It seems that Hollywood is starting to catch on to what many viewers already know: Some of the best shows on TV are not on a network; they're streaming over your internet connection. Shows such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black from Netflix have been capturing people's imagination for years, although major awards have often eluded them. But in the first months of 2015, one announcement after another pointed toward a sort of streaming content renaissance.
In 2013, House of Cards won three Emmys--a directing award for David Fincher as well as some smaller awards from the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony--but was overlooked for the bigger awards. At the Golden Globe Awards held in January, we got an inkling of things to come. Amazon's Transparent won the award for the best television comedy or musical (beating out Netflix's Orange Is the New Black). The show's star, Jeffrey Tambor, also won for best actor in a television comedy or musical for his role.
Not long after the Golden Globes, Amazon announced it had done the nearly impossible: signed director Woody Allen to create a show. The press release says, "Untitled Woody Allen Project, a half-hour series, has received a full season order and episodes will be written and directed by Allen. Customers will be able to see the series exclusively on Prime Instant Video in the US, UK and Germany."
For his part, Allen seemed a bit nonplussed, saying in a statement: "I don't know how I got into this. I have no ideas and I'm not sure where to begin. My guess is that [VP of Amazon Studios] Roy Price will regret this." Something tells me that he's wrong.
Meanwhile, Overstock.com announced that it has plans to go head-to-head with Amazon and Netflix, launching a streaming content service of its own.
All of this happened in the shadow of a big announcement from DISH about its new Sling TV service, which brings live television to internet-connected devices such as Roku boxes, gaming systems, and some smart TVs. For just $20-for the base package-users can get access to channels such as HGTV, Travel Channel, and ESPN. Add that to an announcement from HBO that it will offer HBO GO as a stand-alone product-meaning you can subscribe even if you don't have a cable package-and you've got something akin to a streaming content revolution on your hands.
"I feel like streaming content was always ahead of the curve and even self-aware, in a sense-it had to be in order to even exist. So in its own borders, it came into its own very quickly. But in terms of the broader entertainment and content worlds, streaming is only just starting to compete with traditional content providers in the last few years," says Bree Brouwer, a journalist covering the streaming content space for Tubefilter, a curator of online video-related content.
As much as streaming content may finally be getting its moment in the sun, audiences for broadcast television shows still dwarf those for most web-only series. For instance, Procera found that after the second season of House of Cards hit Netflix, "anywhere from 5-15% of Netflix subscribers on several worldwide broadband networks at least [sampled] one episode." If Netflix has 30 millions subscribers, that is about 4.5 million people (on the high end). Meanwhile, The Atlantic reports (in "Is House of Cards Really a Hit?"), "According to Nielsen, CBS ended last year with an average prime-time delivery of 12 million nightly viewers."
So a Netflix hit isn't quite measuring up to the broadcast audience yet, but that does not mean audiences-and networks-aren't taking notice. Enter Sling TV. "[Traditional television] providers will either get smart about the reality of TV viewing habits today (as DISH obviously has done with Sling TV), or eventually lose their businesses entirely as older generations die off and younger ones who prefer streaming and video-on-demand options take their place," says Brouwer.
"Cable and satellite aren't going anywhere, but consumers now know that there are other avenues to get the content they want, so cable and satellite providers are going to have to get more competitive with their offerings," says Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen, editor of Streaming Media. "But, as always, caveat emptor: In order for consumers to get everything they want, they may end up paying about the same in monthly subscriptions to OTT services as they do for their cable bill."
"Sling TV is the most exciting thing in the streaming world as of right now. When DISH announced it, I can imagine there was a collective cry of ‘Finally!' from both consumers and companies alike," says Brouwer. "It's good to finally see traditional entertainment companies recognizing the changing landscape of consumers' viewing habits and put those needs and wants first instead of their own agendas."
DISH isn't the only company waking up to the reality of streaming content. Much of the investment in this area is coming from established studios. Schumacher-Rasmussen says, "Disney paid at least $500 million for Maker Studios; Dreamworks bought AwesomenessTV in 2013 for $33 million, then sold a 25% stake to Hearst last month for $81.25 million."
Meanwhile, Amazon is trying to stir up even more trouble for Hollywood types that may still be stuck in the mud. After announcing the Woody Allen partnership, it announced Amazon Original Movies, headed by Ted Hope. Hope co-founded the production company Good Machine, which produced films such as Eat Drink Man Woman and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Amazon is tossing a wrench into the way movies are traditionally distributed. According to its press release, "Whereas it typically takes 39 to 52 weeks for theatrical movies to premiere on subscription video services, Amazon Original Movies will premiere on Prime Instant Video in the U.S. just 4 to 8 weeks after their theatrical debut."
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this rush of streaming content news is best summed up by Schumacher-Rasmussen: "The lines between ‘traditional' and ‘new' media are blurring."