TV’s Changing Landscape

  • Published in Film + Web

CC Photo by Paul Townsend / Flickr.

CC Photo by Paul Townsend / Flickr

My TV can play YouTube so YouTube is now TV. At the same time, Vimeo, Netflix, and Amazon are competing alongside tiers of cable channels like HBO and Showtime, where advertisers and/or subscribers help dictate budgets — and profits — for content.

As online television continues to mimic cable providers in content and pricing structure, once free and easily accessible entertainment begins to become less and less attainable to the segments of the population it once appealed to most: the college student subsiding on ramen who wants something to distract him from his latest paper; the office worker ready to take a quick break from the monotony of filing to catch up on the latest episode of her favorite web series; and the high school graduate, raised in a culture of free media and information overload.

As the models shift and growing companies look to capitalize on their library of content, new questions are raised. What value do we get when we subscribe to something? Which “walled gardens” feel worthwhile — and does the lowest price-point have the best content? Which “free content” will thrive with paid subscriptions? Which ones are growing more subscribers? And does paying for the content make it better, or does creativity thrive with the constraints of demand/advertisers?

Online content is starting to move away from a cheap, free thrill, and towards well made, cost incurring content that demands revenue from the user to continue. Who knows who will come out ahead in the world of Netflix, Hulu, HBO, YouTube until these services start falling apart (read: Blockbuster, Google Video). In the future, coax cables will become a thing of the past — it will be straight ethernet installation for even basic cable.

Here’s our breakdown of the new media front-runners and just what they can offer for your hard-earned dollar:

  • Paying a Flat Subscription for “Walled Garden” Content (No Kick-Backs to Content Creators)
    • Netflix
      • Original content like “House of Cards”
      • Ebbs and flows in availability of major and timely licensed content, but offers a route for independent filmmakers to get a shot (see our post “Making ‘Girlfriend'”)
      • Now touts more subscribers than HBO (source: forbes.com)
      • Costs $8 for online, $8 for discs (generally new releases), and $12 for a new multi-user family plan
    • HBO GO
      • Record-setting 6.7 million subscribers watch “Game of Thrones”
      • Consistent with quality, long-running “Original Series” programming, along with less popular movie releases
      • Sets a record for quantity of pirated bootlegs online (source: latimes.com) and plenty of people clearly share HBO Go accounts (source: nytimes.com)
      • Not at the mercy of advertisers, but they do need subscribers to validate producing lavish original content
      • Costs between $12 to $20 per month for broadcast access in addition to a cable subscription, with no a la carte option except HBO Go (source: hbowatch.com)
    • Showtime Anytime
      • Streams their content for free, but requires a regular subscription and certain providers
      • Like HBO, there’s the after-market option of disc releases of their shows
    • Hulu Plus
      • Began charging for access to additional content in 2010 (see our post “Problems with Hulu’s New Monthly Subscription”)
      • Now for sale ($500 million) with no quick buyers, which suggests it’s not doing something right
      • Still runs ads even to subscribers — up to 5 minutes of commercials for their free plan
      • Costs $10 per month (new content plus back inventory)
    • Amazon Instant Video
      • Comparable content to Netflix, except no exclusive content, even from indie experiment Amazon Studios (for now)
      • Bundled with Amazon Prime, the free 2-day shipping for the rest of Amazon.com — an enticing fringe benefit
      • Costs $79 per year ($6.50 per month)
    • Warner Bros. Archive Instant
      • Niche focus on rare Warner Bros., MGM, RKO, and Allied Artist classics
      • Works with Roku
      • Costs $10 per month
    • IndieFlix
      • Niche focus on film festival work
      • Provides royalties to filmmakers based on their subscription preferences, along with a relatively painless submission process
      • Works with Roku and xBox for now
      • Costs $7 per month
    • Cable Providers
      • Raising costs, losing subscribers (source: timewarnercable.com)
      • Struggling to compete, using DVR rentals and additional channels as leverage, such as gating off HBO and others
      • Weary to go pay-per-channel, but it’s been talked about since as early as 2011 (source: time.com)
      • Costs $20 to $200 per month depending on quantity of content and related equipment
    • Others with Subscription Offerings (vs. Singular Downloads)
      • U-verse Screen Pack from AT&T ($5/month), Redbox Instant from Verizon ($6/month), and Xfinity Streampix from Comcast ($5/month) each provide near-equal or lesser value, we’ve found, to the above players
      • Vudu competes proudly with no monthly subscription, but does stream content available the same day as disc releases, which is “28 days to 7 years” faster than Netflix (source: vudu.com), utilizing many different devices (Roku and Xbox 360, Playstation 3, HDTV, Roku, desktop, and mobile platforms)
      • Blockbuster On Demand is also subscription-free, but streams for $3 to $5 per movie
  • Paying a Variable Subscription for “Free / Used-to-be-free” Content (Varied Kick-Backs to Content Creators)
    • YouTube
      • New for Spring 2013, paid subscription channels will begin with a select 25 channels
      • Likely between $1 and $5 month
      • Likely a 45/55 revenue split, plus option to run ads on content for another split (source: adage.com)
    • Vimeo
      • Beat YouTube to offering 720p HD standard uploads for free accounts
      • Recently added a “tip jar” feature for their $10/month and above plans (Pro and Plus), which goes along with their “video on demand” (source: vimeo.com)
      • “Tipping” providing a revenue split (amount TBD) for giving back something to the content creator beyond a “like” or “share;” “video on demand” offers as much as a 90/10 split, but there are many more alternatives here (e.g. iTunes, PayPal, etc.)

Any favorites or notes to add? Please comment.

On the horizon, we see TV companies prepare to release more accessible 4K TVs — catching up with the mileau of 4K capture devices on the market. Cable companies are preparing to broadcast 4K, too. But where’s the content, notes Ars Technica, where content served up online is just now delivering 2K content? Who might be at the next forefront to deliver?

(Thanks to broadcaster Eric Szyszka and writer Courtney Robertson for contributing to this post.)


Author

Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
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