Commentary

Channel change with streaming services

The launch of Apple Music came and went last month with barely a whimper, and that is a good sign.

No, I am not talking about the ruckus that pop star Taylor Swift caused when she penned her open letter to Apple, but the fact that the music industry and consumers did not go overboard about Apple's service, as if its music streaming offering was the new sliced bread.

Apple Music, after all, follows in the footsteps of Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and a bunch of other services, so users have long been aware of the many ways they can get music piped into their ears.

For the labels who watch as CDs continue their relentless death slide, streaming services are a new revenue source, and a way of doing business that is quickly becoming the new normal.

Hardly anyone is bothering to blame piracy these days, even though illegal downloads probably still hurt the business, because consumers are tired of the stale rhetoric.

The market has changed to suit consumers. Instead of buying a whole music CD for the sake of a few tracks, they can buy individual songs. And instead of owning the songs, they can stream more music than they will ever have time to listen to, for a flat monthly fee.

Next to experience this is the television and movie industry, and more households stand to benefit.

Already, users are latching on to content streaming from such services as Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime Instant Video, and effectively cutting the cord on cable television subscriptions.

The premise here is the same. Why pay for a bunch of cable channels when you can buy only the shows you want to watch?

Streaming services let customers watch their favourite shows on demand, instead of tying these shows to a schedule.

At US$7.99 (S$10.80) for Hulu Plus or Netflix, consumers can afford to subscribe to multiple streaming services.

Sure, they need to access them via a VPN or DNS service. A Singapore company, Break Portal, has been formed to do just that - help households get connected to the dozens, if not hundreds, of such streaming services available.

The two newer Internet service providers, MyRepublic and ViewQwest, have something similar tied to their fibre services.

There are dedicated streaming services for Korean, Taiwanese and Hong Kong dramas available.

Not all services may be 100 per cent legal but, once started on this path, consumers will find it hard to stop.

Broadcasters and content owners are aware of this, and HBO, Dish Network and Comcast from the United States have come up with their own services to reach out to consumers.

Pretty soon, it is likely that the amount spent on subscribing to all of these services will top the cost of a cable television subscription, but the convenience of watching shows on your laptop, smartphone or tablet, together with being able to pick the offerings, will make traditional television viewing look seriously antiquated.

If the game is about giving consumers what they want, the established providers had better get going before someone smarter and savvier prompts Singapore users to switch channels on them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'Channel change with streaming services'. Print Edition | Subscribe