Streaming: TV's Tectonic Shift

If you subscribe to any one of burgeoning TV entertainment options such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, and if you own any one of the media boxes like Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire or AppleTV -- then you are a STREAMER, a Lewis-and-Clarke class explorer. You are the future of television, a viewer who's given up broadcast and cable because viewing options may have increased but shows worth watching haven't. Streaming is a new business model where we not only shell out monthly subscription fees like cable -- but we also often get to pay for each program.

Here's the sell for streaming: Why should we pay cable companies big monthly fees for a huge lineup of programs we never watch but are charged for. Research shows that folks with 300 channels only watch an average of 12 of them. Why not pick and choose just what we want to watch and pay for each show as we go? Or, as the industry calls it: pay-per-view.

How huge is streaming? It's a 9.0 tectonic shift in television. Example: Netflix now claims 50 million paid subscribers. Their per-subscriber income is higher than HBO's. And that's just from Netflix. Does this mean that 50 million people watching Netflix are not watching broadcast or cable TV? Not literally, but it does mean that we can now watch WHAT we want, WHERE we want and WHEN we want on a growing number of electronic gee-gaws. The only question is WHY. The answer: because we can.

This tectonic streaming shift is a concept called "TV Everywhere," says Matt Smith, Chief Evangelist for Anvato, a Mountain View, California, firm making the software to digitize content so that we can watch TV everywhere. For folks who speak the language, this is called the "video encoding space."

As with all innovations, TV Everywhere will have its blacksmiths and its auto makers. Some cable operators are already looking . Not alpha dogs like Time Warner, Verizon or AT&T but the cable operator in Flotsam, Texas, with maybe 50,000 to 100,000 subscribers is nervous. He's worried about when NBC/Universal and other content providers start streaming their programs directly to the viewer, bypassing his subscribers and Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and the rest. They will stream programs through their own apps or their websites and charge us pay-per-view. This, says Smith, is not an IF proposition but a WHEN.

But don't cry for big cable. With their huge backlist of movies and series they now have buckets of product to sell. For instance, we can now buy a season of Showtime's Nurse Jackie for $20.

Who's the automaker in this TV Everywhere analogy?

It's the viewer, says Matt Smith, because we now have unfettered access to tv and film entertainment anywhere we want, when we want. The only limitation is a power source and how much waiting time we have at the airport or on the DMV line.

Along with viewers, other winners here are certainly program suppliers. Their enormous backlists include very fine network shows that were cancelled after only one season due to short-sighted program executives. Think Robin Williams' CBS show The Crazy Ones, Geena Davis in the compelling White House drama, Commander in Chief or Out of Practice, a master lesson in comedy acting from Henry Winkler, Stockard Channing, Modern Family's Ty Burrell and Covert Affairs' Christopher Gorham. The problem with many of these cancelled shows is the cliff-hanger for the next season which we will never see.

In addition to the backlists, more and more producers are putting out terrific original programming like Netflix's Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, which is The West Wing with balls. Cost: $25 for one season. TV Everywhere has also added a new phrase to our vocabulary: binge watching.

Also on the downside for we viewers, there's the whole SEARCHING, RETRIEVING, PURCHASING and LOADING thing that often takes forever during peak viewing times. It's frequently THE entertainment for the evening because searching, retrieving, purchasing and loading jams, freezes or just quits usually just before the show's climax. In other words, Amazon Instant Video is NOT. But you can bet that our cable companies will find a way to charge us more money for faster downloads.

Finally, what does TV Everywhere do to our already bifurcated society of haves and have-nots? There are those privileged among us who can afford the emerging pay-per-view system. But there are retired folks on fixed incomes, the unemployed and the underprivileged whose only choice will be free broadcast television. What will that programming look like? Stay tuned.