HBO Go is just the beginning. The next decade will bring tremendous change to The Industry. Here’s how I think it’ll happen.
Did you hear the big news about HBO Go today? If you didn’t, go read that article. I’ll wait.
Okay, now with that out of the way: this is huge news. Big. HBO has been swearing for years that their model doesn’t necessitate a streaming-only service. Back in 2012, their then-CEO Eric Kessler said in an interview with VideoSchmooze that the downtrend of cable subscriptions was temporary, not representative of large-scale shifts in viewership.
Flash forward two years and HBO is acknowledging the obvious: the aging demographic of cable subscribers won’t be able to sustain them forever. To remain competitive in an industry becoming crowded with the behemoth that is Netflix, along with Hulu+, Amazon Prime, and even Yahoo!, they need to offer their users who don’t see a need for a cable box some way of accessing HBO’s content without mooching off their parents. (After all, if the parents become tech savvy, they might decide the 24-hour news cycle and ESPN subscription can completely replace their need for the cable box.)
This is a big shift, there’s no doubt about it. But there are bigger, greater, more innovative shifts in the way we engage with media on the horizon. The way we engage with video content is undergoing seismic shifts, and (I wager) there’s no company that will emerge unscathed.
Here are three ways I believe The Industry will have to shift in the next decade:
1. Cable – the live streaming of content to a TV set at appointed times – will be replaced by all-purpose streaming devices.
The cable box is dying. Its death is will take a long time, but it’s on its way out. It can’t survive in its current iteration.
Oh sure, On Demand streaming is nice, but cable companies clearly view On Demand as an ancillary product. Their primary product is a box that provides a live stream of video content on a predictable basis. News goes here, sports here, sitcoms here, dramas here, infomercials here, reruns here, and so on.
This is, in a word, untenable.
The way we engage with the Internet has radically altered our perception of how we engage with television programming. Millennials aren’t watching the news: they have Google News for that. And they’re not watching programs live either (aside, of course, from our beloved Shondaland productions).
The big shift I’m anticipating? The cable box will begin to incorporate many of the features we see in devices like the Playstation 4, or Roku Box, or Chrome Stick. In addition to offering streaming services of content, they’ll also integrate gaming, Internet browsing, and a far more comprehensive On Demand service. Content won’t stick to a concrete schedule the way anymore, with DVRs and On Demand to catch programs you’re not lucky enough to watch in real time. Instead, episodes will be released at specific times in the week, allowing viewers to watch it at their leisure.
Yes, I’ll give you a minute to cry over the death of Event Television.
Done? good. Let’s move on to #2.
2. Cable companies will develop their own streaming services that will rival Netflix and HBO Go.
This one can’t come as much of a surprise to anyone with a brain, but I’ll point it out anyway: the majority of Netflix’s clout doesn’t come from its original programming. It comes from the fact that they are able to license the television material companies like CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC have been releasing for decades.
Think about it like this: Netflix has released 12 original TV series in its short lifetime (6 of which were continuations of programming developed by other networks). CBS, on the other hand, has 22 original TV series airing as of this moment, and hundreds of programs in its archives, simply sitting there.
I’d wager that, in order to become competitive with Netflix, these companies will realize that they need to develop a streaming service catalog of their entire oeuvre. Just like HBO Go enables anyone to watch “Sex and the City” whenever they want, these types of services will make “The Honeymooners,” “The Addams Family,” “The Cosby Show” and “Gilligan’s Island” accessible to anyone, anytime.
While these programs might not in and of themselves draw in users, that’s not the reason these archives will be game-changing. It’s because content is KING. Having a deep collection of good material that draws attention will force users to explore it for themselves. Imagine what would happen if suddenly Disney opened its Vault and made classics like “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “Zorro” available.
ETA: It looks like CBS is already getting started. Since they decided to stand on the sidelines while Walt Disney, 21st Century Fox and Comcast launched Hulu, this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Still, it’s awesome to see a prediction come true within hours of posting about it.
The bottom line is this: there are over 10,000 titles on Netflix, most of which is bad movies. If the networks get hip to the idea that their programming deserves its own archive, while slowly (or suddenly) removing their content from Netflix, you’ll have an arms race that would be truly exciting – and would be beneficial to everyone interested in streaming content. Which, last time I checked, was everyone who likes sitting at home and binge-watching 5 hours of TV after work.
The streaming services would be a colossal addition to the streaming devices that will replace cable boxes as well, because these companies will develop their streaming applications at the same time these new streaming devices are being developed. This means that, when you want to watch this week’s episode of “The Good Wife,” you’ll check the CBS application at 9:00 and start watching. Then you’ll switch to HBO Go at 10:00 to catch “Game of Thrones.” Then … you get the picture.
Get all that? Good. Prepare yourself, #3 is a doozy.
3. Movies will become dramatically more accessible through studio-centric subscription services.
The desire for content is insatiable to the modern viewer. The majority of programs and movies that have been created in the last five decades lives somewhere on the Internet. (Or is it “in the Internet”? My vocabulary in this arena is shockingly lacking.)
All didacticism aside, there’s an interesting conundrum here that doesn’t get addressed very often: the release process of movies once they’ve left theaters.
Remember when Netflix announced they were developing a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel? Theatre chains grouped together and announced that they wouldn’t screen a movie that was simultaneously being released via streaming services. Strange, because this was the same thing that happened with the astonishing “Snowpiercer” earlier this year: virtually simultaneous release via video on demand (VOD) services. (We’ll pretend, for the sake of my argument, that the feud between the movie’s director and Harvey Weinstein had a minimal effect on this marketing decision.)
While I doubt we’ll ever get rid of movie theaters or that every movie will be released simultaneously via VOD services, I do think these two case studies are indicative of a trend that’s around the bend. It’s a trend that will similarly be fueled by waning DVD sales, and the advent of digital rentals.
It’s true that movies become available for online streaming more readily these days, but production companies are going to take this one step further: instead of individual rentals, they’ll create streaming subscription services that allow access to movies, along with special features like cast interviews and cool marketing material, for release within a month of the movie’s debut in theaters.
They’ll also follow a similar approach with their past work, creating archives of already-released movies for streaming. Imagine, being able to watch all of Universal’s monster movies via one service, or streaming all of The Dark Knight trilogy in an evening without changing out DVDs. It’s an amazing idea, and what’s more, I’m convinced it’s inevitable.
This subscription service will probably cost more than TV companies’ subscription service, but from my perspective, a service that allows this type of engagement can’t be far off. Customers will demand it – or they’ll just get their content elsewhere.
What do you think about my ideas? Agree or disagree? Think I didn’t go far enough? Let me know in the comments.