How Netflix and Hulu Have Changed How we Watch TV

Netflix and Hulu have fundamentally changed how we watch television, where we watch it, and when we watch it. These streaming services continued on where the DVR left off. The DVR gave opportunities to escape the schedules set by the networks. Suddenly the ability to watch a broadcasted show at any time we found convenient was possible. However, viewers were still at the mercy of waiting for a show or movie to actually be broadcast or recorded. Netflix and Hulu gave extensive libraries of television shows, movies and other video content that could be watched at any time. Also, viewers were empowered to watch content anywhere – no longer anchored to the living room sofa, viewers could watch shows on the go, at the airport, anywhere with an internet connection and a device. 

For those of us who were around before ubiquitous broadband connections, watching a new episode of our favorite television show meant working your schedule around the network’s schedule. A missed episode meant hoping the network would broadcast a rerun. More so Hulu, many television shows were available on demand. Suddenly, it wasn’t necessary to rework a prior engagement to catch the latest episode. Often, new episodes were available within a day or two of the original broadcast date. 

The advent of “binge watching” probably rightfully began with Hulu and Netflix. Prior, it was not imaginable or cost effective to be able to watch an entire season or even an entire series in a prolonged sitting over a weekend or two. It also gave viewers a chance to discover shows that were either long in syndication or in the middle of the series. Many hear of shows only once they have been in play for several years. Being able to catch up on a show wasn’t imaginable before – at least not in the same context. Hulu and Netflix gave the viewer the ability to enjoy a show in the middle of its run, be able to catch up, and understand what is currently going on within the show. Netflix has even redefined how shows are released to viewers. Under the traditional and legacy model of television, shows run at a set interval during the season, often once a week. Shows had a run over a 13 to 20 week schedule. Netflix flipped that on its head. They release an entire season at the same time, thus feeding into the phenomenon of binge watching. Viewers no longer have to wait a week to watch the cliffhanger from the previous episode. If they have the time, viewers can immediately watch the next episode from that season. 

Twenty or thirty years ago, when cable television was in its infancy, it would have been hard to imagine that content would be produced and distributed outside of the standard network television system. Netflix and Hulu not only stream content produced by the networks, they have become content producers as well. And the shows they produce often rival, or even exceed in quality, the content produced by the networks. Initially, Hulu and Netflix may have been used to watch shows from television stations, today, many subscribers are drawn to original programs created by these streaming services. 

A subtle difference caused by the advent of streaming services is content discovery. Prior, many people discovered new content by simply channel surfing and watching whatever happened to be broadcast. Viewers now have to be more explicit and proactive in what they watch – they select the content outright from the start. The concept of “channel surfing” has changed quite a bit and content discovery is heavily relevant on social media and other methods. Also, this has changed the television experience in this way – because viewers explicitly select content, watching is not as passive as it may have been years prior. 

Streaming services and devices have fundamentally changed how we discover, consume and enjoy content. Viewers are no longer leashed to network scheduling and are free to watch their favorite televisions shows or movies at their leisure. Streaming services have also changed where people consume content. Before, media consumption centered around the television. Netflix and Hulu allows their subscribers to stream content in a variety of ways – on a laptop, tablet, phone or through a box top device such as Apple TV. Streaming services freed the subscriber in both time and space – allowing content to be consumed in more convenient and comfortable settings.