KORVA COLEMAN, HOST:
Here's the good news. There is a lot of high-quality TV right now with strong plots and A-list actors. The bad news - there is a lot of high-quality TV right now. And trying to figure out where to catch your favorite shows from Netflix and Amazon Prime to Hulu can be frustrating. As Laura Sydell reports, it's about to get worse with two more hot streaming services on the way.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE IAN RICH ORCHESTRA'S "JAMES BOND THEME")
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: If you love James Bond movies, most of them are online somewhere. Brandon Smith has watched a lot of them on Hulu. Smith says recently he went back to finish watching one of the films and this happened.
BRANDON SMITH: Oh, shoot. It's the first of the month. It's not available anymore. There seems to be a much more limited run of some of the content that I like.
SYDELL: As of March 1, Hulu lost the rights to several Bond films. The world has certainly changed since the days when the only option for consumers was to purchase a bundle of channels from a local cable, satellite or telco company. More than 70 percent of American households still have some kind of pay TV according to eMarketer, but close to 60 percent now have at least one streaming service.
People who want to see a new program have no choice but to subscribe. Hulu's original, "The Handmaid's Tale," coincided with a spike in new subscribers. "Game Of Thrones" appears to have given HBO's streaming service a boost. But the costs can add up. Smith, his wife and their two children have accounts with Netflix and Hulu. They also pay for Amazon Prime, cable and broadband at a cost of nearly $340 a month.
SMITH: So far, I'm able to absorb the cost. But I still would like to find sort of one service that offers the station she likes. So it's just sort of finding the right mix that offers everything we're looking for.
SYDELL: Mr. Smith, that service may not be coming anytime soon.
DAN RAYBURN: Some people have this notion and this misbelief that, hey, one day, someone's going to come along, like Apple, and they're just going to aggregate everything into one platform.
SYDELL: Dan Rayburn is a principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan, who follows digital media. There will be more streaming services launching later this year, including one from Disney, with all its entertainment and hits from Marvel, "Star Wars" and Pixar. And AT&T, which owns Time Warner and the rights to Harry Potter.
RAYBURN: These major corporations like Disney, they want to have the direct-to-consumer relationship with the consumer. They don't want to go through a third-party. They don't want to go through another platform.
SYDELL: Amanda Lotz, a professor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, thinks it's a golden age.
AMANDA LOTZ: In one household, you may decide that you need these services. In the next household, they may be entirely different.
SYDELL: Lotz says customers are experimenting, too. Many subscribe to a service to watch one particular show and cancel the subscription when it's over. Sometimes, they can just buy a show a la carte.
Some experts don't think this hodgepodge of services is going to last. Mark Suster is a venture capitalist who's been investing in online video for over a decade. He thinks we're in one of those moments of explosive growth, like the early Internet days, when a lot of companies are fighting it out for dominance. Over the next few years, Suster believes many services will spend a lot on content to woo customers.
MARK SUSTER: And after they realize that they're not winning the race, you'll see a lot of those people exit and consolidate around the winners.
SYDELL: Some people might actually welcome consolidation. Alexa Conway is a 70-year-old retiree on a fixed income who lives in the Pacific Northwest. She has Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. She canceled her cable subscription to save money and put up an antenna to get local TV stations. She's a fan of the Denver Broncos. On cable CBS, she got all their games. She says now she would have to subscribe to CBS's streaming service All Access to watch them all. She spoke over Skype.
ALEXA CONWAY: And it really, really offended me. I just thought, you know, there is enough to do if I want to sit in front of the TV and binge that I don't need to pay yet another service.
SYDELL: The kind of anger Conway is feeling may be having an unexpected impact. For the first time in many years, there's growth in online piracy of film and TV. Some experts believe it may be because fans are getting sick of paying for yet another streaming service. Laura Sydell, NPR News.
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