Over the past decade, streaming services have taken the entertainment industry by storm, edging out traditional network television channels like NBC and ABC with the more accessible, on-demand video platform.
With Netflix streaming came a revolution of how people consume media; no longer confined to a network channel’s schedule, the service provided an egalitarian mode of viewership for next to nothing when compared to the price of cable television. In turn, this democratized the media that we all consume.
It seems that everyone now has a Netflix account, allowing for a mass cultivation of taste in accordance with what’s trending on the streaming service. Think of shows like “Stranger Things” or “Orange is the New Black,” which garnered widespread support not only because of their impeccable quality, but also their easy accessibility.
However, as Netflix showed streaming services to be a massive commercial opportunity, competitors quickly rose to capitalize on this new form of viewership. Hulu and Amazon Prime Video became prominent players in the streaming world, and with Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus both coming out next month, the field will become even more crowded.
This raises the question: how will viewers respond to this plethora of content being released on these different platforms? It simply isn’t feasible for the average American to maintain five or six streaming subscriptions, which essentially forces them to pick and choose between them. Thus, the democratization of media content brought about through Netflix will decline as the platform’s dominance in the field declines along with it.
It is important to note how the media landscape has changed with the rise of these streaming services, especially in regards to relevance. Although network shows like the “Big Bang Theory” and live sports still bring in the highest amount of viewership, critical acclaim and relevance seems to go entirely to content on streaming platforms.
Looking at the 2019 Emmy Awards, the vast majority of winners in all categories were shows produced by one of these streaming services; clearly, these platforms have upended the traditional standards and redefined the quality of television content.
This transformation could in part be due to the nature of streaming content, considering all of the money involved in this industry. Take Amazon Prime Video, for example. One of the largest companies in the world has invested resources into creating entertainment content, resulting in some of the most heavily funded (and by extension, highest quality) television shows in history.
Amazon’s upcoming project, a new “Lord of the Rings” series, is expected to cost the company at least one billion dollars — making it the most expensive television show ever made. And Amazon isn’t the only one spending big bucks on entertainment; Netflix’s “The Crown” currently holds the title for the second most expensive show ever made.
This new entertainment model presents an interesting dilemma in the consumption of television today.
While the quality of the shows are at the highest they’ve ever been, the access to such shows is becoming increasingly unavailable to the majority of the population. As such, the shared cultural knowledge that had been cultivated largely through the democratization of media will dissolve into different subsets, governed by which streaming service you subscribe to.
The time where shows like “Friends” or “Grey’s Anatomy” could dominate the cultural discussion is over; the common language of popular television will be divided, leaving little room for a shared dialogue. And even this division could only happen with the assumption that one can afford a streaming service in the first place. If not, you’re completely left out of the discussion, alienated by popular culture for not being able to afford the extensive monthly costs.
One may believe that not all of these services can survive among the competition and will soon start to dissipate; however, special partnerships and offers make it seem like these services are here to stay.
For instance, even if people aren’t flocking to Hulu for their content, the partnership between Hulu and Spotify (where you can bundle TV and music streaming for $9.99 per month) keeps the streaming service relevant, at the very least. Amazon Prime comes with both its famous two-day express shipping and the video platform, making it well worth the investment. Netflix, of course, is the original supergiant, and it’s hard to imagine it falling out of fashion anytime soon. The new massive media companies, Disney and Apple, will surely have enough means to keep their services stocked with quality television.
All this is to say that despite what may seem like a fragile business model, these streaming services will have quite a good foundation to keep running in the near future. In turn, that could lead to an oligopoly, where these five or six businesses are essentially controlling the cultural landscape of television.
This overwhelming domination of an entire industry brings with it a horde of problems — the most important of which is the alienation of the common viewer, as there is little room to push back against these enormous corporations.
It is imperative that as we move forward into this new age of streamable media, the consumers are invited into the conversation about what we can watch, and how accessible that content should be.