Nextflix: Who Could Take the Streaming Video Crown?

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If Netflix does, in fact, continue its slow implosion and disappear into the coldness of internet irrelevance, one question seems to be left unsaid: Who will take over where it left off? Who profits from Netflix’s demise the most?

According to Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne, cable and satellite companies should be celebrating right now. Describing Netflix’s stock collapse as “a day in the sun” for those companies, Swinburne writes that “Netflix’s subscriber slowdown and escalating content costs are a source of relief,” singling out Dish Network as the company with most reason to be cheerful:

“In the case of Dish, an emerging competitor to Netflix, Netflix’s execution missteps possibly open the door for Dish’s Blockbuster offering to take share.”

That’s arguably true, but in order for it to really make an impact, it would need to be available to those who aren’t already Dish subscribers. Without that, the Blockbuster Movie Pass is just a very nice value add to a package centered around the cords that people are always being rumored to want to cut.

(MORE: Cheat Sheet: How Bad Are Things for Netflix?)

The real question is, who will be the next Netflix, offering everyone the chance for streaming video on demand to computers, mobile devices and the like without the need for a cable connection? Here are some possibilities, and just how far from that dream they currently are.

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I know, I know; I dismissed them above, but the fact is, they’re the company closest to being prepared to take over from Netflix right now. Yes, the Blockbuster Movie Pass—4,000 online streaming titles, with 100,000 titles available by mail and an additional 3,000 via cable video on demand—is only available to Dish subscribers currently, but a standalone package is already in the works. If the math can be made to work out, this could be either a serious contender for Netflix or, dependent on price and selection, the thing that everyone jumps onto to replace it.

Rumor has had Amazon preparing to launch its “European Netflix” subsidiary Lovefilm, in the U.S. since August, but the company has remained very careful about even coming close to commenting on the subject, and its own recent profit fall and suggestion of an operating loss for the next quarter may have put an end to any such plans. But it’s worth remembering that, between Lovefilm and Amazon Prime, the company already has two pretty important pieces they’d need to launch a Netflix of their own in the U.S. sooner rather than later. All they’d need would be to extend some of their existing content licenses and buy some more servers.

(MORE: Amazon-Owned Netflix Rival to Launch Streaming Service in U.S.?)

Google, of course, has YouTube for its video needs, but there’s something missing there, somehow. YouTube feels as if it exists for short-form videos instead of longer-form material, despite the fact that you can rent movies there. Considering that YouTube is already available on multiple platforms, it’s possible that the thing that’s keeping it from seriously competing with Netflix and its ilk—other than selection and content licenses, of course—is perception. YouTube just isn’t the same thing, even though it could be. It’s something that I think Google is aware of, considering the rumored “big plans” they had for Hulu back when it was a possibility that Google might buy the site. They’re clearly looking at video on demand and wondering how to make it work, and given the success they’ve had in almost everything else they’ve turned their hand to, I wouldn’t bet against them doing well with this, eventually. Well, unless they call it Google Buzz II.

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I can’t quite shake the feeling that Apple just doesn’t want to be in this business. I mean, yes, they were reportedly in the running for Hulu, and yes, there’s that whole Apple TV thing, but doesn’t anyone else think that, if Apple was serious about making something like this work, it could have done it a long time ago? The infrastructure is there, surely—both technically and in terms of relationships with content providers—from iTunes and the ability to not only buy movies and television shows, but subscribe to and/or rent them. Similarly, Newsstand and iBooks show that if Apple wants to move into a particular space, it’s perfectly able to do so. So is the lack of an Apple Netflix competitor simply down to Apple not wanting to go in that direction just yet? And if so, how long until the company changes its mind?

And here’s the wild card. It’s nowhere near the scale of Netflix yet, but it has the potential, and some level of brand recognition already. With its particular corporate parentage—News Corp/Fox, Disney/ABC and Comcast/NBC Universal—it also has a lot of content already waiting to be streamed, and it has the same website/app format that Netflix does. Now that Hulu isn’t up for grabs anymore—and who’s to say that it being removed from the market wasn’t a sign that its owners suddenly realized what they had in their hands all along?—does it stand a chance of finally growing up and making a serious bid for Netflix’s crown? Possibly, but it’ll need to suffer through some growing pains first, including convincing enough subscribers that the paid Hulu Plus service is worth their time and money, and demonstrating its own value to other content providers, especially the movie studios.

(MORE: Hulu Reaches 1,000,000 Paid Subscribers Early)

The Others
These aren’t the only options, of course; who’s to say that Netflix won’t find itself usurped by a company that no one’s really taking seriously just yet (or that doesn’t even exist yet)? Skype Founder Janus Friis’ Vdio, for example, stands a good chance of making it, and just for sheer tenaciousness alone, I can’t bring myself to discount Yahoo!’s “Screen” project.

There are also things like Facebook rentals for TV shows and movies—something I don’t take too seriously, in part because I think that a time-based subscription fee for unlimited usage is the model people prefer, instead of paying per usage, and also because I don’t like to spend that much time on Facebook personally, and therefore assume that no-one else would either.

And there are seemingly-dead-in-the-water resources like Zediva to consider, but the one final option for being the next Netflix is probably Netflix itself. After all, the company isn’t dead yet despite forecasts and suggestions in that direction. What if it can resurrect itself, and find some magical way to satisfy content providers, subscribers and shareholders all at once? Stranger things have happened, and if there’s one thing anyone in the media business loves, it’s a good comeback story.

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