The way we consume audio and video is changing, having been in transition for at least the last ten years.
The dawn of the MP3 download during the mid to late 90s put popular physical music media on the endangered list, and the increasing popularity of services like Spotify, Deezer and Google Play has reduced their appeal even further.
While vinyl continues to retain its demand due to its aesthetic edge and collectability, the audio CD is closing in on being labelled obsolete.
CDs offer something that streaming services cannot – the tangible ownership of a physical product. But that doesn’t appear to have deterred consumers from making the switch. Market-leading music streaming service Spotify now has more than 100 million regular users, including 40m paid-up subscribers.
The rest of the industry has taken notice, too. The UK’s Top 40 singles chart started factoring streams into their ranking calculations in 2014, and today the number of times a track has been streamed usually far outstrips its physical sales and downloads. There are similar trends in TV and film.
Within the last 15 years, the DVD has been hailed as a revolutionary new digital medium, and even that has since been trumped by BluRay, which offers 1080p video and superior sound.
Around the same time as the launch of the DVD in the early 2000s, Sky upped their game with the roll-out of their Digital service, followed by Sky +, HD channels and, in recent years, ‘Ultra HD’ (4K).
But the stream continues to disrupt the industry, threatening the future of physical film media and placing the ‘channel flicking’ TV experience that generation after generation has grown with under real scrutiny.
Streaming sticks, which plug into your television’s HDMI socket, connect to your home’s wifi and offer film and TV content across hundreds of channels and apps.
BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are all there, while Sky’s Now TV offering provides viewers with the option of accessing premium sport and movie channels without the need for a set-top box or satellite dish.
Amazon’s Fire Stick and Google’s Chromecast service offer internet streaming at HD resolution, and allow YouTube clips and videos from other websites to be beamed onto the biggest screen in the house.
The depth of service offered means that many households could unplug their aerial and still not miss a thing. Much of the content is provided for free, supported by advertising, other services – including the popular Netflix – require a monthly subscription, while users can also access seasons or single episodes of their favourite programmes for a one-off fee.
But while the industry continues to adapt to the evolving nature of its customers’ consumption habits, one indisputable benefit of the emergence of streaming has been its damaging effect on illegal downloading.
Software like Napster, KaZaa and LimeWire offered a free alternative to forking out as much as £20 for a CD album, albeit with the stigma of breaking the law and the risk of infecting your computer with malware.
But the appeal of P2P file-sharing clients, Torrent-sharing websites and CD / DVD piracy has been blunted by the more cost-effective services now offered by streaming services.
Spotify’s Premium Services offers unlimited access to more than 30 millions songs for just £9.99 a month, while premium film titles including many of the latest releases are available on Netflix for just £7.99 a month.
In many cases, streaming offers consumers far better value for the money than physical media and traditional consumption ever did.
And it is easy to see why other platforms, legal or otherwise, are finding it increasingly difficult to get a look-in.
As more and more make the switch, streaming could soon become the pre-eminent way we enjoy our favourite films, albums and TV programmes.13th January 2017