TV viewing options continue expanding

More streaming services will battle to survive or thrive




Science says that a singular big bang created the universe.

However many millennia later, a similar big bang is rocking the television universe as traditional TV continues to go by the wayside while options grow and freedom of choice ascends.

“I’m not a quantum physicist, but I think the same thing is happening,” said Colin Petrie-Norris, CEO of the streaming service Xumo, which provides access to mainstream and niche streaming channels. “Television, as an industry, much more so than the music industry, has resisted the force of digitization or streaming.”

The fact of the matter: resistance is futile.

“Something has changed about the industry that has caused an acceleration of brands now all exploring options to get into streaming,” Petrie-Norris said during a recent phone interview.

It’s not so difficult to put a finger on a reason why that’s happened said Wheeler Winston Dixon, the Ryan professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska. Dixon is also a filmmaker.

Television as constituted now is headed one place.

“Out,” he said.

It’s going straight to a myriad of services including Netflix, streaming’s innovator, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. He looks at the 62 students in his film class and can see what’s happening.

“They stream what they want, when they want. They’re not going to be tied to anyone else’s schedule.”

Not just younger viewers

Research from the nonpartisan digital media and survey research firm the Morning Consult bears that out. Millennials love to stream their programming. In the 18-29 age group, 48 percent subscribe to multiple services, 28 percent subscribe to one, with Netflix leading the pack with 67 percent subscribing to that service.

Conner Breedlove, 23, an assistant theater manager from Medina, Ohio, falls squarely in that group. When he moved from his parents’ home into an apartment with a roommate, they passed on installing cable TV. They opted for internet and streaming via his Apple TV.

“It’s cheaper to do that instead of getting cable and only watching select things, and we can select those things on our own and pay less for what we want to watch instead of more for all of the extra stuff that we don’t watch,” he said.

But younger viewers aren’t the only ones boldly going to this universe.

Allen Grant, 46, a marketing manager with Honeywell, cut the cord because of its cost, saving close to $100 off his monthly bill. He was reluctant to do so before finding ways to service his particular interest — live sports. After freeing himself from Spectrum, however, he subscribed to PlayStation Vue, Sony’s “mini-bundle” of television channels. He also has Netflix, Hulu and, although he subscribed for the shipping, Amazon’s video service.

There are those on the flip side of the issue, however.

Adam VanHo, an Akron area attorney, cut the cord, but went back when he was given a Godfather-like offer he couldn’t refuse from his provider. After cutting the cord, he attempted to use an indoor antenna to pull in local channels, but the reception wasn’t consistent enough. He uses AT&T’s services, but also streams via his Roku, a device dedicated to streaming.

“We’ve got kids,” he said. “They want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it.”

That freedom is a constant refrain for those who stream part or all of their television.

While the VCR offered some degree of that in the early ’80s until being usurped in the early 2000s by the popularity of DVDs and the eventual development of the DVR, neither technology is flawless. Streaming might be the closest thing to perfection seen so far. It’s television watching on the viewers’ schedule.

Binge watching — catching multiple episodes of a series in one session — is common not just for millennials, who do so at a 90 percent clip, but for 73 percent of Americans who stream, according a March survey from Deloitte, an accounting and consulting firm.

“The networks can’t do that and won’t do that,” Dixon said. “They’re ‘Tune in next week.’ Well, no one has time for next week.”

Just as importantly, it can be unique TV. Released from the constraints of FCC rules, these services produce original programming that appeals to a wide array of audiences, but there is no need for more mature audiences to endure coddling.

Netflix’s Marvel series (“Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and “The Defenders”) are free to explore the dark undertones in their respective comic books. Hulu’s “Handmaid’s Tale” allows the exploration of provocative subject matter and Amazon Prime Video’s series such as “Goliath” and “Bosch” offer gritty drama without pulling punches. They treat adult viewers like adults.

Expanding options

Perhaps that’s why traditional broadcasters are dipping their toes into the streaming water with stand-alone apps.

Disney announced recently it would pull its movies and library from Netflix and place them on a stand-alone service that can be accessed via streaming in 2019. It also announced that ESPN, the sports giant that they own, which has been bleeding traditional viewers and dragging down Disney stock, will get its own pay app next year.

CBS introduced All-Access in 2014 and between it and its Showtime app have 4 million subscribers, according to Variety. That number could rise significantly this month when “Star Trek: Discovery,” the latest series in Gene Roddenberry’s 51-year-old franchise, makes its debut Sunday on the regular network before moving exclusively to streaming.

One thing is certain with respect to the future: what and who will survive are not.

Niche channels — Xumo’s lineup includes a channel dedicated to Family Feud of all things — are gaining traction, Petrie-Norris said.

“There are little guys like us that are going after smaller parts of the market and there are some big guys that are coming to it,” he said. “There is going to be more fragmentation and more noise.”

For those who prefer their television a bit grittier and more mature, the streaming services have seemingly mastered the art form, working with renowned writers and producers.

Television veteran David E. Kelly (“L.A. Law,” “Ally McBeal,” “Big Little Lies”) ran the first season of Amazon Prime Video’s “Goliath,” starring Billy Bob Thornton. Netflix recently signed Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder” fame to a blockbuster deal.

Fragmentation leads to more choice. For Dixon, the scenario plays out thusly.

“I just don’t know who’s going to be watching television except incredibly old people,” he said. “I think down the line, it’s all going to be just streaming.”