Streaming services are quickly absorbing viewers and bandwidth space thanks to the popularity of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but if some experts are correct, television is going to change more in the next decade than it did in the previous half-century.
A great story by Ken Auletta in the Feb. 3 issue of The New Yorker tells a remarkable account of how Netflix CEO Reed Hastings attempted to create an alliance between his company and Blockbuster Video in 2000, back when Blockbuster was a seemingly unbeatable home video rental service. The idea was for Netflix to become Blockbuster's online delivery system. Needless to say, Blockbuster rebuffed the offer. Less than 15 years later, Blockbuster is kaput, and Netflix is now one of the biggest media companies in North America.
That is all fascinating reading, but Auletta starts really blowing minds about two-thirds of the way through “Outside the Box: Netflix and the Future of Television.” Marc Andreesen, the venture capitalist who co-created Netscape in the early 1990s, told Auletta that in 10 years, television “is going to be 100 percent streamed. On demand. Internet protocol. Based on computers and based on software.”
Given the huge growth in the seven years since Netflix started streaming movies and television shows, Andreesen's prediction seems on the mark, but I'm not sure I'd go all the way to 100 percent. In June 2009, there was a fair amount of panic over the end of analog television broadcasts as viewers with traditional cathode-ray tube televisions, many of them senior citizens or people with limited incomes, bought digital converters so they could continue to watch TV without interruption. One thing I discovered during that time is that not everyone chases technology with my level of zeal or is able to, and, to be a big nerd and paraphrase both “The X-Files” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” some will fight the future until resistance is futile.
So there will still be people who do not use DVRs or any kind of streaming or on-demand technology, but I think that in 2024 their numbers will be fairly small. But I also think that DVRs, once the great and glorious future of TV consumption, could turn out to be an interim technology — something we did while we waited for the future to begin.
Here's why. The other showstopper quote in Auletta's story came from Glenn Britt, the recently retired CEO of Time Warner Cable. “It may be perfectly viable in the future for a cable company to say, ‘I'm losing enough money selling television; I'm just going to sell broadband,'” Britt said. In other words, major cable companies might just do away with channels on your television altogether, and everything becomes an on-demand, all-streaming experience.
If what Britt said comes true, the industry convulsions will be nothing short of enormous. The entire structure of how television is produced, packaged and delivered will change. So hang on tight: the Internet dramatically changed the business and profitability of music and publishing, and soon television is going to find out what that feels like.