Can Anyone Take Netflix's Streaming Crown?

Netflix's Instant Streaming has changed the way that people watch movies and television, as well as pretty much taken over the internet (Seriously; almost 30% of peak U.S. bandwidth use comes from Netflix Instant, according to recent studies). No surprise, then, that everyone wants a piece of that action - but can anyone come up with a Netflix killer by this point?

You have to be a wonk to keep up with all of this, admittedly, but all manner of companies - almost all with pockets deep enough to make this kind of thing work - are considering how to beat Netflix at its own game. Hulu.com, the streaming video site co-owned by parent companies of NBC, FOX and ABC, is up for sale and all manner of people are interested, including Amazon, Dish Network, Yahoo and Google, with at least two of those companies (Amazon and Dish) reportedly also considering launching their own Netflix Instant competitors in addition to any Hulu plans they may have. Barring the collapse of the internet anytime soon, it's looking as if the future of home entertainment really might be streaming content.

I'm actually completely okay with that; I like (and use) Netflix Streaming a lot - without it, I wouldn't have been able to experience the highs and lows of Friday Night Lights, after all - and one of the reasons for that is that it's platform independent; I can watch it on my laptop, my iPad, my TV, and each one will remember what I was watching, where I was and what I'd added to watch later. It's really so easy that it makes the alternatives look clumsy, awkward and working against the customer, instead of for them. Which makes me wonder: Does this mean that Netflix is it, now?

Think about it: iTunes has become the standard bearer for digital music distribution, because it's so user-friendly, and so omnipresent that it doesn't even matter that other outlets are cheaper, or offer higher-quality downloads; iTunes managed to claim the idea of being the standard, and that was that. Is Netflix at that point already? It's possible; anyone using the monthly subscription/unlimited streaming across multiple platforms model - which they'd surely have to do, in order to even compete with Netflix - they'd be accused of just biting the Netflix model, and any massive advances beyond what's already there could just take it out of the sweet spot of market acceptance.

Where Netflix is vulnerable, right now, is price and content - the two most important factors is any such venture, sure, but especially so for Netflix currently, because of their recent controversial price hike (which takes effect this month) and Starz' recent announcement that it will not be resigning a contract agreement with the service (Interestingly enough, Starz is rumored to be going with the Dish alternative, which would be based around their Blockbuster buyout). Whoever wants to replace Netflix as streaming video supplier of choice - and position themselves in the right place for the future - is going to have to work out how to do it with more choice, and for less money, than Netflix is currently managing - and to be honest, I'm not sure doing both of those things is necessarily possible. Like it or not, the crown is Netflix's to lose - which doesn't mean that it's impossible to exist in the same space, just that you'll probably have to get used to being permanently second-best in terms of popularity.

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