The Future of Streaming Video

Did you know that it’s still possible to go to a store like Blockbuster (PINK:BLOAQ) and rent a DVD? With streaming video growing in leaps and bounds, it’s amazing there’s still demand for a good old-fashioned video store that requires you to leave your house, sort through a relatively limited selection, and then get saddled with late fees when you inevitably fail to return your movie on time.

Streaming video not only saves on gas and late fees, but also on cable and satellite bills. With thousands of TV and movie offerings available through services like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Hulu, and iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL), soon Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and Blockbuster could become relics of a bygone era.

Check Out: Amazon Reaches Licensing Deal with NBCUniversal.

But there are still a few kinks to be worked out before streaming video renders more traditional viewing platforms obsolete. Firstly, there’s an immediacy to live television that streaming services just don’t have. Sports fans, avid news watchers, and the impatient will always flock to their television sets rather than wait for content to become available online, at least until video streaming services begin providing live broadcasts. Actually, some networks are beating them to the punch. ESPN (NYSE:DIS) and CNN (NYSE:TWX) are among the cable channels now offering live streaming content on their websites.

While Netflix may never get in on the live action, networks and cable companies could do so themselves. Imagine a day when you could subscribe to Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and watch hundreds of live channels on your computer, wherever you go? The future of streaming may not be consolidation, but excepting the possibility of a giant meteor crashing into earth and wiping out a significant part of the population and our telecommunications systems, it seems likely that, in the not-so-distant future, just about all programming will be available online through one service or another.

The second hindrance to subscription services like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Amazon Prime are their limited libraries. Of course, Netflix has a massive library of online streaming films and TV shows, many of which even the most avid viewers may never have heard of, but they’re still a bit slow on new releases. Most TV shows don’t become available on Netflix until the entire season has ended, and new movies are usually only available by DVD. Netflix recently raised the price of its DVD-by-mail service in an attempt to steer subscribers toward the streaming-only option, but the streaming library continues to be more limited and dated than the DVD option, though assuredly more convenient.

Of course, services like Hulu do a little better with the new content, with many TV shows available the day after they air. And shows can also be purchased on iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL) within 24 hours of their air date. However, Hulu’s free streaming service is quite limited, with only a few episodes of any given show available at a time. While its paid-subscription service has a larger selection of new titles, the overall size of its library pales in comparison to Netflix. Like Hulu, iTunes is also quick in making recently-aired shows available, but with a price of $2.99 each, anyone watching a considerable amount of television would be shelling out buckets of money when they could spend a fraction of that on cable with DVR.

Finally, streaming services are being challenged by some networks. While both Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) have recently made deals with major studios to distribute their content, others are pulling the plug on streaming in an effort to draw in more viewers to live broadcasts, which continue to be the most profitable aspect of the business, bringing in billions of dollars every year in advertising revenue. Even Hulu’s ad-supported service only shows a fraction of the ads that would be shown on TV.

Don’t Miss: Fox Pulls the Plug on Free Streaming.

Now that I’ve elucidated the drawbacks to video streaming, at least in its current state, let’s look at some of the perks. Firstly, it’s terribly convenient. The selection of foreign TV shows and classic film on Netflix can’t be beat by any cable service or video store, and new content is being added every day. Online subscription services also cost significantly less than a cable subscription. One can supplement Netflix’s expansive library with new TV episodes on Hulu’s free, ad-supported service, or with the occasional purchase via (NASDAQ:AAPL) iTunes or Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Instant Video for access to all the programming available through a cable service and so much more, and with the added convenience of being available anywhere you have a computer and a Wi-Fi connection.