I did say this was a commentary in itself.
There are probably more streaming services out there than any of us know about. How many of you heard of Go90 before the Prime Wars Trilogy reviews? Or maybe you haven’t read them and you’re only hearing about it now? Or knew that Shout Factory TV or Pluto TV existed before I mentioned them in the MST3k Turkey Day announcement? I’ve also mentioned Crackle, Sony’s own streaming service, a few times as well as Vudu. The ones everyone probably knows are Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Meanwhile the CW has CW Seed, yet another streaming service in addition to the videos on the official network channel that carries their normal shows. If you’re an anime fan you already know about Crunchyroll, and the VRV service they co-operate with Funimation, who also streams their subtitled and dubbed Japanese animation on their own site. YouTube even streams original content not created by the community via YouTube Red and their streaming TV and movie rental services.
These are just the ones off the top of my head. There are others I know of and still others I probably don’t, and that’s not counting the various TV networks that also stream their shows via their website. Where once streaming was relegated to a handful of sites and YouTube clones (some of…questionable safety) now tons of ad and subscription based services are available. While I’m not convinced cable and satellite are going anywhere just quite yet, many of Millennials and even older generations are just using the internet for their “TV” and movie entertainment. Streaming boxes, Smart TVs, tablets, smartphones, and the computer are the way these people now get their visual storytelling. And now Disney is trying to expand their own service with Fox’s TV and movie library, while DC Entertainment has announced their own plans for a streaming service, both with original programming. Where once Hollywood studios seemed to shy away from the internet they now seem to be trying to utilize it…but are they now going too far the other way?
Streaming media is multimedia that is constantly received by and presented to an end-user while being delivered by a provider. The verb “to stream” refers to the process of delivering or obtaining media in this manner; the term refers to the delivery method of the medium, rather than the medium itself, and is an alternative to file downloading, a process in which the end-user obtains the entire file for the content before watching or listening to it.
A client end-user can use their media player to start playing the data file (such as a digital file of a movie or song) before the entire file has been transmitted. Distinguishing delivery method from the media distributed applies specifically to telecommunications networks, as most of the delivery systems are either inherently streaming (e.g. radio, television, streaming apps) or inherently non-streaming (e.g. books, video cassettes, audio CDs). For example, in the 1930s, elevator music was among the earliest popularly available streaming media; nowadays Internet television is a common form of streamed media.
“Internet television” is pretty much what we’re talking about here, not music services or even livestreaming like Twitch. With so many internet TV services already available why bother creating your own website and streaming service when you can let Netflix, Hulu, and the other sites do all the hosting and server fees for you? Smart TVs, video game consoles, and even cable companies offer Netflix and/or Hulu streaming via their set-top boxes, in case you want a video screen larger than your TV remote.
I think the big difference is control and direct income. If you host with Netflix you aren’t getting the full amount of the income. Netflix pays licensing fees to post the content, same as TV channels pay to air the content. In turn, Sony gets a portion of the subscription fees from Netflix or for some services a portion of the ad revenue. I use Sony as an example because using their own Crackle service they receive the full amount of the ad revenue. They can stream their entire library and get all of the money or a good share of it if they’re hosting, for example, Harmony Gold’s Robotech or Godzilla movies. They control the content, and can create original shows like the stop-motion superhero parody Supermansion and reap more of the reward.
Disney previously announced a plan to continue to use Hulu while creating a service of their own, using branding and content (language and situations) to determine what goes on what service, and now you have to wonder how that will work with the Fox offerings they now have available. DC is owned by Warner Brothers, who also owns Warner Animation, Hanna-Barbera, and Ruby Spears as well as the rights to the Filmation DC cartoons and live-action superhero content from Warner Brothers, meaning they can stream all the DC superhero shows and movies that have been created over the years. This is a little more niche, like Comic-Con’s own service, but that hasn’t hurt Crunchyroll.
The problem is that so many services follow the Netflix subscription only formula. Hulu switched over to it a few years ago. And yet Vudu has recently started offering a few of their movies and shows for free with ad sponsors and occasionally offers first episodes for free to draw in audiences, plus the advantage of downloading bought digital programming to their app and home videos offering codes for the digital content either from Walmart or others partnering with Ultraviolet, who partners with Vudu. While they produce no original programming they’re banking on current and classic favorites to draw people in without the restrictions of Netflix. Hulu as of this writing still allows embeds of their shows on websites like mine and partners with Yahoo to offer some of their licensed content (and some of their original shows) ad-sponsored on Yahoo View. (Hulu used to be all ad-sponsored, then went to a hybrid of ads for free or ad-free subscription, and now offers an ad and a no-ad tiered subscription.) Crackle is all ad-sponsored, making it free for the viewer. The only enemy here is ad blocker software.
Then you have Amazon Prime and YouTube Red. While YouTube offers rentals of TV and movies, their Red service offers music streaming, original programming by YouTube stars like MatPat’s Game Lab, and original shows like Foursome, although the latter is really not my kind of show. (I won’t apologize for not being into high school sex comedies.) It also offers special features on the YouTube app like being able to switch apps and still have it play…which is clearly done on purpose. Amazon Prime isn’t just about getting exclusive videos, as you also get music streaming and free shipping on purchases made on the regular Amazon shopping service, plus possibly a few other offers. While Amazon has exclusive series as well as licensed shows the video service is only part of the offer.
Granted, my business learning comes from one year of General Business class in high school, which I thankfully escaped in 1991 (high school, not the business class–that was around 1988 or 1989) so take my suggestion for what it is worth. I think the hybrid system is probably the best, at least for consumers. Ad-sponsored content for their regular shows, with new and original shows available ad-free with a subscription, the way Hulu started doing it until they went to a tiered subscription formula. Maybe offer one or two originals to tease people into signing up for the paid service and offer other features not available to free users. The full subscription works for Netflix (not so much CBS’s “All-Access”, although they do offer some shows just through the regular website) because they’ve developed such a large library when they started as an online-rental service. Crackle seems to be doing okay for Sony, but I am not aware of what their sales figures say, so I could easily be wrong. I also don’t think Disney really needs their own service when they now own two-thirds of Hulu, a service started by NBC, ABC, and Fox, which Disney now owns two out of three. (NBC is owned by Comcast.)
Another idea is what some TV stations do. Cable and satellite companies often supply the internet to homes, like we have. If you subscribe to cable you also get access to the shows for whatever tier you have by punching in your internet account (not necessarily your personal password) for, in my case right now, Frontier. Home Box Office, for example, offers all of their shows available through the website or Discovery Go app this way, with a few episodes unlocked for everyone else. You can also pay through them to get access to all the HBO and Cinemax movies and original series. However, this will not work for studio streaming services like Crackle and the upcoming Disney offering, although I think the Disney TV channel sites do use this or at least have ad-sponsored programming. Pluto TV operates like a regular cable service by “airing” internet shows. There may not be any one system that works now that I think about it, but a multi-tiered system that includes ad-sponsored “free” content seems good to me. You don’t like ads? Pay for it yourself and get some nifty extras as a bonus for your support.
The big worry of course is whether or not we the viewing public can handle all these different services. Disney is pulling their shows (except for the Netflix-produced Marvel Cinematic Universe shows) from Netflix which means depending on what business model Disney goes with (and unless Yahoo View carries it you won’t see anything moved to Hulu without subscribing under the current model) you may not be able to see their shows without paying for it, including classic Disney content that you can only find on old DVDs or pirated except when Disney pops a limited run out “from the Disney vault”. Having everything in one place is more convenient and offering your content on multiple platforms in the same way multiple TV channels can air a Disney movie would seem to be the smarter move. But I’m not sitting in the board room hearing all the numbers. I’m just someone trying to watch Super Friends and The Black Hole wondering what happened to the old Disney shorts. I’m not sure having a scavenger hunt for my entertainment is the future I want.