This newish technology, which provides a continuous stream of data, is awesome for many reasons. From the consumer’s perspective, it implies saving time since one does not have to download a file first, and then consume it. Also, members of the public do not have to manage vast quantities of data and space on their computer’s hard drive or external disks anymore, since there is no data to download and save as such. From the content producers’ perspective, streaming also offers great opportunities: with internet videos and webcasts of live events, there is no file to download, therefore it is hard for most users to save content and distribute it illegally.
Streaming is a relatively recent development, because broadband connection had to run fast enough to show the data in real time. If there is an interruption due to congestion on the internet, for example, the audio or video will drop out or the screen will go blank. To minimise the problem, computers store a “buffer” of data that has already been received. If there is a drop-out, the buffer goes down for a while but the video is not interrupted. Streaming has become very common thanks to the popularity of internet radio stations and various audio and video on-demand services, including Spotify, Soundcloud, Last.fm, YouTube and the BBC’s iPlayer. While streaming initially made its mark in the music sector, with music streaming revenues generating $3.3 billion at the end of 2014, streaming is currently making phenomenal headway in the video distribution and consumption space.
The video streaming market today: beyond distribution and into content creation
Video streaming: the technical bit
Video streaming technology has come a long way: the most influential group, of course, are the streaming technology providers themselves, who choose which technologies and services to integrate into their platforms. These include Apple, which provides QuickTime as well as the HTML5-based technology to reach iOS devices; Adobe with Flash; and Microsoft with Windows Media and Silverlight. In the early days of streaming, the most relevant playback platforms were Windows and Macintosh computers.
While Apple and Microsoft still hold tremendous leverage, computer platforms tend to be more open than mobile devices, while the latter comprise the fastest growing segment of streaming media viewers. Because Apple owns both a very popular platform (iDevices) and operating system (iOS), it retains absolute power to control standards adopted by Apple devices. Other mobile influencers tend to be split between hardware vendors – like LG, Samsung, Motorola, Nokia and HTC – and mobile operating system providers like Google (Android) and Microsoft (Windows Phone).
Streaming media delivery providers such as online video platforms (“OVPs”) (which are productized-services that enable users to upload, convert, store and play back video content on the internet, often via a structured, scalable solution that can be monetized) and such as user-generated-content sites (“UGC sites”), also influence streaming technology adoption. For example, though Microsoft introduced Silverlight in 2007, it wasn’t supported by any OVP until 2010, stunting its adoption. In contrast, OVPs like Brightcove and Kaltura, and UGC sites such as YouTube and Vimeo were among the first to support the iPad and HTML5, accelerating their adoption.
While there are dozens of providers in both markets, the key OVPs include Brightcove, Kaltura, Ooyala, Sorenson Media, Powerstream and ClickstreamTV, while the most notable UGC sites are YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, Viddler and Metacafe. On the video live-streaming front as well, technology has made significant strides. Specialised OVPs such as Ustream and Livestream offer instant broadcasting of user-generated live videos with a live chat window running alongside the video player, giving users an opportunity to not only watch events as they unfold but comment on them, too.
YouTube made a video live streaming service available to its users too. And now, the icing on the cake: video streaming distributors and providers. The description of this whole ecosystem of video streaming would, indeed, not be complete without mentioning the providers of on-demand internet streaming media also called streaming video on-demand services (“SVoD services”). From 2011, the press began blogging about the most popular streaming media services that would bring high-quality commercial content streamed to the TV sets, smartphones and computers of the masses.
Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand (now rebranded Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime), Hulu Plus and Vudu came out on top (“SVoD providers”).
Replicating the successful business model of music streaming in the video streaming sphere: it’s all about scale, baby
SVoD providers have it so good: not only can they benefit from the great strides made by streaming media technology since the mid-noughties, but they can also educate themselves faster thanks to, and avoid the pitfalls which threatened, their predecessors, i.e. streaming music on demand providers such as Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, Rdio, Grooveshark and Beats (the “SMoD providers”).
While SMoD providers typically charge USD4.99 per month for an access plan to their services, and up to USDD9.99 per month for a premium plan, SVoD providers start their monthly subscription plans at USD7.99 with a maximum price of USD11.99 per month for SVoD services on up to 4 screens per household. Fearless Netflix even got a lot of flak, in April 2014, for hiking up its new subscriber fees globally by USD1 to USD2 a month. If we quickly do the maths, we can forecast that there is more money to be made in SVoD services, than in SMoD services, provided that these services are scaled up.
And scaled up they are: on 23 April 2014, Amazon announced a licensing agreement that gives Amazon Prime members exclusive access to highly-sought after HBO’s library of original content, hence undoubtedly increasing the appeal of becoming an Amazon Prime’s subscriber. On 24 April 2014, competitor Netflix announced that it had contracted with three small cable companies to provide subscribers access to its content via TiVo DVRs, while on 28 April 2014 it announced a deal with Verizon to provide Netflix subscribers high-speed online access to streaming content, the second such deal Netflix has made with an Internet service provider (“ISP”).
As the technology industry – and to a degree the entertainment sector – function very much on a “winner take all” economic model, streaming content is an evolving battlefield teeming with opportunities and risks, in which companies assert their dominance and grow their market share. There are some clear winners, in the SVoD services’ sector, such as Netflix which, in the first quarter of 2014, added 2.25 million streaming subscribers in the US and a total of 4 million worldwide. It now has 35.7 million US subscribers and more than 48 million globally, in line with its long-term goal of 60 to 90 million domestic subscribers. It all makes sense from the consumer’s standpoint too: streaming is converting the most valuable downloaders (of music and video content) into subscribers and in doing so is reducing their monthly spending from USD20 or USD30 to USD9.99 on average. how to get youtube live stream views