Television has become a mess. Mainly because, for anyone who’s stopped paying for cable, it’s not actually “television” anymore — it’s video content delivered via apps to whatever internet-connected screen we happen to be staring at. TV streaming has mutated into a thicket of competing services built around different content (House of Cards or Veep?), business models (ads or no ads?), and even temporal planes (on-demand or live?). And 2017 promises to bring more confusion as a host of new services enter the already-crowded fray. Here’s a look at what the many different platforms have planned for the year.
This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Netflix’s streaming service. The product has evolved from a repository of well-known, licensed movies and TV shows to a sprawling assortment of original shows that are not bound by genre, episode length, or any readily apparent quality control. In January alone Netflix will debut a reboot of the 1980s sitcom One Day at a Time, a new season of Degrassi: Next Class, a TV adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and a new season of Big Brother–esque reality TV show Terrace House. There is no obvious rhyme or reason to the kinds of shows Netflix chooses to back, and that’s the way the company likes it; Netflix wants to create hyperspecific programming for a wide variety of tastes. The brand will release 1,000 hours of original shows and movies in 2017, with an increased focus on unscripted shows.
The company owned by three major broadcast networks has already announced a live-TV streaming service slated to launch in early 2017. Hulu has confirmed that channels owned by Disney (ABC, ESPN), Time Warner (TNT, CNN), and 21st Century Fox will appear on the service, though Comcast-owned NBC hasn’t yet officially hopped on board. CBS, which doesn’t have a stake in Hulu, also may not make it onto the service for competitive reasons. The new service, which is separate from Hulu’s current on-demand offerings, is expected to cost around $40 per month.
More than 600,000 people have signed up for Dish’s live-TV streaming service. A couple of new features this year may entice additional customers. At the Consumer Electronics Show — which begins this week — Dish is expected to announce a new set-top box that combines Sling’s channels with an over-the-air antenna to pick up broadcast networks. Users should be able to stream Sling’s cable networks and free broadcast networks through the same interface. A cloud DVR feature that allows users to record live programming is also currently in beta and should be made available to more users sometime this year.
Rumors persist that Google will eventually launch its own cable killer. Maybe 2017 will be the year it happens. The current batch of speculation claims that the service will be a new feature of YouTube called “Unplugged.” CBS has reportedly signed on for the service, while Comcast, Disney, Viacom, and 21st Century Fox are in talks to offer their channels as well. The service would cost less than $40 per month.
Amazon has carved out its own slate of original shows, but the biggest new feature for the company’s streaming service in 2017 could be live sports. The Wall Street Journal reported that the e-tailer is in talks with leagues to acquire streaming rights for a variety of sports.
AT&T launched its own live-TV streaming service in December. Early reviews criticized DirecTV Now’s clunky UI and and lack of cloud DVR functionality, so AT&T has some more work to do if it wants to effectively compete with other offerings on the market. In terms of volume of content, the promotional price of $35 of for 100 channels is a good deal, at least.
This feels like the year to finally retire the “Apple is secretly building a revolutionary streaming service that will change the way we watch TV” rumor. Tim Cook continues to harp on how the future of television is “apps,” not traditional channels. And in 2016 the company allowed both Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, would-be competitors to an Apple streaming service, to launch on Apple TV. All of our dreams can’t come true, and neither can all of our tech rumors.
ESPN’s slow subscriber loss in recent years accelerated at the end of 2016, with the sports network shedding more than 1 million customers in October and November, according to Nielsen. The rise of cord-cutting is likely what’s spurring Disney to launch a stand-alone ESPN streaming service that will be accessible without a pay-TV subscription sometime in 2017. But Disney CEO Bob Iger has called this new service an “add-on product” that will feature sports that ESPN has licensed but can’t fit into its normal TV broadcasts. So expect more rugby and less SportsCenter from this new offering.