Streaming is ubiquitous to many these days but believe it or not we have come a long way since 2010. Remember when smart TV’s were stupid? Remember when people gathered around a computer to watch TV? There were some very important innovations in streaming in the past 10 years from products to services. We must note, this story concentrates on consumer streaming and not important infrastructural innovations like the spread of high speed Internet or the growth of things like AWS or BamTech. It also leaves out gaming centric services like TWITCH, which are more of a category to themselves. So while all the sports based websites are putting out all decade teams we are gonna get in on the game with the All-Decade Streaming Team.
YouTube was the introduction to streaming for so many people and is the biggest streaming based media company and platform in the world. Over the past 10 years YouTube has streamed billions of hours of content from independent users and creators to major studios. The rise of YouTube stars has changed the way young people look at celebrity. TV thought it would be shows like American Idol, but young teens want to be the next big YouTuber doing what ever it is they want to do. A guy who opens played sets, a video game demo girl, an artist telling biographical stories. Either way, YouTube made short form entertainment a dominant way of both engaging audiences and selling advertisements. It changed how people learn about upcoming movies and likely helped goad studios into putting more of their archived content online as people searched for what ever it was that they used to like whether it was old episodes of Highway To Heaven to their favorite Horror movies. More recently YouTube launched its own live TV solution for cable free households. YouTube’s impact on streaming in the past 2 years just can not be overstated.
This was the model that took Roku from the fringe to the main stream. The grid that allowed users to see 9 apps at a time and left side vertical menu debuted with that model and have stuck ever since. It was also the first Roku with a function that allowed users to update channels without logging in and out of the channel store. Finally the Roku 3 introduced the private listening feature that has come to define the company’s highest end products over time. The basic interface has allowed Roku to become the most commonly found smart TV operating system on dozens of televisions sold around the world. The Roku 3 was the penultimate model with a number based name. If the company still used such designations I think it would be at Roku 9. The thing is though, that the basic innovations that debuted with the 3 are still the defining characteristics of Roku’s brand. This is why Roku 3 was specifically highlighted for the story as apposed to Roku overall as a company. The success of this model allowed the company to emerge in what was a crowded field of niche items and become a household name for people who had never considered the way a streaming box could impact their TV viewing.
The debut of the Chromecast invited so many people who had dabbled with streaming to dive in for the first time. At a time when only Roku and a limited version of the Apple TV were the most well known out of many streaming devices, the Google ChromeCast launched with its tiny design that allowed users to hide it behind a TV. Its app selection was by far the most limited at the time offering just, Netflifx, YouTube, Pandora and Google Play but it laid the foundation for a type of streaming experience that has expanded far past its beginnings. The ChromeCast encouraged millions who had not tried Netflix to jump in with a 3-month trial that essentially halved the price of the dongle in the first place and mainstreamed the idea of casting content from a phone or computer which had previously been only the domain of Apple TV with AirPlay.
The Amazon Fire TV jumped into the streaming game after Roku, Apple TV and ChromeCast but made an immediate impact of the market due to both its features and the power of placement. It was after-all made and sold by the worlds largest online store. Part of what made it popular was the fact that it is Android based meaning it supported popular Android apps like Kodi. This led to a secondary market demand for “unlocked” Fire TV devices. The original device also heavily pushed gaming creating its own branded controller for the box. Gaming has never been a major draw for the device but the idea of putting more advanced games on a streaming boxes has been adopted by numerous Android TV platforms including the NVIDIA Shield. These days the Fire TV stick is by far one of the most popular streaming items on the market. The success of its streaming devices also paved the way for Amazon to market its platform as an integrated smart TV operating system found on numerous televisions. Amazon also innovated the idea of customers signing up and billing for premium streaming services through one company becoming the middle man as a replacement for what cable companies have traditionally done. Its competitors Roku and Apple have followed suit by allowing users to sign up for programming and be billed via their own platforms.
Tablo is a DVR designed to allow users to have a DVR that records OTA signals. There were other DVR’s that performed this function when Tablo launched but it was the first that had multi-platform support for streaming devices.
Before Tablo most DVR’s on the market were basically one step away from a VCR. With Tablo users could access recordings on multiple TV’s without the need for a computer, and set up apps on multiple streaming systems using their own hard drives. It beat TiVo to the market as far as OTA DVR’s and carved out a space it has maintained to this day. As more and more services integrate full on-demand style playback and commercial free versions of services grow, the DVR in general may lose its place in the entertainment world. But OTA DVR’s have an important place in the media landscape and help fuel cord cutting this decade by letting people know, yes you can give up cable TV and still have a DVR.
Sling TV was the first streaming service to offer live cable channels outside of the standard provider bundle. Launching with little more than 20 channels (including ESPN) the service allowed cord cutters to stream favorites without a contract and access the service on nearly every platform available. It was quickly imitated by AT&T with DirecTV Now and PlayStation with PS Vue. Later Hulu with Live TV and YouTube joined the fray as well as FuboTV and Philo. Basically every live TV streaming service owes Dish and Sling TV for bringing the idea forward and showing it can work. Possibly the most ingenious thing about the service is that it is all software based meaning the provider never has to be responsible for problems caused by equipment. There are no Sling TV offices for pickup, No appointments for setup or cutoff. And most importantly no contracts. Sling TV also popularized the idea of getting a streaming device with a service as an incentive for a few months paid ahead of time. Sling TV is still innovative in its overall approach to cable replacement services. It is the only service that offers users the ability to add small programming blocks completely on their own vs the more traditional tier system. Users can add sports networks or movie channels as a block without adding a religious channel and 20 others they don’t want. Not A-la-carte but much closer than most.
Hulu, started as a competitor to Netflix powered by Comcast, Disney and NewsCorp. It debuted in 2008 but really began to take form in the past 10 years. Now owned by Disney the service came along at a time when the idea of watching current TV shows online was in its infancy. Netflix had only recently been streaming library content mostly via computers. Until Hulu users had to stream most network content from individual network websites that often had clumsy interfaces. Hulu through its connections from its ownership was able to simplify the game quite a bit and supported a movie library and content from multiple studios early. And it did all of this for free with commercials, like regular TV. Later the service began to launch on streaming devices as Hulu Plus (Hulu on streaming devices) it became more and more thought of as a paid service before eliminating the Hulu Plus designation altogether and requiring a paid membership to stream on all platforms. Hulu has also helped popularize live TV streaming with a separate offering built into its app interface. The service and its multiple seasons of popular shows looks like its here to stay.
There might not be streaming at all without Netflix. The service, which started as a disc delivery service for DVDs began streaming a limited library of titles seen at the time as a secondary service compared to the superior selection of physical media. After it became available on the Nintendo Wii, Netflix started being seen as a TV service more so than as a one-three disc at a time replacement for Blockbuster video. The popularity of Netflix as a streaming service led to the creation of Roku which debuted as the Roku Netflix Player. It was not until later generations that Roku had other apps at all. The project grew out of Netflix but was spun off as Reid Hastings prophetically surmised that if Netflix had a product made to stream its service that it would be less likely to spread when and if Apple or another company created a streaming platform.
Android TV gave Google it’s second big win in the streaming game. The first being the ChromeCast. Android TV was the first universally popular version of the Android OS made for TV’s and consoles after numerous adaptations of what had previously been called Google TV failed. The OS launched with a system called the Asus Nexus player. The player has since disappeared from the market but the operating system is found worldwide on popular gaming and streaming consoles like the Nvidia Shield, set-top boxes from TV providers around the world or built directly into TV operating systems. Android TV is a system that is seen as adaptable for use by companies looking to launch their own stream products and services due to its ability to launch directly into a chosen app instead of being tied to one specific interface. Because of this company’s like AirTV have used Android TV to launch product lines using the versatility of the platform to their advantage.
It’s open approach has also caused controversy as some users choose to integrate services that violate copyright rules by allowing copyrighted materials to be freely streamed through Android TV powered devices.
Android TV also built in the capability of streaming using Chromecast technology later coining the phrase Google Cast. This means that every Android TV powered television also has a Chromecast built in that lets users stream from IOS, Android, PC’s and Macs on their TVs. This makes Android OS a very versatile system and viable through the next decade to come.
Pluto TV began as a startup mostly featuring curated content from YouTube. It had fun niches like Puppy channels, Hockey Fights, Music video news channels and more. Content was laid out in a schedule that allowed users to choose a Chanel and relax without having to constantly choose the next video. The service offered an attractive grid system that mimicked a traditional TV set up so that users did not feel they were cobbling something together as much as they were tuning in. Pluto TV then began signing distribution deals with multiple content providers and building branded channels as well as mixing up content from multiple providers in order to offer genres as well as offering on-demand movies and TV shows. Eventually it caught the eye of Viacom which purchased it. Since then the service has become home to tons of Viacom library content from reality shows to Nick Jr programming. It’s free ad-supported model has influenced numerous other companies that have come along since. Pluto TV will move forward as part of the CBS family of products.
The Nintendo Wii
We simply can’t make a list of products influential in consumer streaming without talking about the Nintendo Wii. Remember, as we mentioned in the Netflix section, Netflix started as a popular way to get DVD’s without going to a video store. It was conceived as a way to extend the reach of Blockbuster Video before being rejected. Oops. The master plan though was for Netflix to be a service that could be available for streaming. When Netflix launched its streaming option most people did not notice. Because most people only used it via a computer. And in an age before HD TV’s with HDMI ports there were not many ways to watch Internet based content on TV.
Then along game the Nintendo Wii. Initially meant to be a family friendly interactive game system, and it was, the Nintendo Wii was also one of the earliest game consoles to connect to the Internet as well. This made it a natural partner for Netflix, which at the time was in the early stage of its streaming ambitions. As more people began to learn about Netflix and its limited but freely included bonus to its discs the popularity of the console as a fun way to have family game night also became a new way to watch TV.
Without the Nintendo Wii, which sold millions of consoles, it might have taken years for people to think of internet delivered TV as normal. It led not only to obvious innovations like streaming through PlayStation and Xbox systems later, but as people began to look beyond then aging systems they found more modern set-top streamers. The original Wii no longer supports Netflix but the tradition is still alive with Nintendo’s modern systems. Without the Wii and its ability to popularize and simplify the streaming experience for millions of viewers it might have been many more years before we got the kind of systems that we have in place now.