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The Summer of Streaming Love: Will Netflix Take Over the World?

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The scene is San Francisco, circa 1967. Throughout the city—and down the Peninsula, from the creek-side caravans in Menlo Park to the halls of the Stanford Research Institute—a free-flowing feeling of love permeates air thick with smoke and tension.

In the midst of an eclectic mix of politics, pot, and a heavy police presence, a number of researchers were crafting the next generation of media delivery. From hypertext and input devices, researchers such as Douglas Engelbart were laying the foundation of what would become both the worldwide web (our WWW of dot-com proportions) and the graphic user interface (which would require Engelbart’s mouse, debuted the next year in The Mother of All Demos).

Ted Nelson, who coined the term “hypertext,” was especially busy in the summer of ’67, although he was closer to another hippie enclave on the other side of the nation in Providence, R.I. Nelson jointly crafted the Hypertext Editing System, a precursor to HTML, along with researcher Andries van Dam, who was a co-founder of what is known today as SIGGRAPH, a computer graphics conference. Van Dam helped steer his students toward the creation of XML and other web standards that the streaming industry uses to power its own revolution.

Fast-forward to 2016. It appears some of the content being streamed this summer may have a shot at shattering a few records.

Whether it’s video (including the upcoming Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, which will begin streaming on Aug. 5) or music (including the record-shattering run of Drake’s new album, Views, which was streamed 245 million times in its first, exclusive week on Apple Music), an eclectic mix of streaming options continues to drive the media revolution.

Alon Maor, co-founder and CEO of Qwilt, calls part of this trend “skinny love,” or the year of the skinny bundle. He’s referring to OTT taking the place of cable bundles. The unbundling of cable channels was supposed to start almost 20 years ago, as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Viewers would be offered the chance to pare down their cable channel diet from an average of almost 200 channels to a package of less than 20 that they would actually watch.

Another sign of the times, which Maor and others note, is the homogenization of OTT platforms, at least from a marketing standpoint. Let’s call this the Netflix-ification of internet TV.

In some ways, Netflix-ification is similar to the YouTube-ification of enterprise video platforms. A few years ago, trying to chase the success that user-generated content (UGC) sites such as YouTube had found, almost every enterprise streaming service platform proclaimed itself the YouTube of Enterprise. The resulting plethora of UGC platforms only served to create confusion.

The same may be true for the Netflix-ification of internet TV—whether it’s the Netflix of Africa, China, or India, as some have already predicted. It may be that Netflix hasn’t gained a foothold in those continents or countries.

Perhaps, though, we’ll see a consolidation of the world under the Netflix spell. Some estimates peg the company’s subscriber base as more than doubling from 2015 to 2020. An estimated 75 million Netflix subscribers were active users of the streaming service at the end of 2015, “fueled by aggressive international expansion of its streaming service, increasing broadband penetration, and a growing library of content that caters to different audiences across the world” according to James Wang, an ARK investment analyst.

“The primary drivers will be growth in China and other developing countries,” says Wang.

Perhaps, in a not-too-distant Summer of (Streaming) Love, we’ll see the Netflix-ification of, well, Netflix.

Of course, none of this is free. And there’s a significant amount of work still to do to scale out the internet-as-we-know-it limitations to be able to truly provide live linear television. But the signs are there, just like they were at the Human Be-In months before crowds of hippies descended on the streets of San Francisco, replete with flowers in their hair.

This article originally ran in the July/August 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “The Summer of (Streaming) Love.”

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