These past few years, we’ve seen a sudden shift in popularity of several online streaming sites with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime being the most popular of the bunch. They’ve added competition into the television market and are growing in popularity by the day. Netflix have also been expanding their reach, now present in most countries around the world. With all this growth, it begs the question, can these online streaming sites replace live cable TV altogether?
First we need to examine why these services have been so popular and what they provide that makes them more appealing than cable. The most prominent feature of these services is that they are convenient. As they are online services, it means all you need is an internet connection and a subscription and you’re ready to go. This means people can use devices like laptops, tablets and mobile phones to watch TV shows and movies, wherever they may choose. Of course you need internet access but in this day and age that’s not really a problem.
It’s not just convenient in terms of where and how you can watch, it’s also useful in that you can choose when to watch as well. You don’t need to wait for a particular hour on a certain day and build your activities around said hour. It is completely up to you when you want to watch, and also how much you want to watch. Binge watching is a natural follow-up from this ease of access; after a long, busy week of hard work, it’s usually a relaxing experience to just lie in bed and watch all the episodes of your favourite series in one sitting. These services are also a different experience altogether. You can note down your favourite shows and movies and get updates on new episodes as well as get recommendations for other things to watch. With all these things, it’s not a surprise to see why so many students use them.
Taking a step back from TV however, one should also look what the internet in general has to offer. For example, in places like YouTube and Twitch, creators are able to provide content which caters to specific audiences. Watching people play games, reviewing and reacting to movies and even teaching some skills, there is usually something the internet can provide for you. It is easier to get access to something really specific you have in mind. This is a far cry from cable TV, a feature it probably can’t really implement as it tries to cater to the majority.
Online streaming services are also usually cheaper than a conventional TV package. So with all these advantages, can they truly become the primary method of TV viewing? Netflix’s president Reed Hastings certainly thinks so, recently claiming that internet TV will replace linear TV in the next 20 years or so. However personally, I don’t think this is happening any time soon and definitely not straight away.
A large number of hit dramas are still on traditional, live television
As great as these sites are and may seem to be, they have their limitations. For example, not all the shows and movies are available on any one site. To watch all your favourite shows, you may need to subscribe to several different services all at once. Also some shows just simply don’t have an online presence at all. To add to this, shows and movies are regularly taken down and brought back due to a multitude of reasons on various services. One of the perks of cable TV is just browsing through channels and finding a random movie you want to watch, or seeing a rerun of your favourite old series.
An additional point to note is that most content-producers and pay-TV operators have been adept at making sure consumers cannot watch current episodes of their favourite shows. In other words, they have not made the same mistake that newspapers did a decade ago, offering the same content online for free that they expect subscribers to pay for. A lot of content-owners have restricted the rights of these streaming sites so they cannot air shows until after they have aired live on television.
The scope and cost of making a new show are also pretty substantial. While these sites do have a number of brilliant, original shows like House of Cards, they are not in a significantly large quantity and a vast majority of hit dramas are still on traditional, live television. Game of Thrones has a very large budget as well as planning behind it, and it is a very long time before before something like Netflix will be able to produce something original along that level of scale and calibre. That hasn’t stopped them from continuing to produce various unique shows to enjoy, however, and it is great that they’re churning them out, albeit slowly.
A major obstacle these sites have is also the inability to air live sports. The rights to live sports and their channels are expensive and they are a market online streaming sites have not been able to take over. You can’t really binge football games; the fun is watching them in a group, socializing and commenting on the play.
Online streaming services definitely have their advantages and sure as heck aren’t going away any time soon. In the short term, they haven’t even come close to killing cable and it is more likely cable TV will have a prolonged decline. The number of households having cut the cord entirely is pretty insignificant compared to cable subscribers.
Having said all this, the switch to online TV is a meaningful one, and has the potential to accelerate over time. There are children who have, and will, grow up without cable altogether. Internet connected smart TV’s are also becoming more popular and people may well opt out of paying cable and just stream Netflix in their living rooms. Until that time, I’ll just sit down and check what BBC One has to offer at 11pm on Saturday night.