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The Golden Age of Streaming?
As anyone who's binge-watched a favorite show will tell you, there's an embarrassment of riches of great online video content. But why does so much of it still adhere to the conventions of broadcast TV?

I just finished reading Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch, a book I’d resisted for a while because of the hype around it. Once I finally picked it up, though, I surrendered completely to its Dickensian plot twists and characters. I’m a slow reader, but I polished off its nearly 800 pages in a little more than a week. It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up, and I couldn’t wait until the workday was done, the chores finished, and the kids in bed, so I could immerse myself in it again before I fell asleep.

In the moments in between, I almost felt like a part of the story, and I could feel the characters and their struggles insinuating themselves into my own life. If you’ve read the book, you know that’s not necessarily a pleasant proposition, but that’s what the best books do: They become such a part of our lives that we feel a part of them.

If the phenomenon had first been named in the 21st century, we’d have called it binge-reading. In fact, the last time I’d experienced such immersion into a story was when I binge-watched the first five seasons of Justified (though I mercifully resisted the urge to try to talk with the Southern Gothic poeticism of Boyd Crowder). My colleague Theresa Cramer at EContent wrote that she experienced the same immersive emotional investment when she got sucked into the Serial podcast. Binge-watching, binge-listening, binge-reading … there’s almost no better way to experience linear, time-defined art (I won’t say “episodic,” because anyone who’s ever been immersed in the work of a particular musician for any length of time knows the feeling well, too).

Speaking of time, Cramer highlighted something crucial to the success of Serial (and other podcasts): Unlike a radio or TV program, Serial’s episodes weren’t constrained by time slots. Some episodes lasted an hour, while others lasted less than half that long. Which made me wonder why we haven’t seen more of that when it comes to premium online video content. Sure, there are plenty of series on YouTube in which individual episodes vary greatly in length, but when it comes to Netflix or Amazon original series, they’re all created with the same 30- or 60-minute episode lengths that are familiar from broadcast television. In other words, these online originals are still aspiring to be TV shows in the traditional sense. HBO used to tout its slogan “It’s not TV. It’s HBO,” but let’s face it: It’s still TV.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, giving people what they’re used to (and making sure content is ready for prime-time syndication down the road). But it got me thinking about whether or not streaming will ever be more than just a TV wannabe. My guess is that, as the YouTube generation grows up, we’ll be seeing more premium content that breaks the TV mold. We might, as many pundits have written, be in the golden age of TV; the golden age of streaming can’t be far behind, and I’m betting that some of our readers would argue that we already are there.

It’s exactly that question—“Where are we today?”—that’s behind most of what we do each year for the Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook. It’s our 12th and biggest Sourcebook yet, and the Industry Update section takes up most of the pages with “State of ...” articles that take the pulse of industry verticals (media and entertainment, enterprise, education); delivery trends (over-the-top, apps); technologies (encoding, content delivery); and more.

The rest of the issue is rounded out by buyer’s guides and how-to articles that address some of the most pressing purchasing and workflow challenges that streaming producers and publishers of all sizes face.

As always, it’s our hope that the Sourcebook is something you return to throughout the year. Maybe it’ll give you a chance to do some binge-reading of your own.

[This article appears in the March issue of Streaming Media magazine, the 2015 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook]

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