Kevin Spacey in House of Cards
What could possibly happen between now and the year 2025 to transform “over-the-top” video services like Netflix and Amazon into some of the most powerful players in TV land—and conversely, to recast today’s biggest networks as supporting actors?
After receiving 14 Emmy nominations this September, Netflix shows took home only one major award—a somewhat disappointing showing after “Netflix is taking over the Emmys” had echoed through the trade press in the weeks before the 2013 awards. But Netflix’s one win is hugely important because it marks the first time ever that a show that may never appear on a television network captured a major-category Emmy award.
Indeed, one day we may all look back at the 2013 Emmys as the night online TV hit a tipping point. Netflix’s nomination success is a powerful sign of an industry in transition, retooling itself to produce and distribute content that is streamed, not broadcast. As Netflix’s Sarandos told an industry trade group this summer, “We’re leading the next great wave of change in the medium of TV.”
Internet TV is following cable’s path to stardom
Internet TV is evolving faster and growing faster than cable did in its heyday. And much of that growth is spurred by critical acclaim and audience support for streaming-only original shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.
By the time the Emmys began accepting nominations for cable shows in 1988, about 40 million households were already subscribing to cable service. But no cable show won a major-category Emmy until 1999, when HBO’s The Sopranoswon the award for Best Drama Series. By then, roughly 50 million households had cable (although that number has since retreated to around 42 million).
Now let’s look at Internet TV. When streaming TV shows became eligible for Emmy nomination in 2008, Netflix had only about 3 million customers for its streaming service, and Amazon and Hulu had a relative handful each. But from that starting point, it took an online video company—Netflix—just five years to win a major category Emmy (House of Cards director David Fincher won a “best direction” award this September). At the end of the first half of 2013, roughly 55 percent of the U.S. population (age 13 and up) had some type of streaming video subscription, says research house NPD. Of that total, 38 million subscribe to Netflix, at least 7 million watch the Amazon Instant Video service, and Hulu counts more than 4 million Hulu Plus subscribers.
Via Tech Hive