Digital Streaming Services: Where Are We Now? By Frankie Wallace.
Subscription entertainment services have become a prevalent aspect of contemporary life. Between podcasts, music, and television shows, the way in which we consume media has undergone huge changes. Greater access to reliable broadband internet has provoked the entertainment industries and audiences alike to shirk physical media in exchange for downloads and streaming.
Movies and television, in particular, have been radically altered by our adoption of streaming services. We often get to binge entire seasons of our favourite shows, rather than undergoing an agonising weeklong wait for each new episode. Cinema releases are also no longer a requirement to ensure a movie can make a cultural impact — a streamed movie can produce as much hype as a summer blockbuster.
The last decade or so has proven that the ways we choose to consume media can even affect the way our entertainment is produced. The streaming revolution has proven that fans can reverse decisions to cancel shows. So what is the current state of the digital video landscape, and how has this affected lifestyles?
The Power of Original Content
It seems almost quaint now to think that little over a decade ago Netflix was primarily shipping DVD rentals. Since they began offering a streaming service in 2010, their customer base has grown from 7 million subscribers to its current total of nearly 90 million. Alongside other major market players such as Hulu and Amazon Prime, much of Netflix’s success has come from investment in production of original content.
This investment in new programming has changed the shape of television and movie production itself. One interesting result is the effect upon traditional media hierarchy. By providing healthy budgets for their original content, streaming services have produced a distinct shift in quality. Shows like Stranger Things, Good Omens, and The Handmaid’s Tale have movie-standard production values, which attract high-level cast and crew accordingly. Today, television is, for the most part, no longer considered a lesser artform to cinema.
The industry-wide innovations prompted by these companies has been the result of great risk. The dominance of properties such as HBO’s Game of Thrones in our cultural landscape has defied predictions. It might seem a no-brainer in hindsight, but this wasn’t the expected outcome. In 2000 rental giant Blockbuster turned down the opportunity to partner with Netflix. This has also put streaming services in a position of influence upon their audiences, with some making responsible decisions such as the removal of smoking scenes from their content.
Democratization of Content Production
The rise in popularity of streaming platforms is very much in keeping with the greater influence technology is having upon our lives. Deeper integration of technology has prompted an evolution of how we fit entertainment into our domestic routines. The position in which we currently find ourselves is that we have immediate access to movies and television whenever we want them.
This has resulted in an unexpected but largely positive democratisation of entertainment production. From the creators’ perspective, traditional gatekeepers to opportunities — such as network executives and production companies — have been for the most part removed from the equation. Streaming services have given individuals direct access to audiences. This has resulted in digital web streaming entrepreneurs, and even streaming celebrities.
This democratization goes both ways, of course. Audiences have had a powerful effect on what content enters the zeitgeist. Traditional production companies are now largely unable to exclusively dictate the available content. Quite the opposite, in fact. Audiences have been vocal about what content creators they support, and more traditional platforms have been keen to invest in creators who have built an online following.
That’s not to say that these platforms succeed purely at the whim of creators and audiences. Intelligent use of data analysis and algorithms in order to personalize users’ experiences has helped audiences to discover more examples of content they enjoy. While the platform providers may not create the majority of content, they certainly have a hand in influencing engagement.
The Integration of Digital Technology into Our Lives
The rise in the popularity of streaming platforms is very much in keeping with the greater influence technology is having upon our lives. While the entertainment industry changes may feel unexpected, it would probably also have been naive to think that more closely integrating technology into our lives wouldn’t also require an evolution of entertainment itself. The position we currently find ourselves is that we have immediate access to movies and television whenever we want them.
We don’t have to be at home to catch up on our favorite shows, we can now stream content directly to our smartphones and tablet devices. Our commutes to work and lunch breaks have become opportunities for us to consume an extra morsel of entertainment. Additionally, we can connect our mobile devices directly to our televisions. We are able to extend our mobile streaming experiences to larger screens — whether these are computer monitors or cinema-style projectors.
Greater access to more advanced digital tech has helped give us a more developed freedom of entertainment choice. There are streaming platforms for almost every niche — from CrunchyRoll for anime fans, to CuriosityStream for documentary buffs. Smart TV technology is also helping to provide simplified access to these, through services such as Roku and Amazon Fire. We often make decisions about technology as a result of their convenience of use. The adoption of devices which streamline our streaming experiences may be key to their continued success.
The digital streaming revolution has made significant changes to our entertainment landscape; from improved television production values, to the democratisation of media. Today these streaming platforms provide us with a greater range of TV and movie options, and a more diverse range of creators the opportunity to reach audiences. As more advanced technology becomes integrated into our lives, so too do the art forms we embrace become a closer aspect of our domestic existence.
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