The history of video streaming services | theSkimm

The history of video streaming services

Published on: Dec 22, 2019fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Hero streaming services guide

The Story

Streaming services are preparing for total (entertainment) domination.

The Background

TV is less than 100 years old. But it's come a long way from the days when there were only three channels. And the entertainment evolution has been in overdrive over the past decade plus.

Why’s that?

It all started with Netflix. Remember that time when it was just a DVD delivery service? True story. That was Netflix’s main business model when it first came out in the late 1990s. Then in 2007, the company launched its online streaming service – people could watch shows without having to wait for the mail. Groundbreaking. Netflix was labeled as a major disruptor of the industry by offering on-demand movies with a monthly subscription. Then “House of Cards” showed up in 2013 and the entertainment world has never been the same. 

Why? 

It was the first original show Netflix produced. And the co also released the whole season at once instead of one new episode a week. Welcome to the binge-watching era. By 2014, “House of Cards” had won four Emmys and a Golden Globe. Fast forward five years and Netflix is now reportedly worth about $124 billion. And as more consumers started cutting the cord in favor of streaming, media companies realized they needed to step up their game.

What happened?

In 2011, Amazon rolled out Prime Video and gained ground with shows like “Transparent.” HBO launched standalone streaming in 2015. YouTube TV (owned by Google) jumped on board in 2017. Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus dropped this year, and Peacock (from NBCUniversal) and HBO Max (it’s basically HBO Now, but with more content) are slated for next year.

The Big Issue

Streaming services have upended the entertainment industry. Now, major media and entertainment companies like Disney and Comcast are joining in (PS: The Walt Disney Company is a minority investor in theSkimm). That means more TV and movie options on different platforms. The question is how they’ll be able to compete. And whether consumers will be overwhelmed by all the options.

What do you mean?

These services are fighting for your attention span and money. But it might not be so easy. That’s because of… 

1. Subscription fatigue. There are a lot of services out there that offer literally thousands of hours of content each. That’s a lot more binge-watching than anyone can handle. One study says almost half of all Americans are frustrated with the number of video streaming subscriptions. And that the average American pays for three video streaming services. Still, data shows that the number of streaming subscriptions continues to grow, aka consumers seem to have decided that the pros outweigh the cons.

2. Similarities to cable TV. Over the last few years, an estimated 33 million people cut their cable cords in favor of more flexible streaming options. The benefit of streaming services is that you get more curated, high-quality content that doesn’t force you to pay for hundreds of channels when you only watch the Food Network. But given the number of services and amount of desirable content on them, paying for access to everything an individual might want is starting to cost more like the traditional cable these services replaced. That leaves consumers trying to figure out which services, and how many, are worth it. Which brings us to… 

3. The streaming services war. With new streaming services coming on the scene, people are watching to see which ones will win over viewers. Skimm Notes explains who’s who in the industry and how they’re trying to compete.

The Debate

Team Having Flashbacks says that there are some benefits to these services, like high-quality content and interactive storytelling. But that we’re going back to what we were trying to escape: expensive bills and too much to watch. That concepts like bundles (for example: getting HBO with your Hulu account) are essentially cable under different branding. And that companies have another motive: to expose users to their ecosystem of services and products (like iPhones) and take more of their money.

Team Keep Up With The Times says that traditional TV is out and streaming services are in. That the truth is, these platforms have much better content than broadcast and cable TV. And that the concept of tuning into a show with commercials at a set time once a week is outdated. 

The Impact

On the industry…streaming services haven’t nailed down everything – live sports is still a pain point. But they’ve forced the entertainment industry to adapt to a new way of doing business, with myriad consequences. 

-The number of households with traditional TV is dropping fast. Reports say 19% of households cut their cable this year. And that number is supposed to reach 25% by 2022. 

-These services offer compelling stories with big budgets. It’s not unusual for shows to spend millions of dollars to produce a single episode (see: “The Crown” and “The Morning Show”). That's raised the bar for streaming services content across platforms.

-Streaming services have become a major force during awards season. Although not everyone loves that. After Netflix became the first streaming service to be nominated for an Oscar in 2014 (for the documentary “The Square”), it kicked off a debate that’s still going on today about whether direct-to-consumer content should be considered alongside standard movies for Oscars.

On privacy…almost every Big Tech company (think: Amazon, Apple, Google) is in the streaming biz. And advertisers are spending more money to reach viewers on these platforms. That’s raising questions about how these services may track viewing habits at a time when the industry is under a microscope for how it handles data privacy. Which could lead to stronger calls from lawmakers to regulate the industry. 

On you…the streaming world isn’t all (Netflix and) chill: binge-watching can affect your health. Studies show that people who binge-watch report higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. Also, your wallet’s going to feel lighter if you want access to all of the content and services out there. We Skimm’d some ways you can cut down costs.

theSkimm

Streaming is still a relatively young industry. But it's fundamentally altered the media and entertainment business. Consumers are about to have more options to choose from than ever. And some say: they might just end up with all of them.


live smarter.

Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter.

Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.