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Streaming Services Will Continue to Crowd Out Cable, ODU Expert Says

By Noell Saunders

The growth of online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are outpacing traditional cable by a wide margin and experts say that trend will continue to grow.

Myles McNutt, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University's Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, said the primary reason video streaming services are becoming a dominate online force is because they provide audiences with a sense of control over their television viewing.

"Netflix and Hulu make databases of content available to their users at any moment, untethered from a traditional linear broadcast schedule," he said. "These services are accessible both on televisions and a range of devices that people carry with them everywhere. The content is now accessible whenever people want to watch it."

McNutt taught a class on TV in the digital era at ODU, addressing the dominance of streaming services which is part of his broad research agenda. He said more people, especially millennials, are finding cost-efficient services to meet their needs and as a result, cable is phasing out quickly.

"For many of my students at ODU, Netflix and Hulu represents their sole form of watching television, an increasingly likely future in an age of "cord-cutting."

"We've become an on-demand culture, for better or worse," said Tim Anderson, who teaches cultural and material aspects that help make music popular. Anderson, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, said the same paradigm shift is happening in the music industry.

"Historically speaking, you bought an album to get one or two songs but you got 10 songs you didn't want. Nowadays, you spend about $8.99 and you get playlists from Spotify. You can decide how to make your own playlist," he said.

Music streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, Google Play, Apple Music and Pandora are not only changing the way Americans listen to music, they are an incredibly appealing bundle for consumers. According to Nielsen data, Americans logged 284.7 billion on-demand music streams (be it audio or video) in the first six months of 2017.

Anderson, who studies Spotify and Apple Music, said large numbers of people are subscribing to these services because, "It's convenient to have 20 million songs right in your pocket."

Streaming services give users the impression that content is specifically tailored for each viewer or listener by recommending certain shows and music based on their viewing and listening habits. Anderson said as these services grow, the trend of curation will continue.

"As we get more high-bandwidth delivery, whether it's WiFi or tethered cable into a home, we will see more and more curated services being offered," he said.

McNutt also noted that he believes the bond between a subscriber and a streaming service is going to become more complicated as services and their competitors evolve.

"As Netflix shifts from licensing shows from broadcast networks and cable channels to predominantly featuring its own original series like 'Stranger Things' or 'Glow,' users might find a show they're watching will disappear from the service right while they're in the middle of a binge watch," he said. "They might find that show then pops up on Hulu, or they might be a Hulu subscriber who discovers their favorite show is now exclusively streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime."

As more networks like CBS launch their own streaming platforms to target cord cutters, viewers might find they need to subscribe to a number of streaming services that the cost becomes close to the cost of cable.

"Now that services like Hulu and YouTube are adding live TV to services in major markets, streaming sites are becoming more like cable and further blurring the lines with regards to the future of how we watch TV," McNutt said.

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