Friday, July 25, 2014

Lessons from Streaming TV

Since moving from Mountain View last year, I have joined the cut-the-cord crowd. It wasn't just that I couldn't see giving Comcast $100 a month for hundreds of channels of crappy content. The worst part of having access to all of that crappy content is that it's easy to get sucked into watching it.

While I've maintained a relationship with Comcast for Internet, I have no TV. No TV as is, not just no cable TV box, but no TV. Since that time, most of my video experiences have been things that I found online or streamed through online services. If found a number of take-aways from the experience, so I thought I would share a few of them.

Netflix Streaming is Not Equal to Their Traditional Media Business
Netflix may offer one of the best streaming media experiences, but their service rides on an illusion that their library of streaming content is equivalent to their DVD media library. For a business that epitomized the Long Tail, Netflix vast library of DVDs available for rent was unparalleled. From new releases to virtually anything in the vault, if it is on DVD, Netflix rents it. But they don't necessarily stream it.

The library of what content is available for streaming is governed by different licensing rules. As a result, the content oligarchs still seem to be of the mind that if they just limit the availability of certain content -- say The Good Wife Season 5, that you'll run out and buy a DVD because unlimited free streaming is unavailable. And while all of the new release movies come out on DVD or Blue Ray -- even with the 'negotiated' delay between sales and rental -- you may never see some of them as a subscription streaming offering. And yes, you can 'rent' a streamed version of the movie from iTunes or Amazon, but don't expect all of the content that you want to watch to appear in the "all you can eat" streaming packages.

My Number One Complaint Against Amazon Prime
One of the things that I liked the most about when I had a Netflix subscription was that you could actually stream content over the cellular network to your phone. This meant that I could watch streaming content during lunch or if I found myself eating alone. While the phone isn't an ideal platform for watching TV and movies, sometimes it was better than no dining companion. 

Amazon Prime's streaming client seems similar to Netflix, but they've built a hard block against using the app on the cellular network. While that won't cause you any issues at home, it makes it unusable for my primary phone-based streaming video use case. As a result, I went for seven or eight months without watching any Amazon Prime streaming content.

Content Differences Between Netflix and Amazon Prime
As you would probably imagine, there is a lot of content available that overlaps across the two services. The same movies, the same TV shows. But there are differences. Netflix seems to have a larger library of streaming content available, so you might be more likely to find something there than on Amazon. At the same time, Amazon recently obtained an exclusive license to stream many HBO series. This means access to old seasons of True Blood, The Wire, Band of Brothers, the Sopranos, and more.

iTunes Outdated Content Licensing Approach
There is no unlimited video content streaming available in iTunes. Instead, when it comes to video content, iTunes operates more like Blockbuster than Netflix -- happy to rent or sell content on a per piece basis. While that matches the rest of the market for new release content, it leaves a gaping hole when it comes to the rest of the content library. This means that, even though we use Apple devices like the iPhone, iPad, Macbook and Apple TV, we seldom watch video using iTunes. It's kind of funny when you think about it.

In fact, over the past couple of years, the only time that Apple got money from me for streaming video content was when I bought seasons of Misfits and, even then, it was because the DVDs were unavailable here in the states. And then, as the last season of Misfits was airing, Apple applied geographic restrictions to the show so that it was only available in the UK version of iTunes. No content for me, no money for them. 

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