Netflix is the most successful Video On Demand provider in the US. And despite its impressive attempt at shooting itself in the foot last year by needlessly solving a non-existent problem, it’s likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
For a small monthly fee (€7 in Ireland), they give you access to their library of films and television series, which you can then stream as many as you like of via your internet connection.
So its principle selling points are, that on the one hand you don’t waste any of your precious hard drive space, as all of the titles are stored centrally by Netflix. And on the other, you have an extensive and limitless choice of titles to pick from. So, your access to the internet aside, what’s it like?
Well it’s certainly easy to sign up to, and they pride themselves on making it as painless as possible to unsubscribe from as well. The idea being, that the service they provide is something you can come back to at your leisure, when something you see there catches your eye. And I imagine that many of the people who availed of their introductory free month trial will very probably continue to subscribe subsequently. After all, you really only need to see a couple of films, or a tv series in any given month to justify the price of €7.
But if they’re hoping to make a serious dent in the market on this side of the Atlantic, then they’ll have to significantly expand the number of titles they give you to choose from. Naturally they’re only starting up now, and it’s very much a work in progress, but it is none the less a disappointingly limited selection.
On a more general level, what impact is streaming going to have on our every day lives? Well, as with most things connected with the internet, it’s not so much the death of one thing and the birth of the next, as it is a re-imagining of the overall landscape.
Just as cinema was not in fact killed off by the advent of television, and then video, dvd, cable and satellite. On the contrary, it was strengthened with their arrival by having its reach significantly extended. In effect, they provide cinema with what amounts to a whole new market in which to profit from. So too the internet, and specifically streaming will serve to yet further extend that reach, and to ever more firmly bind them all together.
The reason why streaming can never replace cinema or indeed television is simple. It’s completely reliant on the Hollywood studios that make so much of all the film and television that people most want to see for all its content. And those studios are only every going to drip feed the likes of Netflix after their cash cows, the Harry Potters and the Batmans, have duly earnt their crust in cinemas and on mainstream television first.
The only way around that is for Netflix to begin producing its own content, which is exactly what it’s begun doing. But it can no more be certain of producing the next sure fire hit than anyone else can, and would need in effect to become a rival studio in order to be able to compete on a level playing field. Which is of course what Sky has done by joining forces with 20th Century Fox. So rather than replacing anything, streaming becomes one more arm in an overall, global media strategy.
But the main and most obvious reason why streaming is most likely to add to rather than subtract from how we watch and listen to films, television and music is quite simply numbers.
In 1920, the world passed the two billion mark. Since then, it’s more than trebled, and by the middle of this century that number will have more than quadrupled. Furthermore, the number of people who now live in what is known as the developed world has exploded over the same period. So there are incalculably more people now all trying to watch and listen to the same sorts of things.
Add to that the fact all surveys suggest that those who do download, whether legally or illegally, tend to spend more than they used to on their entertainment, and it all points to the same thing. Streaming is one more means for a hugely enhanced landscape to expand even further.