Television is heading online. The rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon.com, and HBO’s HBOGO has caused many to turn off the TV, and to turn to their computers and mobile devices to watch their favorite shows. What began as a revolutionary move when Netflix first started its streaming service in 2007 has quickly grown into an entirely new way for viewers to consume content. And according to a recent Nielsen report, traditional TV consumption continues to drop off on a year-over-year basis among 18-24-year-olds. Content creators have begun to take advantage of this new model and are starting to create programming specifically for the online audience.
In the past month television fans welcomed back the Bluth family with the return of the popular show Arrested Development on Netflix. The highly anticipated fourth season of the fan favorite was released in its entirety, allowing subscribers to watch the entire season from day one. Netflix had already seen success with this format when they released House of Cards, an original series adapted from a BBC miniseries. And Netflix isn’t stopping there; in 2014 Netflix will be releasing a new series by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) called Sense 8, as well as the second season of House of Cards. Watching an entire season in a single sitting has been nicknamed “binge watching”, and it has proven to be an extremely popular format among subscribers.
Seeking to capitalize on the trend of online consumption of media, DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc, has signed a multi-year deal with Netflix to bring more than 300 hours of programming to the online service. The contract is the largest that Netflix has signed for original content.
The online content trend is also dramatically affecting traditional models of television. Vince Gilligan, Executive Producer of AMC’s popular series Breaking Bad, credits Netflix with giving his show a deeper fan-base through the binge watching format. “Before binge-watching, someone who identified him- or herself as a fan of a show probably only saw 25 percent of the episodes,” says Gilligan, “but it’s a different world now”. Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly has even complained about losing audiences to marathons of Breaking Bad.
Amazon.com Inc has recently stepped up its competition with Netflix. The world’s largest Internet retailer recently announced that it would debut five original series based on viewer feedback of 14 pilots. These series will mark the first original TV content produced by Amazon, and represent a major move into the world of streaming media. The series will be available exclusively through Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service and will be free-of-charge to all members of the service. Among the series selected are Alpha House, a political comedy starring John Goodman and written by Gary Trudeau, Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist and creator of the popular cartoon strip Doonesbury. The new series will debut in late 2013 or early 2014.
Even computer chip maker Intel Corp is adopting the online content model, and is currently in talks to buy content from media companies for a new Intel TV service. Intel is prepared to offer as much as 75 percent more than traditional cable rates, as it looks to take advantage of the gap in children’s content created when Netflix decided to not renew its contract with Viacom Inc’s Nickelodeon earlier this year.
Microsoft has also declared its intentions to merge its new Xbox One console with original content. The software giant has already announced plans for a live-action Halo TV series in partnership with Steven Spielberg. Microsoft has also created a new Los Angeles based studios called Xbox Entertainment Studios. Xbox Live was an early adopter of Netflix’s streaming service, and these recent moves show the company’s intent to become a creator of content and not simply a distributor.
HBO seems to be making moves towards changing its online streaming model. HBO subscribers are offered access to HBOGO, the cable network’s answer to Netflix. However, only those with an HBO subscription through their cable providers can view the online content, leaving those without a subscription out in the cold. As a result, popular series like Game of Thrones and Girls have become targets for online piracy and illegal downloading. The desire for a standalone Internet subscription has led to a campaign called “Take My Money, HBO”. The site’s intro lays out the campaign’s goal “We pirate Game of Thrones; we use our friend’s HBOGO login to watch True Blood…Please HBO, offer a standalone HBOGO streaming service and Take My Money!”
HBO has teased that it is reportedly looking into a model to make HBO shows more available to mobile devices and computers. In the past cable providers have been reluctant to adapt to streaming media trends out of fear of devaluing the sales of DVD/Blu-ray and their subscription fees.
Although increasingly popular, online streaming is still only a fraction of overall TV consumption. Broadcast television is still the format of choice for most Americans, but it seems clear that binge watching is the way of the future. Content creators should prepare for increasing shifts in consumption habits and resulting changes to audience appetites.