By Molly Freeman
Photo courtesy of Vivian D Nguyen.
Netflix, which was founded in 1997, was still competing with Blockbuster and other video rental stores just a decade ago. While the company itself didn’t directly run Blockbuster out of business, it certainly maintained a successful business model through today by allowing users to rent physical DVDs and adding a streaming option for television series and movies.
Now, Netflix doesn’t simply connect users with content created elsewhere, they also play a part in the production game. In 2013, Netflix launched political drama House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and produced by David Fincher. The series became a success for the company, which will debut House of Cards season 3 later this month.
House of Cards, along with another Netflix original series Orange is the New Black, garnered critical success and an array of awards. House of Cards won two Golden Globes and two Emmys, while Orange is the New Black won two Emmys, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, not to mention the AFI Award for best TV program of the year two years in a row.
However, as of this year, Netflix isn’t the only video on-demand (VOD) provider with award-winning original content. At the 2015 Golden Globe Awards, Amazon’s Transparent won best TV series, comedy or musical and the show’s star Jeffrey Tambor was named best actor.
Since Transparent’s win at the Golden Globes, other companies like YouTube and Overstock.com pushed to launch their own original content. They’ll join the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and Yahoo, the last of which will officially launch their first original content later this year.
YouTube functioned as a platform where outside content creators could host webseries. Going forth, Alex Carloss, head of originals at YouTube, explained how the company wouldn’t be moving too far from their original model.
“We’ll start with the next level for a lot of our creators; we’ll fund beyond what they are typically able to realize,” Carloss told Variety.
Instead of hiring outside writers, producers, and actors, YouTube will instead offer funding to their top talent, providing them with financial backing to elevate their content.
Overstock.com, on the other hand, will follow a path similar to that of Amazon since they have similar structures as online retailers. Overstock.com plans to rollout VOD and streaming services by the middle of 2015, offering roughly 30,000 titles, with original content following thereafter.
However, even though VOD and similar streaming services are rushing to create their own content, they’re doing so in order to provide incentive to keep their subscribers invested in their services. As television networks create and grow their own online streaming services, they foster competition with existing online-only sites like Netflix and Hulu. For instance, rather than waiting for the full season of Scandal to debut on Netflix, users can watch episodes on ABC.com.
So, original content was the next logical step for companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Yahoo. However, these companies also made a name for themselves by acquiring previously established content. Netflix revived the fan-favorite TV show Arrested Development, will be producing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 for a theatrical and VOD release, and plans to release a prequel series to the cult movie Wet Hot American Summer. Similarly, Yahoo acquired NBC’s comedy Community and will air the show’s sixth season.
That all being said, even established television networks like HBO and Nickelodeon have announced standalone streaming services that won’t require subscribers to log in with their cable providers. As a result, viewers won’t need to have cable at all to watch content created by HBO and Nickelodeon, placing these services in direct competition with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Yahoo.
However, even though Netflix isn’t the only service in online-only original content these days, they have established a reputation for good programming with a customer-friendly release schedule–i.e. dumping full seasons on the service and allowing users to binge-watch at their leisure. Additionally, Netflix seems to be leading the charge in VOD original content with major plans for the future.
Whether Netflix will stay on top of the game, however, is less set in stone. Even 10 years ago you’d be hard-pressed to find those that believed original content created for an online audience would ever gain traction. Whether they will remain on top of the VOD chain or go obsolete like Blockbuster in the next decade, though, is difficult to say.