The Daily Gamecock

Reel Talk: On the state of streaming

default arts & culture A&C
default arts & culture A&C

Since the introduction of digital streaming, services that allow users to pick and choose both content and time of viewing have been steadily increasing in popularity. 

In June, Fortune Magazine reported that streaming services have in fact surpassed traditional cable television services in number of users. The Leichtman Research Group study showed that Netflix has around 50.85 million U.S. subscribers while the largest American cable providers can claim only around 48.61 million users nationwide. 

Starting at $7.99 per month, Netflix is one of the most popular choices for those looking to stream content. At this price, users gain access to sitcoms, a wide array of both independent and blockbuster films, Netflix originals and a new download option for on-the-go viewing. Compare this monthly fee to the $44.99 average starting price of a popular cable service provider — Comcast’s  Xfinity — and the choice between streaming or cable can seem like a no-brainer.

A no-brainer, that is, until a user’s chosen service begins to show its limits. At first, the viewing options offered by one certain platform can seem endless, and there is no apparent reason to remain a cable customer when streaming subscriptions have so much content available for viewing. Netflix, for example, houses quite a few in-demand original series such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” But what happens when the Netflix user wants to watch a different popular series, say “Game of Thrones?”

For someone without cable television, viewing “Game of Thrones” requires a subscription to another platform, HBO Now. This service costs $14.99 per month. Provided that said user decides to keep their Netflix subscription as well, their monthly streaming fee is now over $20 per month, and this is only the beginning of the issue. 

In order to have access to a wide variety of content or to check out the original content of streaming services, one must subscribe to increasing amounts of streaming platforms. Recent five-time Emmy winner “The Handmaid’s Tale” can be viewed exclusively on Hulu, Vudu and Amazon — original content can only be seen with a pricey Amazon Prime subscription. 

In addition to the big-name services currently in existence, streaming platforms are becoming more and more niche specific with each passing year. Viewers who are looking for more classic content can subscribe to FilmStruck, the brainchild of Turner Classic Movies and Criterion Collection that begins at $6.99 a month, and in 2019, Disney will pull all content from competing streaming services to form their own, family-centered subscription option for viewers with children.

This multiplication of streaming options can only be expected to continue in the near future, leaving users with more choices, but also with a larger financial burden and increased viewing stress.

After signing up for a few subscriptions, users are shelling out monthly payments that add up to or surpass the amount paid for cable television. Furthermore, while these users do have access to a plethora of entertainment options, they are also left without basic cable programming, such as that on news and sports channels, and shuffling between various streaming platforms in order to make a viewing decision adds a new pressure to the viewing experience.

The diversification of streaming services makes the question asked of consumers a difficult one to decide — stick to cable television, with most entertainment options in one place and covered by one price, or gain access to award-winning streaming service content and possibly skip a higher prices cable bill with multiple streaming platform subscriptions?

The answer to this entertainment debacle can seem murky or even impossible. With users unwilling to return to cable television prices and new streaming platforms popping up on an almost daily basis, it seems inescapable that users choose the content that is most valuable to them and subscribe to the platforms that house said content.

Inescapable unless, of course, a streaming bundle comes onto the scene. With a streaming platform package, users could select a few service subscriptions, at one discounted price. With merged services, users could navigate the library of viewing options with increased ease, and no one would be limited to the content of only the service to which they subscribe. This plan sounds like it could solve the problems created by the advent of digital streaming — never mind that it sounds a lot like good, old-fashioned cable television, too.