By Associated Press
“Game of Thrones” was both an unprecedented achievement and old-school role model in the TV decade that’s rolling its final credits.
Installments of the elaborately produced hit were doled out one at a time by an established outlet, premium cable channel HBO /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T -0.89% . That was standard TV operating procedure until, suddenly, it wasn’t. The new era arrived in 2013 when a full season’s worth of “House of Cards” popped up amid /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +1.23% on-demand movies and old TV shows.
The drama’s unexpected home appeared simply to be an option to the 500-channel universe born in the 1990s. But “House of Cards” foreshadowed a streaming gold rush and volume of programming dubbed Peak TV in 2015 — and with no drop in altitude in sight.
The result: Nothing is the same, whether it’s how much television we consume; how and where we do it; who gets to make it, and the level of respect given the creatively emboldened small screen. We don’t just watch TV, we binge it until we’re bleary-eyed if not sated. We still change channels with a remote control, but more often we’re logging in to watch shows on our phones or other devices and on our schedules, not network-dictated appointment TV.
We’re couch potatoes and office and car and everywhere potatoes.
A comic strip, “Zits,” recently summed up the current reality in three panels. “What’s on?” a father asks his teenage son, who’s sitting cross-legged in front of a TV set and is bracketed by a smart phone on one side and a laptop on the other. “Everything ever videotaped, filmed, recorded, photographed or otherwise documented whenever I want to watch it,” the teen answers, nonchalantly tossing his mouth.popcorn into his mouth.
“I miss television,” the downcast dad tells his wife.
All hail streaming
Generational nostalgia aside, consumers have embraced the change in their media world, said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture.
“This was the decade that streaming became for many, many people the dominant way in which they watch television,” said Thompson. It’s a rapid shift that bears little relation to the previous entertainment industry revolution, cable TV.
Only about a quarter of U.S. homes had cable in 1980 despite its availability since the mid-20th century. While growth finally exploded in the ‘80’s, it wasn’t until the tail end of the 1990s and the arrival of HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” that premium cable received critical praise and honors, Thompson said.
In contrast, it took less than a decade for leader Netflix to skyrocket from about 12 million U.S. subscribers at the decade’s start to 60 million this year and 158 million worldwide. The streamer reportedly lavished $15 billion on programming for 2019 alone, and earned buzz with series including “The Crown,” “Stranger Things,” and “Orange is the New Black.”
Even major films, among them Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” are making themselves at home on Netflix while still in theaters.
Others in the fray include Hulu /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -0.63% and Amazon Prime Video /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.04% , although “streaming wars” became the aggressive phrase applied to the increasingly competitive marketplace. With newly emboldened (and sometimes mega-expanded) media companies intent on getting a piece of the streaming action, there was a growth surge that won’t abate in the new decade.
Apple TV Plus /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +1.77% launched Nov. 1 with Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg among its first wave of producers, and was quickly followed by Disney Plus. The latter has a storehouse of Disney movies and TV shows to draw on, along with acquired properties from Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm and its “Star Wars” franchise.
Among the other services set for 2020: Peacock from NBCUniversal /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA +0.12% ; Quibi, run by ex-Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay head Meg Whitman, and HBO Max, is counting on HBO, TBS and the Warner Bros. studio assets acquired by parent company AT&T to lure subscribers.
While cord-cutting became a quest for viewers seeking to shed hefty cable bills, there is still a price tag for the gusher of riches, as much as $14.99 monthly for HBO Max alone.
A bonus for viewers as they sort through the competing options: More programming doesn’t just mean more of the same.