September 25, 2012.
The snacks were laid out on the coffee table, the IPAs were popped and the rental was paid. It was time to watch Marvel’s The Avengers on the first day it was downloadable from iTunes. On it came. Almost. The black screen of doom informed us that it would take 18 hours to download.
The next evening, we tried again. The Avengers was on just long enough to get to an opening scene of Tony Stark doing some underwater welding. “Is that Aquaman?” said the already-skeptical wife. The movie froze solid, five minutes in, staying that way for the rest of the evening. At this point, the wife wanted vengeance herself.
Downloadables left consumers with the familiar frustration of a show crashing in its first or—even worse—last 10 minutes, with screen freezes and spinning asterisks, or yet another apology in cruel white sans serif type. For more than two decades, visionaries told us streaming television was the future of TV. By the time it was unveiled, on-demand video was so buggy that it was hard to credit the claims.
But this summer, the bugs are at last almost all gone, and streaming video offers much of what cable previously supplied. The innovation could be called “TV A la carte”—the experience of watching multimedia content untethered to a cable provider.
Los Gatos’ Netflix, which introduced so many to this kind of viewing, claims that what we all watched for the previous 60 years—”linear television,” they call it—is on its way out. According to Time magazine, Netflix’s downloads suck down one-third of Internet traffic. Already, more consumers watch television through an Internet connection than through a cable or satellite service. A reliable Internet hookup—a necessity for anyone trying to make a living in Northern California—provides a huge amount of film and television content for a relative pittance.
Americans are now discontinuing cable in favor of a $7.99 Netflix subscription, with perhaps another $7.99 subscription for Hulu Plus, and maybe a third $99-a-year subscription for Amazon Prime, whose original programming includes the Emmy-winning Transparent.
For golden-age studio fans, Warner Archive Instant, at $9.99 per month, offers one of the newest and most tempting Internet channels. Here are loads of Pre-Code, vintage anime and musicals. Last month, HBO finally abandoned its cable-only model for HBO Now—a $14.99 monthly subscription to get Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley and True Detective without paying Comcast. It’s possible to subscribe to all of them and still save money compared to cable.