Television is now a completely different beast to what it was when I grew up. Only my parents still watch regularly scheduled TV at the appointed hour. Everyone else watches what they want to when they want. It’s now the case that you have thousands of channels sometimes with nothing to see! Only there is everything to see - as there are a myriad of both free and paid-for services providing programming on practically any and every subject you care to mention.
A number of these are now fee-paying / subscription services and YouTube Premium is the latest of those that I’ve signed up for. I think I have around half a dozen different subscriptions now including most of the usual suspects, and BT Sport - which is not pictured (symmetry!).
Something I have in common with Millennials is that my viewing is somewhat skewed towards YouTube. As a guitar gear fan - there are so many good channels to follow - plus I like many of the American late night and daily shows and various ’channels’ on all manner of hobby and interest-related themes. I get peppered by hourly reminders of new content being added to my favourites.
Yet in all of this there is one big winner that all are seeking to emulate - former Blockbuster-alike Netflix which now gives you an incredible mix of serialised and feature format content - like the recent and highly praised ’The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Cohen Brothers movie which was premiered at Curzon cinemas one week before appearing on Netflix. Netflix has now released a decent mix of these high quality movie features - even tough it also seems to have become the home of the ’straight to video’ / ’B-movie’.
In terms of new content, few networks can compete with Netflix currently - and it is noticeable for instance how meagre the BBC’s offer is in comparison. Another great competitor to Netflix is Amazon - which has made great strides with original content too, although it has not hit quite as rich a vein of form as has Netflix - nevertheless Amazon has a pretty decent mix of movies and serials.
Likely the third overall on the list is Sky’s Now TV - which also has a pretty decent mix of programming - although you pay separately for every part of its offerings - and its movie range is unfortunately largely of the disposable kind. Also for such a popular service it is still probably the clunkiest of all to use - with poor integration and a separate pop-up video player which seems to suffer all manner of issues over an extended period. I really don’t understand how Now TV can be so clunky in the face of everything else that is out there. Its overall interface design and interactivity is just still largely abjectly poor overall - with very suspect content browsing.
I fondly recall the launch of Channel 4 back in the day - the sort of irreverent cousin to the BBC - and with all manner of mildly rebellious content - like The Tube, The Word and TFI Friday. That sort of programming you are now more likely to see on some of the newer ’networks’ although Channel 4 still does pretty well with some of its original formats, but in relatively small measure to the big 3. In fact BBC, ITV and Channel 4 really can’t currently compete with those others, or are choosing not to compete properly. They could all fully open up their archives to subscription access - and all those networks have plenty to offer there - for instance the ability to watch say Dr Who right from the very first episode.
YouTube is likely the biggest threat to Netflix here and has had two recently successful proper ’Hollywood’ director projects firmly under its belt now the Paul W.S. Anderson led ’Origin’ and Doug Liman helmed ’Impulse’. They have the largest already captive audience, and if they maintain their quality - they will win over more and more subscribers.
Meanwhile Disney is still lurking in the shadows - home to 3 of the most successful movie franchises of all time - Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars - they’ve not really properly leveraged the full extend of their archives to-date - on the still somewhat under-powered ’Disney Life’ it’s still missing a load of the early and well-loved Buena Vista releases - and is rather a ’Now TV’ like experience in too many areas - but if they want to ramp up their influence - they have plenty of aces up their sleeve to make an impact.
We also have all manner of more specialist interest programming in the wings - like Crunchyroll’s Anime Series, Shudder’s Horror Movie Collection and BT Sport’s Live Match Programming. There really has never been more choice than right now. And all these services are in a competition on a fairly uneven playing field. YouTube, Netflix and Disney in particular have all manner of operational advantages - but interface and user experience design is important here too. YouTube is probably the best interface overall with BBC’s iPlayer and Netflix in equal second place. There are several here though that are far off the pace and are still persevering with somewhat unusable and clunky interfaces.
I still feel it’s fairly early days relatively though and it’s still anyone’s game. In the end quality and choice will win out and there are still some rough edges to be worked out and smoothed over. YouTube has a huge advantage though if it can leverage that properly.