In the not-so-distant past, the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video heralded a bright new dawn in entertainment, with promises to break free from the shackles of traditional TV by offering consumers unparalleled convenience, choice, and affordability. However, recent developments have left many questioning what exactly the future of these once-revolutionary services looks like - and if it’s actually more familiar than any of us would have predicted.

At its inception, streaming was a disruptive force, challenging the dominance of traditional TV. The absence of intrusive advertising, paired with on-demand viewing, offered a breath of fresh air to users tired of rigid schedules, limited variety and increasingly expensive packages.

In 2007, Netflix revolutionised the game and, followed by the likes of Hulu and CBS All Access (now Paramount +), and latterly the likes of Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, each platform provided its own unique content at the touch of a fingertip. The diversification of screen media consumption was seemingly changed forever.

Streaming Had Killed The Video Star. Or something like that, anyway.

What set all these platforms apart was their commitment to innovation and accessibility. Netflix, in particular, shook up the industry by introducing binge-worthy original series and an extensive library of films and documentaries. Disney+ capitalized on its vast back-catalogue of beloved franchises,while Amazon Prime Video combined streaming with additional benefits like free shipping, creating a comprehensive membership experience.

But despite these groundbreaking beginnings, the streaming landscape is now facing a paradigm shift that threatens to undermine all of its original promise.

The introduction of ad tiers - a departure from the interruption-free models that were the original hallmark of these streaming services - has left some users disenchanted. The platforms claim that these ‘cheaper’ plans are there to allow more people the opportunity to access their content, where they may not have been able to afford ad-free membership previously. However, the banning of password sharing could call into question the ‘we’re doing it because we care’ angle of their defence.

Additionally, it is said that the increased revenue generated from advertising will be reinvested to create more high-quality original content, further enriching the overall streaming experience. It obviously remains to be seen if this plays out as hoped - however, it will be interesting to watch how the promise of higher quality content stacks up alongside awards in the near future, given where each of those platforms were comparatively just a couple of years ago.

Emmy Nominations per streaming service, per year, from 2020 to 2023

Beyond that, we are now starting to see certain platforms integrating their catalogues together (Disney & Hulu in late 2023, alongside rumours of Apple and Paramount combining) - which to be fair, is no bad thing for the user - however it all begins to resemble the very thing we were told we should be moving away from when all of this began; all of our viewing options in one place, for a certain fee, with ads a necessary tolerance for that privilege.

Streaming services are seemingly on the brink of betraying their original USP – a rebellion against the constraints of cable television. The shift towards ad-supported models, rising subscription costs, and the potential convergence of platforms threatens to transform the streaming world into a landscape reminiscent of the cable era, only more expensive and therefor, less accessible.

As users, we must critically examine the changes occurring in the streaming industry. The promise of innovation and accessibility that once defined these services is at risk of being eroded. It is crucial for streaming giants to remember the values that made them revolutionary in the first place, and to strive to maintain the user-centric approach that set them apart from traditional cable TV. Otherwise, they risk losing the very audience they worked so hard to attract.