You almost need a caddie to successfully negotiate the streaming video landscape.
That’s because what’s available to watch — and how to watch — changes so quickly in the Net video arena.
For instance, if you are a fan of The Hunger Games movies, as of Oct. 1 those films, will no longer be available on Netflix but on Hulu and Amazon. Previously aligned with Netflix, premium movie channel Epix signed a multiyear deal with Hulu to bring movies such as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire to the streaming service, with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 to land in the weeks ahead. (Epix also extended its agreement with Amazon for the retailer’s online video offerings.)
Hulu, which is owned by ABC, Fox and NBC, has offered free TV episodes and movies with advertisements since its 2007 launch. In addition to a premium $7.99 monthly membership — with fewer ads, access to featured films such as The Hunger Games and full seasons of TV series on more devices — the online video service recently began offering an ad-free $11.99 monthly option.
In addition to following Amazon and Netflix into creating original content, Hulu has also signed some attention-getting deals such as landing the Seinfeld series and resurrecting The Mindy Project. “Hulu has been making all the right moves and appears to be well on its way to becoming a serious competitor for Netflix and Amazon,” says The Diffusion Group’s Alan Wolk in a recent post on the research firm’s site.
Amazon has fired its own salvos at industry leader Netflix. Amazon Prime members (they pay $99 annually) can now download movies and TV episodes to Android and iOS devices, a feature no other major streaming service offers — but many subscribers would make use of. Previously, Amazon only allowed downloads to Kindle Fire tablets.
And Amazon, which won five Emmy Awards for its original series Transparent, will continue its engagement with Netflix in the content arms race. Amazon recently landed the complete Sex and the City series for its members and is debuting six new pilots later this year for viewers to vote on becoming full series. Those include dark comedy One Mississippi, executive produced by Louis C.K. (Louie), and the biographical Z, starring Christina Ricci (Sleepy Hollow) as Zelda Sayre, who marries author F. Scott Fitzgerald.
For its part, Netflix continues to lead the way in content spending. The video provider expects to spend $5 billion on original and acquired content next year, and a new report from Ampere Analysis expects that to grow to $6 billion by 2018. By 2020, Netflix and Amazon combined will spend more than $9 billion annually on content, Ampere estimates.
Meanwhile, Netflix is moving beyond the home with its first theatrical movie, Beasts of No Nation, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival, and hits selected theaters and Netflix itself on Oct. 16.
“Right now, competition is fierce among (over-the-top video) providers and networks alike to capture and retain consumer attention, and this is driving massive innovation and change in the industry,” said Brandon Eatros, CEO of Yidio, an online and app-based next generation TV guide. Yidio, which aims to serve as a caddy for streaming video, recently increased the online video content it searches across the 180 content providers.
As providers such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — and others — secure more movies and shows, and create new ones on their own, viewers have trouble finding what they want. Yidio helps users navigate “the growing numbers of services and providers in order to easily find shows and movies – without having to search each individual app, one at a time to find what they’re looking for,” Eatros said.
The robust competition is putting pressure on streaming providers “to think differently about not only content but content delivery (and) will undoubtedly quicken the pace for innovation in an already fast moving industry,” he said.
Traditional pay-TV providers are scrambling to react, too. Back in April, Verizon began offering a $55 monthly slimmed-down Custom TV package to Fios subscribers with local TV stations and cable channel such as CNN, HGTV, AMC and Food Network — and can include ESPN. Comcast, too, is testing its own Stream streaming video service, expected to roll out network-side in early 2016. The $15 monthly service, viewable on tablets, computers and smartphones but not TVs, delivers a dozen channels, including HBO, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS.
That makes sense because consumers would prefer to pay about $40 monthly for a package of 17-18 channels, a recent Digitalsmiths survey found.
That’s likely in many consumers’ future, says 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch. Speaking earlier this month to a Goldman Sachs investment conference, Murdoch noted the rebundling of services. “We are starting to see it,” he said. Customers might say “they want to have … a streaming service for $10 or $15, depending on which one it is, and they may want to have something from their (pay-TV provider) that is a little less.”
What’s being looked at now is only the beginning, he said. “I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game between the $90-$100 bundle and then a $10 skinny bundle with broadcast basic,” Murdoch said. “There’s going to be a lot more choice in the marketplace.”
“Cutting the Cord” is a regular column covering Net TV and ways to get it. If you have suggestions or questions, contact Mike Snider via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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