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A look back at how the last decade shaped video streaming, and what's next

It's been an interesting decade for streaming. We take a look back, while also making some predictions for the future.

Published onJanuary 1, 2020

Disney Plus movie screen 1

TV and video streaming services have been around for a while with early services like Amazon Video, Netflix, and Hulu popping up between 2006 and 2008. Let’s be honest though, the last decade is when streaming truly became mainstream.

It’s been an amazing decade for streaming services. Not only has the last decade seen major evolutions in the way these services work, but it has also seen the rise of aggressive competition. Below we discuss some of the most significant developments in the streaming industry over the past ten years. We also make some predictions for what the next decade might be like.

The rise of original programming

During the late 2000s streaming services mostly syndicated content you could already find through conventional cable, satellite, and even over-the-air broadcasting. Slowly this situation would change with Hulu releasing exclusive content starting in 2011, though it would be years before it truly had any major successes.

Netflix would also begin working to buy the rights to struggling shows or release streaming exclusives that had previously only streamed in specific regions. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that Netflix would produce its first self-commissioned original series — House of Cards. It was pretty much an immediate success.

In the last several years exclusive/original content has become the standard for major streaming services. Most services also have a healthy selection of back-catalog or syndicated content to help flesh out its offerings. Right now Apple TV is one of the few major services that only releases new, exclusive content.

The rise of streaming media devices, smart TVs, and mobile streaming apps

roku remote

I was a very early adopter of Netflix. I actually had the DVD service when it launched the online component as a fun supplement. At that time there wasn’t much content and pretty much the only way to easily access it was through your PC. Imagine if streaming services were still relegated to desktops and laptops!

In the late 2000s streaming media devices started to arrive to bring streaming to a wider audience. Products like the Roku actually started as early as 2008, though the first-gen model was far from a mainstream device. It wasn’t until the early teens that streaming devices would become practical and affordable enough for the mainstream.

Streaming media devices weren’t the only gateway to video streaming that emerged in the last decade. Smart TVs also began to proliferate the market. Early models were more expensive than standard televisions, but today pretty much all but the most budget-oriented televisions come with some kind of streaming services support.

We also have to thank the evolution of smartphones for the rise in streaming services. Over the last decade we’ve seen apps for major streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, as well as niche apps that unlock streaming content from major sources in the cable and satellite industry (though many require a subscription to a traditional cable provider to work).

Traditional cable and satellite boxes evolve into video streaming hybrids

If you have a cable/sat provider, odds are that the box you use to connect to the service does a lot more than just provide you with traditional channels. Many channels now include streaming “channels” where you can access their content on-demand via your setup box. The same goes for pay-per-view movies. Boxes sometimes even include streaming apps such as Netflix baked right in.

While the transition of cable into a video streaming hybrid isn’t fully complete yet, we suspect cable/sat providers will continue to improve their set-top boxes to make them compelling products that do much more than just offer TV channel access.

Live streaming TV becomes a commonplace thing

best live tv apps comparison

Traditional cable and satellite are trying to evolve into the best of both worlds (live and streaming) to keep subscribers. But there is still value in live TV as well.

While there were gray area (or even flat out illegal) ways to broadcast live TV to the internet in the past, it wasn’t until this last decade that we saw the rise of legitimate live TV streaming services. There are now over a dozen options including Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, AT&T TV Now, FuboTV,  and Philo.

The competition is hotter than ever

apple tv plus interface
In the year 2010 you could easily count the number of streaming video services on one hand. It’s not so easy now. Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and Apple TV are just a few examples of big-name streaming services. There are dozens upon dozens of niche services including ESPN Plus, Shudder, DC Universe, and so much more. Pretty much every traditional cable network also has a service now, with new ones like Peacock coming in 2020.

The exact number of streaming services that exist depends largely on your region, but it’s safe to say they now number in the hundreds. Of course, only a handful really matter for the average viewer.

What makes the competition even more significant is that it’s not just traditional cable networks or media distributors trying to get into this game. Amazon, Apple, Google, and many other tech companies are putting equal effort into the streaming wars.

But what about 2020 and beyond? What can we expect?

The last ten years have been amazing for the streaming industry and for streaming consumers, but the next few years are going to be critical to the future of the industry. With more competition there comes new problems, and hopefully new solutions. Here’s a few trends or events we predict could happen over the next decade:

The Bundle will become incredibly important

disney bundle

The idea of bundling multiple streaming services together is not new. One of the best examples is the Disney Plus bundle that includes Hulu and ESPN Plus all for just $12.99 (a 25% discount). Even providers like Amazon and Apple TV allow you to bundle a few streaming services as “channels” though this is more about convenience as it doesn’t make the services provided any cheaper. We do expect that bundles will play an even more important role in the next few years, however.

As new streaming services emerge, the smaller ones are going to have a harder time competing. The concept of bundling might be a potential savior for these services. Imagine a bundle that includes Netflix and half a dozen of your favorite niche streaming channels for a discounted price. Or even imagine several niche channels forming their own alliance offering a handful of niche streaming services for one low price. An example of this latter practice can be seen through VRV, which is a bundle that includes Boomerang, Cartoon Hangover, Crunchyroll, and a few other services in one package.

More ad-supported video streaming services could emerge

Hulu video streaming app open on a OnePlus 6

Pluto TV, Tubi TV, and several others offer free content thanks to ads. Even YouTube has started offering some of its original content for free with ads. Aside from free services, we could also see premium services that offer discounted rates in exchange for the addition of ads. Hulu proves that you can charge someone and still include ads, all while growing in subscriber count. Hulu does offer ad-free options, but the majority of subscribers choose the cheaper ad-supported package. Could other companies like Netflix ever follow suit in order to provide cheaper options for those willing to see ads? Anything is possible, though I’m less confident about this prediction.

Expect there to be plenty of casualties in the streaming war of the 20s

disney plus vs netflix - video streaming services

Every month new streaming services come online. Doing a bit of research I found there are at least a couple hundred streaming services out there, though many are only available in select regions. This growth spurt won’t last forever.

Increased competition is going to make it harder for some of the smaller streaming services to keep going over the next several years. Bundles will potentially help some of the smaller or niche players stay alive, but we suspect that many will simply shut down or merge with other providers. Even some of the bigger streaming providers aren’t necessarily safe.

When streaming services began, you could safely say that Hulu and Netflix provided 90 percent of what you wanted to watch (although the lack of sports options in the early days was a problem for some.) Nowadays we’re seeing Netflix lose content to Disney Plus and others, and so it’s becoming increasingly likely that seeing all your favorite shows and movies will require a lot more than just one or two streaming services.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie, but there's only so much to go around

As costs increase, consumers are going to get pickier about which services they are keeping subscriptions for. It’s likely the ultra-niche options will be the first to suffer, with at least some exits over the first half of the decade. If I had to a guess, I think we’ll see even a few larger players lose out to fierce competition in the mid-to-late 20s. I personally wouldn’t be too surprised if a small crash happens towards the end of the decade that knocks out all but a dozen or so of the strongest competitors.

Cable and Sat TV will be forced to change, or die

dish sat no longer used because of video streaming services

We’re seeing more cable and satellite providers invest in streaming services, mobile, or pretty much any market they can use to diversify their focus. It’s obvious that these companies know that their heyday is over and it’s time to build a survival plan. The next decade will see many of the smaller unprepared providers either die or merge with bigger options to survive.

For the cable and satellite providers that do stick around, it’s likely we’ll continue to see streaming and traditional broadcasting technologies merge. Set-top boxes will get smarter and smarter and will offer tons of apps and streaming services. It’s also possible we could eventually see online elements come to traditional broadcast channels, like custom-tailored ads and other ways to interact with live channels.

Regardless of what happens, the teens were significant for staging the stage for what comes next. Have any predictions or ideas on how the streaming scene might change over the next ten years? Share it down in the comments.

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