There is a great metric by which companies’ success can be measured. Effectively, if the name of a corporation’s good or service becomes interchangeable with the product category as a whole, the company’s product – or at least its marketing – is probably pretty successful. Older examples would be the use of the word “Xerox” as a verb, or “Kleenex” as a catchall for tissues. In our generation, the use of “Google” as a verb is likely the best example.
I should note that the words “iPhone” and “iPad” fall somewhere in an enviable middle ground. No one thinks of Apple products as being interchangeable with smartphones as a whole, but at the same time, people naturally specify the Apple-ness of their belongings automatically. For instance, I might say, “can someone please pass me my iPad?” Or, “where’d my iPhone go?” However, in referring to my Android or Windows device, I never say “has anyone seen my HTC EVO 4G LTE?” In fact, I’ve never heard anyone say “has anyone seen my Android?” Nope, the default phraseology is always “phone,” or at best, “smartphone.” This degree “iDevice” brand individuation and category definition is emblematic of Apple’s unique first mover advantage and tight control of marketing. At the same time, it’s also a testament to what was, for years, a befuddling and asinine naming strategy by Android OEMs and the Big Four phone carriers.
With this in mind, I’d like to add another company to the service-as-catchall Hall of Fame: Netflix. I’ve found myself – and witnessed many others – using “Netflix” as a verb, whereas all other forms of video streaming – or DVD ordering – are consigned to “I streamed Avatar from Amazon Prime” or “I downloaded The Office on iTunes.”
But more importantly, Netflix is, hands down, the most competitive player in the video streaming arena. As a recent Fast Company article demonstrates, Netflix spun off its hardware division into Roku, allowing the “software” parent company to remain sufficiently distant from the product, and in doing so, frictionlessly slip onto other popular platforms like the XBOX and Apple TV.
Moreover, Netflix has, like competitors Hulu and Amazon, shifted from content acquisition to content creation, securing the rights to the upcoming series Game of Cards, as well as a widely-anticipated 4th season of Arrested Development. Though it is admirable that Hulu and Amazon are also creating their own shows, Netflix’s move to resurrect a program old enough to be attainable but new enough – and cultish enough – to be desired was nothing short of a masterstroke. Plus, it negates the money and impositions often placed between traditional television content and online distribution. Consider HBO, owned by “old media” giant TimeWarner. The only way to stream “Boardwalk Empire” or “Game of Thrones” is on HBO GO, the network’s proprietary platform – available only to television subscribers. Imagine if HBO opened its archives, some of which are already available, as well as its current offerings, on a $10 or $15/month basis. Alas, I dream, though mostly about The Pacifc.
However, the online video in-house production dynamic will come increasingly into vogue, as entertainment companies continue to raise the price of video streaming rights, and online outfits are left with little choice other than to pay through the nose or develop competitive content natively. Correspondingly, costs of online video subscriptions will rise over the next few years, but the quality and selection of content will provide almost as much value as regular cable, and at a fraction of the cost.
Traditional cable is a waning medium, slow to adapt, and expensive to maintain. Nimble competitors like Hulu and Amazon, and especially Netflix, present a far better alternative. Cable certainly won’t die, not anytime soon at least, but there will be an unquestionable paradigm shift toward utilization of multipurpose internet connections rather than single-use cable lines. These online companies, combined with Apple’s likely introduction of a true TV alternative in 2013 or 2014, present a video future worth watching. Pass the popcorn.