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From Lunar Landings to Hulu: The Evolution of Streaming

You might be asking yourself – how did we get here?

By “how did we get here,” I’m not talking Mars colonization or cloning. I’m talking about parking it on a couch on a Friday to binge watch entire seasons of Frazier without lifting a finger. (Seriously – Netflix will spill over to the following episode without so much as a press of a button.)

TV doesn’t even require a TV set anymore. Americans once gathered outside storefronts to watch a TV broadcast. Today, a school kid could tap an app on a smartphone and queue up an episode of Spongebob Squarepants – if teacher doesn’t catch her first.

Black-and-white shows such as The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy gave way to a Golden Age of TV. That included comedy, drama, news, and sports coverage. The era gave momentum to a notion of great TV – and the potential for even greater, unforeseen TV: Reality TV, 24-hour TV news cycles, game shows, morning talk shows and late-night talk shows.

This evolution revolved around choices and flexibility.

Watching live TV

What if you could witness the spectacular without going to Augusta National or Washington DC?

Before the Masters and Peter Pan Live and televised State of the Union addresses, NBC and RCA collaborated on a live broadcast from Radio City, mostly dialog about the future of TV. By today’s standards, it underwhelmed – but it paved the way for future live events, such as Saturday Night Live and Geraldo Rivera’s The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.

Sports in particular would never be the same.

 

3 cool facts about live TV

  • More than 600 million viewers watched the first moon landings, in 1969, on live TV.
  • CBS and NBC didn’t preserve tapes of Super Bowl I. A North Carolina man has the only known copy of game video. He and the NFL can’t agree on compensation. Meanwhile, the tapes remain in storage.
  • The delay for audio on live broadcasts has become the editor’s discretion in the control room. They can mute questionable content – usually 7 seconds ahead of live action – by pressing a button on what’s known as a dump box. It came into play after Game 7 of the NBA finals. Much of LeBron James’ on-court interview after the Cavaliers beat the Warriors was blotted out. (Not for what James said, but for words used in the background.

 

Renting video

What if you didn’t have to beat a path to your living room at exactly 7 o’clock to watch a movie?

Video movie rentals appeared first in corners of convenience stores. Rent a Hollywood movie for half the cost of a movie ticket, and it’s yours for three days! Just be kind and rewind to avoid a fine. Video rental chains such as Blockbuster infiltrated American cities. A membership card soon granted access to video game rentals, too.

Then Netflix and Redbox came along.

Cool facts about video renting

  • Blockbuster video drew $2.4 million in revenues in 1995, with a profit margin of 30%. That amounts to $785 million, mostly from late fees.
  • It took Netflix just eight years from its start in 1997 to surpass 1 billion direct-mailed CDs.
  • Redbox says 66% of Americans live within 5 minutes of one of their kiosks. That’s a greater saturation rate than coffee giant Starbucks can claim.

 

Streaming from home

A Seattle startup teamed with ESPN SportsZone to stream a Mariners-Yankees major-league baseball game. The date: Sept. 5, 1995. Thus began the era of live streaming events. It also began a race for internet providers to offer high speed internet connections as a faster solution than a 56k modem line to support such broadcasts.

Apple, Microsoft and Netflix answered the call. They developed HTTP-based adaptive streaming that led to a more efficient process. An onslaught of live stream sports followed. So too did on demand premium services such as Amazon Instant Video and Hulu.

Netflix still offers mail DVDs, but delivers content mainly by streaming, with minimal strain on bandwidth.

Millions of viewers can watch on demand titles at once, with OTT, or over the top technology. Subscribers can now access their content online, almost instantly. They can stream it to web-enabled devices, such as tablets, smartphones and smart TVs.

 

Cool facts about streaming video

  • Netflix subscribers stream 100 million hours of content daily. That translates to 11,408 years.
  • The number of Americans who watch digital video reached 200 million in 2015. That’s 78.4% of Americans. Funny videos, movie trailers and music videos rank highest among favorites.
  • 58% of Twitch users say they watch more than 20 hours weekly on the site. That’s almost three hours daily. Users on the site can live stream or play video games in real time.

Television continues to evolve, often without a television set. Visionaries in the formative years of TV blazed the way for new ideas and technologies to produce greater access and more options. What path will today’s streaming platforms forge for tomorrow?