Sunday February 14, 2016

The changing landscape of entertainment media

Some television companies are balking as more people watch shows online. These studios fear that the success of streaming services might lead more households to cut back or drop cable TV services. It also comes as online services have been find success with their own original content.

Some television companies are balking as more people watch shows online. These studios fear that the success of streaming services might lead more households to cut back or drop cable TV services. It also comes as online services have been find success with their own original content. (The Associated Press)

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The major players in visual entertainment certainly seem to be changing. Netflix and Amazon Prime -- Amazon's streaming video division -- once just ways of accessing movies and tv shows created by other companies -- have now become major creators of content in their own right.

Last year's Golden Globe award for best Television Show went to Transparent, a show produced by Amazon, and distributed by their own streaming service. It also may have led to the first time Jeff Bezos was thanked during a Hollywood acceptance speech. Netflix has also won accolades for their original content. This development is something that we have spoken about before on Spark.

For a while now, YouTube has been providing studio space and resources for any YouTuber with enough followers, but just this past week we saw YouTube launch their own original content division through YouTube Red. They've already released 3 feature length movies, and an original series. One of those movies, Unicorn Island, follows the world tour of Canadian YouTube star Lilly Singh.

Not only are these streaming services competing to create their own content, but now Amazon and Netflix are also treading even further onto the domain of traditional film studios. At this year's Sundance Film Festival, Amazon and Netflix together bought the distribution rights to 12 movies, more than any other company. And while Amazon will partner with other companies to release some of these films in theaters, Netflix and other studios spent millions based just on the market for streaming.

This trend to scoop up exclusive content is also extending beyond film and television. The streaming music app Tidal has been a major proponent of this model for music. They have released exclusive streaming content from Rihanna, BeyoncĂ© and Prince, among others. Apple has also gotten in on this move, partnering with Taylor Swift for exclusive rights to stream her concerts. It's a model that has also been popular for podcasting, with companies like Gimlet having production, advertising and distribution all under one roof.

So what does this mean for how you'll be watching TV shows, movies, and other online video in the near future? If you access that video through online subscription services, are you going to have to subscribe to a whole lot of them just to watch what you want when you want? Why are these companies doing this, anyway?

To answer some of these questions, and to explore what's left for traditional broadcasters, we spoke to media scholar Amanda Lotz, professor of media studies at the University of Michigan who focuses on understanding the changes in the American television industry.

Amanda says that the moves by companies like Netflix, Amazon and Youtube are "...a recognition that a business based just on being a distributor, and relying on other companies content, might become unsustainable at some point."

Many of these new content creators are large, global companies. So what does that mean for a relatively small market like Canada? Sure you can watch Trailer Park Boys and Murdoch Mysteries on Netflix, or Being Erica on Shomi, or Canada's worst driver on CraveTV. But can Canadian content stand out in a 'peak TV' world?

Tessa Sproule is CEO of Vubble, which creates curated, non-fiction video feeds for people and businesses. She is former director of digital here at the CBC. She told us about some of the opportunities and challenges for Canadian programming in this changing media landscape.