Entertainment

The Future Is All Streaming, All the Time

Video services like Xumo, in case you hadn't heard, are quickly phasing out traditional cable subscriptions

In the early days of television, only a handful of channels and a network’s schedule dictated your own. If you had a favorite show, you needed to ensure you were home and in front of the tube when it came on — or you were simply out of luck. Live broadcasts eventually gave way to recorded programs that could be played multiple times, and a few channels bloomed into dozens.

Then those smart tech people figured out they could send TV signals via wires and didn’t need to actually broadcast them for antenna reception. Cable television begot a much greater spectrum of options, encompassing hundreds of different channels — local, national, even international. Turns out those same signals could also easily be sent down the internet wires, too; DVD-rental company Netflix was the first to take advantage of this potential. It began pivoting from shipping physical DVDs by mail to streaming video in 2007. Others, such as Hulu and Amazon, soon followed.

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Tech rarely stands still, and streaming channels continue to multiply as choice and competition keep improving. Now you can get your local television channels through YouTube, through your smartphone carrier, or even through your cable internet provider. Premium content networks, including HBO, offer their own digital-only subscriptions, too, so if you really must see “Westworld” and “Game of Thrones,” you’re covered even if you don’t have a TV or traditional cable service.

Revenue growth tells the whole story: Americans spent 22.6 percent more on subscription video-streaming services such as Netflix in 2016 than the previous year, for a total expenditure of $6.2 billion. This figure is expected by many insiders to almost double by 2020.

Companies as big as Walmart are even in the game — Vudu is their streaming service. Then there’s Crackle, which is the offering from tech company Sony. And there are now dozens of other streaming video services out there.

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As streaming gets more and more crowded and competitive, the standards and demands of viewers have changed, and it’s more difficult than ever to stand out. One channel, Xumo, is one of the latest to jump into the fight for eyeballs.

What makes Xumo unique and sets it apart from the competition is that it’s free and does not require an account. The service has skirted the strategy of other streaming providers and chosen to puts its focus on short videos from a wide variety of providers — the content includes politics, music, comedy and much more .

Xumo isn’t a channel; it’s actually 90 different channels, and they’re all free. If you haven’t heard of it, your neighbors certainly have — it already boasts 20 million subscribers (it kicked off in 2014).

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More services are on the way. Disney has also just announced one, and the company will be pulling all Disney content (including the “Star Wars” films) from Netflix as a way to help drive consumers to what will be its own wide range of content aimed at both children and families. The company is also working on an ESPN streaming channel.

What are you watching this evening, and how is it being delivered to your screen?

Sorry to people with a TV and antennas — but the reality is that broadcast is difficult and very expensive. Towers, repeaters, piracy, signal compatibility, atmospheric conditions … there’s a lot to worry about when you’re a terrestrial channel. Putting it all on the internet and pushing it out as program content, however, adds a far wider range of choices, and consumers clearly prefer it that way. Broadcast television is dying. Cable television is dying. Soon it will just be a question of which streaming services provide the best content in  unique ways.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings summed it all up in an interview with The Economist, when he said, “[In the future] the main networks are Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, HBO, assorted sports networks, and only a very few existing channels that are able to thrive on the internet, including the BBC … Live sports will be delivered online in ultra-high definition.”

Sounds about right. Now, what are you watching this evening, and how is it being delivered to your screen?

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