I’m not very good at predicting the future, and I tend to be a little dismissive when I hear others try to do it. For instance, if you would have told me five years ago—in YouTube’s infancy, when dial-up was mainstream and “buffering” reigned supreme—that streaming video was the wave of the future, I probably would’ve shrugged it off. And of course I would’ve been wrong.
If I were to measure the amount of live, broadcast television I’ve watched in the past year against the video I’ve streamed, there would be no comparison. I’ve never been much of a couch potato, but the only broadcast television I’ve watched recently has been news programming—real-time coverage of events as they happen. For pre-produced television series, my first stop is the web, usually Netflix or Hulu.
As video resolution and broadband capabilities improve, the integration of streaming content and the old-fashioned broadcast variety has become seamless. With web-enabled television sets, Blu-Ray players, and Roku boxes, we’re stepping into an age in which “video-on-demand” has taken on a whole new meaning. Add Slingboxes and DVRs to the mix, and you can nearly watch anything on any device, anytime you want.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the battle is heating up over who’ll provide you with that streaming content. I’ve written before about a host of poor decisions Netflix made last year, and the bad fortune that those decisions precipitated. In reality, 2011 was chockfull of flubs for the company. At the time, I made no prediction about whether they would survive the storm they sailed headlong into—only concluding, on a very personal level, that the service was still worth the subscription price.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone. In 2011’s fourth quarter, Netflix users streamed two billion hours. That’s a tremendously successful post-blunder number—after Netflix subscribers threatened a mass exodus. 20 million users in 45 countries spent two billion hours on the site in three months. That’s an average of 100 hours per subscriber. Collectively, it’s more than 228,000 years of viewing. It’s hard to imagine that the company could have done better than that, had they made all the right moves.
Amid last year’s carnival of Netflix blunders, though, other content providers began to see a real opportunity to get ahead. Late last year, HBO began seeing Netflix as real competition, specifically to its streaming platform, HBO Go. Until very recently, HBO has offered its DVDs and Blu-Ray discs to Netflix on the cheap—deeply discounted wholesale rates. However, HBO refused to renegotiate that deal, which expired on January 1st. This doesn’t mean that “True Blood” or “The Sopranos” will no longer be available through Netflix, only that the company will be forced to buy them at retail.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t expect to stream those shows on Netflix anytime soon. The two companies have failed, thus far, to negotiate a streaming deal. Obviously, HBO would like for you to spend your money on HBO, and stream your episodes with HBO Go. It’s unlikely that they will cave to Netflix, thus undermining their entire business model.
It’s hard to say with any certainty, but one must imagine that HBO became a little nervous when Netflix announced that it would begin producing original content. Four Netflix original series are in the works—“Lilyhammer,” “House of Cards,” “Hemlock Grove,” and the long-awaited re-launch of “Arrested Development.”
As we step into 2012, it appears that the battle for your online viewing is only going to intensify.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 01/12/2012.
© Damien Willis, 2012. All rights reserved.