YouTube broke ground with user-created videos, and were soon followed by Hulu, Netflix andAmazon Digital Services, respectively. And now, almost simultaneously, all four streaming video services are stretching the frontiers of online video by producing exclusive content.
The popularity of YouTube sparked the launch of competing online sites like Hulu (owned by a conglomeration of traditional television networks), Netflix Streaming (an offshoot service of the DVD-by-mail provider) and Amazon Digital Services (a segment of the popular online store).
What’s on the Horizon for Online TV: Original Content
Online video has always been a secondary source of entertainment. Although YouTube gave a platform for independent content producers to experiment with the form and get their programming out there, nothing had yet compared to the traditional mainstream show model that the television industry has developed for over 70 years.
Now that the online streaming video platform has been tested and proven to be popular, these companies are all taking a step forward into producing their own original content.
• YouTube invested $100 million on a gradual roll-out of 100 niche-oriented channels. The goal is to create more content than there are hours in the day to watch. Announced shows range from serialized dramas and comedies to niche interest programming, like cooking, geek culture and sports. For example, the TeamUSA channel focuses on the Summer Olympics, while Wigs will feature scripted dramas.
• Netflix premiered its first original series, LilyHammer, in February and has plans for four additional programs for 2013, including David Fincher’s House of Cards and the return of the cult comedy Arrested Development.
• Hulu announced 10 series for the summer of 2012, including Spoilers, a movie-themed show hosted by Kevin Smith, Up to Speed, a travelogue with film director Richard Linklater, and We Got Next, a scripted comedy.
• Amazon Studios is the baby of the group and just announced its original programming division in early May. Unlike competitors who are sourcing production from established entertainment companies and talent, Amazon is crowd-sourcing the process and is soliciting scripts and ideas from the public.
Challenges of the Internet TV Landscape
The decisions these companies are making now will determine the shape of internet TV in years to come. There are so many different components in play, and no one really knows exactly what the recipe for success is. Each online publisher is taking a slightly different approach to the quantity and quality of shows, pricing and advertising models, and age-appropriateness.
For example, since Hulu’s revenues are primarily based on advertising, their shows will be PG-13. Netflix, on the other hand, will stretch to include more adult-friendly moments in their shows, because they are subscription-based.
Similarly, the producers are experimenting with release dates and quantities of programming. YouTube channels are updated on a daily or weekly basis – but Netflix is releasing an entire season of its new programming at a time, so viewers can watch at their leisure. Having new releases at specific times and days is familiar for television watchers, but Netflix’s approach feeds into the “on demand” expectations of streaming video-watchers.
An Internet Television Revolution
These choices and more may make the difference in the overall success of each original programming outlet, and the viability of internet TV as a whole. The internet television revolution is coming, and we’re witnessing the very first wave. It remains to be seen which of these companies will be able to manage the balance between the quality original programming that will attract viewers and the production costs.
Original content hasn’t quite yet reached the levels of what you’ll see during primetime on major networks. But pulling in Hollywood talent, stretching to meet niche interests and increasing investment is a step in the right direction. With a growing generation of television viewers used to having its shows on demand, and platforms that are dedicated to streaming video, we may not be very far off from regularly tuning into our tablets instead of our big screens.