The rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu provided a means of escape from the expensive and excessive cable packages. But as time went on, streaming services have become a new beast with their excess and price, straying from the ideal model.
While there were types of streaming video in the late 1990s, it really came to prominence with the launch of Netflix streaming. The company was first marketed towards DVD rentals through the mail, but with streaming it set the course for the future of television and movies by offering seemingly endless amounts of content for a low monthly price.
A revolutionary idea that came with Netflix streaming was a simple one — no ads. The relief of not having to sit through commercials was, in a way, groundbreaking. People appreciated a service that would respect their customers enough to not engage in an out-of-touch way of marketing products.
Even though Netflix continued to add more content, the vetting process never felt like it swamped the service with trash. Instead, it allowed for cult shows and movies to get some spotlight that they otherwise would not have. Thanks to streaming we got to see gems like ‘IT Crowd’ and ‘Trailer Park Boys’ — shows that benefit from having from the ease of watching them online versus getting expensive DVD collections.
As more competitors hit the market, it fractured the vision of streaming video. Instead of paying a low price for one service, if someone wants to watch a variety of shows they must be subscribed to each individual service to get their exclusive content. Now a simple seven dollars a month has ballooned into much more if someone wants to purchase each streaming site.
This glut of exclusive content has had a major result, prioritizing money instead of convenience and pushing people back to piracy. A recent study done by Sandvine found an upswing of Internet traffic to websites like BitTorrent, which share paid-for content. With more and more exclusive television and movie deals through streaming services, users rightfully feel incentivized to go out and pirate content.
As more services came about, they experimented with bringing commercials back to users. Services like Hulu and FX have packages that include commercials, and if a user wants to avoid them they have to pay more. These ads will also heavily feature that service’s own content, making one feel trapped instead of broadened to content they’d find more interest in.
What makes streaming video commercials worse than even cable ads are how the deals are set up. When it comes to a cable program, they have a variety of commercials to play, but streaming will only have a handful that they will play over and over and over again. I will die with a looping Sun Chips ad in my head thanks to Hulu, and the only thing it has done is cement my loathing hatred for those garbage chips.
Netflix today has strayed far from the quintessential service it set up in 2005. Today, the site pushes original content instead of those small — but amazing — shows and movies that lack the same spotlight the original programming does. It now shows ‘promos’, or ads, for other Netflix Originals shows because they get more money for their exclusive content, versus having to pay other rights holders for their content. What was once the gold star in streaming video function has now degraded into a cheap model to suck in as much money as possible.
Obviously, these streaming services need to make money. And while they’re still a major convenience compared to cable, they’re slipping more and more into practices which hamper the users who bought into their service in the first place. These companies need to remember what made them special in the first place: cheap, easy, small-scale stories for greater audiences.