, BC (2019).
Neiger, C. (2019, August 27). Netflix’s Market Share Is Shrinking, but It’s Still the King of Video Streaming. Retrieved from https://www.fool.com/investing/2019/08/27/netflix-market-share-shrinking-still-streaming.aspx
Online Interview of A.J. Black by Hazal Senkoyuncu (2020).
Poggi, J. (2019, December 9). Marketers of the Year No. 6: Walt Disney Co. Retrieved from https://adage.com/article/media/marketers-year-no-6-walt-disney-co/2221176
Roxborough, S. (2019, November 14). Netflix Dominates Global SVOD Market, but Local Services Gain Ground, Study Finds. Retrieved from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/netflix-dominates-global-svod-market-but-local-services-gain-ground-1254438
Strauss, N. (1994, November 22). Rolling Stones Live on Internet: Both a Big Deal and a Little Deal. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1994/11/22/arts/rolling-stones-live-on-internet-both-a-big-deal-and-a-little-deal.html
Survey on “streaming services” conducted by Hazal Senkoyuncu, www.hazalscamera.com
Switchboard Live. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://switchboard.live/blog/live-streaming-history