Will anyone own content when they can stream?

Cast your mind back 20 years to the mid-to-late 1990's. It was just two short decades ago but the period since has been an era of huge technological change, particularly around whether to own or stream content.

Back then, people still liked nothing better than popping down to the local video rental store to take out a VHS cassette tape to watch on a Saturday night, while their living room shelves were filled with VHS home recordings. They'd also happily pop a CD from the cupboard collection into the hi-fi to play their favourite album or artist.

Fast-forward the remote and in that 240 months or so we’ve skipped through DVDs, gone past MP3s and lived through the growth of illegal downloading and digital piracy.

But now it’s all about streaming, posing the question as to whether anyone in the future will ever actively choose to ‘own’ content again like generations craved doing in the past.

It’s no secret that Millennials are shying away from ‘ownership’ in so many parts of their lives and are actually choosing to benefit from the gig and service economies for many of their pleasures.

This vision of a future in 2030 by one member of the Denmark parliament offers an intriguing insight into such an idea but never has it been more apparent than today’s habits surrounding movies, TV shows and music.

If you reflect on this and the fortunes of Blockbuster, Woolworths and HMV, you could conclude that their business model of ‘hardcopy’ failed due to changing digital tastes alongside technology’s growth, improved mobile data, increased broadband speeds and digital device proliferation.

And it’s telling that Wired wrote an article on the phenomenon back in 2014, predicting that internet TV would soon become the norm. Since then, streaming viewing has surged. Research by Thinkbox early in 2016 showed SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) accounted for 4% of all viewing in 2015.

Online content providers have since made huge monetary, creative and technological investments in making their own exclusive shows. It's also telling to remember that some of these streaming businesses spawned out of companies mailing rental DVDs to people's homes, proving you can succeed by taking risks and adapting fast to digital transformation.

However, those providing streaming services can only succeed and grow if the technological infrastructure is right. Robust cloud storage and server provision is, of course, a given but a diminishing of the lag, smart buffering, reduced download times and improved picture quality - thanks to HD content and improved mobile screens - has allowed many users to accept this form of viewing as a more primary source.

An affordable monthly subscription model offers a customer tens of thousands of hours of streamed TV programming and movies. Paying £10 for a DVD just can't compete.

With YouTube's live TV service, online's dominance of our square eyes is becoming even more prevalent. The younger Generation Z are already growing up in a world where watching and not owning online video is the norm, creating even greater questions and challenges for advertisers, producers and parents.

Hybrid models where people can buy a digital download of a film and have the DVD also posted to them is trying to bridge a generational gap but may fail to keep pace with younger people preferring a lack of possessions and clutter to an instant hit of entertainment at the push of a button on their tablet.

The rise in ownership of Smart TVs – predicted to hit 50% in the UK by 2019 – and plug-in dongles or devices to get streaming channels in a more traditional living room or bedroom setting (for those who don’t wish to have a cable or satellite subscription) is also a big contributing factor.

And in the music industry – which initially led the way with converting customers to streaming over digital downloading – money is now being made. This means the streaming services have become the natural gateways to listening pleasure for the latest generations in the same way vinyl and CDs captured their parents and grandparents.

Going back to the 90s, such huge disruption was unthinkable. But it's now a massive reality to consider by anyone making content or providing it. No longer will it pay to persuade consumers to buy physical product.

With the future set to be owned by streaming, now is the time to consider just what solutions are needed to take full advantage of this exciting entertainment revolution.

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