It’s safe to say that the video streaming industry has turned into a hotbed of innovation. With so many new entrants getting into the market – including, most recently, Hulu Live, DirecTV NOW and YouTube TV – it’s clear that all of this increased competition is going to be good for innovation. Here are just a few of the developments we’re keeping an eye on in 2017…
#1: Hulu and new live TV experiences
In May, Hulu finally launched its new Live TV offering. Granted, the service is still in “beta” (which means it might be a bit wonky to use), but it’s great news for fans of live streaming video. Now that Hulu has entered the live streaming market, it looks like this could be one of the most interesting areas to watch for new innovations. Hulu has already committed to multiple, simultaneous streams for an entire family.
And that’s just the beginning. In what amounts to a blurring of the line between live TV and on-demand TV, Hulu is offering real-time alerts for events and TV programs you want to watch. Say, for example, you’ve told Hulu that you want to watch live sports programming, and that you’re a fan of baseball. When you’re out and about, you might get a real-time alert on your mobile device, telling you that your favorite baseball team is about to appear on live TV. If you can’t watch the game right then, you can simply hit a “Watch Later” button, and Hulu will record the show for you, so that you can watch later at your own convenience.
#2: Netflix and new interactive shows
Hulu isn’t the only live streaming player coming up with a few surprises for users. On June 20, Netflix announced two new interactive shows for kids, in which kids would have a chance to change what happens net in the show simply by hitting a button. This is just like the “choose your own adventure” books that used to be popular. The first interactive show will be “Puss in Book: Trapped In an Epic Tale.” Kids will have 13 different “decision points,” where they can choose what happens next to Puss. And the second interactive show will be “Buddy Thunderstruck,” which will feature 8 different decision points.
Netflix calls this a potentially new form of narrative storytelling, and you can immediately see why it’s so innovative – each person viewing the show will have a different experience. According to Netflix, the shortest path through the narrative can be wrapped up in 18 minutes. But if you prefer a very complex, twisting story, the show can last up to 39 minutes!
And Netflix says that kids are the perfect test market for this feature. Kids grew up with tablets and mobile phones, and assume that everything is interactive. They think of TV the same way they do video games, and that means future streaming content might also start to take on the look and feel of video games. This is definitely a new development to keep an eye on.
#3: The arrival of the big social media players
For the past 18 months, the biggest social media players – mostly Twitter and Facebook – have been looking for ways to crack into the streaming video market. Twitter, for example, recently unveiled a new lineup of shows for sports, news and entertainment that will stream entirely within Twitter. And both Facebook and Twitter have been looking for ways to partner with major sports leagues to bring live streaming sports content directly into their social networks. In 2016, Twitter live-streamed Thursday Night Football games and now Facebook is live-streaming Major League Baseball games on Friday nights.
But the big splash could come at the end of summer 2017. That’s when Facebook is set to officially announce its new plans for made-for-Facebook original video shows. These 30-minute shows will likely stream within the “video” tab of Facebook, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg has indicated that he’s looking for a way to bring these videos to over-the-top boxes as well. In short, Facebook could be trying to become the next Netflix! (Or, at least, the next YouTube).
Think about that for a moment – just as you might use your Apple TV to watch Netflix or Hulu, you could soon be able to watch Facebook TV. Of course, Facebook has to develop enough original content that people will actually want to watch, but it’s still fascinating to see how major streaming players like Netflix continue to be targets for a vast range of new entrants.
#4: New e-commerce features for streaming services
Speaking of new entrants, what about Amazon? Netflix has called this company “scary,” and for good reason. Everything Amazon does seems to turn to gold, and video streaming might be no different. Amazon has been ratcheting up its original content programming – in some cases, getting into bidding wars with Netflix for hot new movies at film festivals. And now Amazon is getting into live sports streaming. Get ready for the 2017 NFL season – Amazon is going to take over from Twitter in live-streaming games. Could Amazon be getting ready to unveil new e-commerce functionality tied to its core Amazon Prime service?
That could really tilt the playing field in a radically new way for streaming players. We’ve already seen a preview of what Amazon might have in mind, with its early 2016 debut of a live streaming video show based around e-commerce. The 30-minute show “Style Code Live,” which streamed “live” on weekday nights and was dedicated to fashion and beauty products, was Amazon’s attempt to take on the likes of HSN and QVC. You watch the show and then buy up all the stuff on Amazon.com. Brilliant, eh?
And, of course, there are the crazy, out-of-the-box ideas for changing the way we will consume streaming services in the future. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, for example, speculated in late 2016 about a Netflix pill that you could take before launching a hybrid pharmacological/entertainment experience. That type of futuristic science-fiction experience might sound out of the box today, but in a few years from now, it might just be par for the course.