Edge of Innovation

Are web TV streaming services killing off television or saving it?


Move over Hollywood! Silicon Valley is taking over when it comes to TV and movies. From streaming TV services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix to Kickstarter projects and the next Apple TV refresh, some of today’s best entertainment content is coming courtesy of the biggest tech companies around.

But why does the tech world have the edge when it comes to providing us with the entertainment we want to see? Let us count the ways…

They rely on data

People often bemoan the death of original content coming out of Hollywood — whether it’s lowest-common-denominator movies based on existing franchises or meddling studios eager to stick to a Save The Cat formula and to airbrush out every trace of originality.

Fortunately data-driven companies like Netflix have found the perfect solution. Online TV Shows like Orange Is The New Black and House Of Cards were commissioned based on user viewing habits. But the fact that Netflix puts its faith in the numbers rather than studio executive hunches means a truer reflection of what users actually want to see.

Orange Is The New Black - Netflix
Orange Is The New Black is a Netflix original series that outclasses the output of many traditional broadcasters.

Netflix lets viewers in on the creative process by letting them vote on the success of pilots before they get picked up for a whole season. Ridley Scott’s The Man In the High Castle was picked up after an avalanche of positive ratings from Amazon Prime subscribers. While crowdfunding projects like the Alan Tudyk/Nathan Fillion Vimeo series Con Man skip the studio stage entirely and appeal directly to fans.

Talk about catering for your audience.

There’s no broadcast schedule

If you’re in your teens, there’s a chance you don’t even remember rushing back home to catch a show at the time it originally aired. Before the VCR, if you missed a show, you often didn’t get another chance to watch it. With web TV services like Amazon Prime and Netflix, your favourite content is available to you on demand.

Box sets on Amazon Instant Video
Appointment-to-view television is increasingly an outdated concept. Many of us prefer to binge-watch a box set instead.

This means that today’s TV content fits around your schedule rather than guiding it. It means that you can pick up a show at your leisure or — conversely — binge watch an entire season in a day. Crazily enough, the fact that everyone’s watching shows at different times doesn’t seem to have done anything to harm the popularity of today’s top web TV properties.

Costs are down

Thanks to the rise of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, consuming the best entertainment content today often costs less than a TV subscription.

True, a few people are still going to illegally stream movies and shows. But the fact that tech companies offer the material at high quality, on a variety of devices and at a reasonable price, means that number is falling all the time.

They offer your choice of viewing device

First of all, people only had the option of seeing a movie if they went to the cinema. Then boxy, black-and-white TVs arrived with a smattering of channels. After this came the colour TV revolution — CRT displays followed by flat plasma and LCD technology, home theatre systems and DLP projectors.

The Man In The High Castle, Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime’s The Man In The High Castle depicts a post WW2 world where Germany and Japan won. It was commissioned for a full series after its pilot episode received 5-star ratings.

Now there are more hardware choices than ever. Want to watch Netflix? You can stream it through a set-top box, compatible Blu-Ray player, PC, Apple Mac, games console, Chromecast, Compute Stick and all sorts of mobile devices. In fact, despite the advent of HD, 3D and the promise of 4K to come, resolution doesn’t always matter. Today, we’re as likely to watch our favourite shows on a laptop, a tablet or a large-screened smartphone.

The biggest change in TV is the fact that you no longer need a TV to watch it.

How we consume today’s streaming TV services changes according to the device you watch them on. More than that, watching shows with an iPhone 6 or Microsoft Surface makes it easier to interact with the content — commenting, live-tweeting or checking IMDb to look up the name of an actor and see what they’ve starred in before.

Sneaky Pete, Amazon Prime
A data-driven approach to TV programming is akin to prototyping a minimum viable product in business. In the future, perhaps all TV shows will be made this way?

So what’s next?

Predicting the future of the entertainment industry is tough. On the one side, we’re increasingly watching entertainment on our computing devices, big and small. On the other, our traditional entertainment technology is increasingly being gifted with more computing power, embracing web browsing, gaming and social media.

Traditional broadcasters will no doubt fight to maintain the status quo. But the TV landscape is changing. From more competition and a renewed emphasis on original TV content, to higher-quality streaming, web-only exclusives and even personalized shows which could change the direction of their narrative according to who’s watching, the next few years of online TV should be every bit as exciting as the last few. — Luke Dormehl (@lukedormehl)


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