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Netflix, What Next for the King of Streaming?

28/01/2015 13:10 GMT | Updated 29/03/2015 10:59 BST

With over 50 million subscribers, 43 Emmy nominations and over 1 billion hours of content streamed every month, Netflix as a service has earned its right to be taken seriously by the television industry.

Clearly the days when our viewing habits were dictated by the television schedules are long gone, now it's all about on demand services and consuming media wherever, and whenever, we please.

Netflix has been at the forefront of this shift in the way we interact with our televisions, offering viewers an unprecedented quantity of content from one source, much of which had previously only been available by purchasing expensive movies from the likes of Sky or Virgin, or enjoying an old school DVD boxset.

But of course, for many, much content was (and still is) being viewed via illegal methods. In this internet age piracy is rife, with users streaming illegal content online, or downloading it for free, simultaneously breaking the law and contravening the intellectual property rights of the creators. Indeed, last year HBO's runaway success, Game of Thrones, achieved the dubious honour of becoming the first programme whose piracy numbers exceeded its official viewer ratings. Viewers - especially younger viewers - want to watch on demand, and the evidence seems to indicate that if they can't find what they want legitimately, they'll turn to piracy.

But, as Netflix has proven, most people are more than willing to access their content legitimately, as long as it's easily available. Netflix seem to realise what the film industry is reluctant to admit; potential customers are only ever a few clicks away from accessing content illegally. Another benefit for subscribers is that the audio and visual quality of content is of a good level - not always the case with pirated video.

This strikes a fine balance, between protecting the intellectual property rights of filmmakers and television producers, while providing a quality product to the consumer at an agreeable price. Netflix wants to work with creative industries to find a solution that works for everyone - content creators don't want their works stolen, and consumers want content quickly, without having to pay £10 or more to view just one movie. Services like Netflix provide a good go-between.

And so to the future, in such a fast paced media world, what does the future hold for Netflix, and streaming services generally? Well for one, its success both in terms of profit, and awards, has gained it many admirers within the industry. With this, naturally, competitors have emerged. None of them have challenged Netflix in any tangible way just yet, but I wouldn't bet against them doing just that. Why? Well, one of their competitors happens to be the biggest online retailer in the business; Amazon.

Netflix - at least for now - seems to hold a monopoly over online streaming, but Amazon (who some will assert are very successfully killing off the print book, thanks to their aggressively low e-book pricing) cannot be ruled out of any race. Their service, Amazon Prime Instant Video, has recently gained the rights to stream a number of HBO shows - the first time these programmes have been (legally) available online outside of HBO's own streaming service, HBO Go. One (perhaps slightly unfair) criticism of Netflix has been its failure to gain the rights to stream HBO programming.

This, in itself, could be a game changer. The aforementioned Game of Thrones is not yet available, but if HBO did decide to give Amazon the rights, this would be greeted with much fanfare, and bring in a lot of business for Amazon. And the kicker? Amazon Prime Instant Video allow users with a regular, non-subscription account to watch content (including that by HBO) absolutely free of charge at the expense of being shown adverts (as opposed to the monthly £6.99 fee charged by Netflix).

Luckily for Netflix, the HBO programmes that are currently available are those which many will have already watched, such as The Sopranos¸ Band of Brothers, and The Wire. However, undoubtedly their portfolio of shows will grow over time, showing ever more current content and driving subscriptions.

So, it will be interesting to watch the streaming industry's progression over the next year and beyond. As it emerges as a more and more viable method of providing media content to the masses, will Netflix retain its monopoly for much longer?

Wayne Beynon is an IP lawyer at Cardiff and London based law firm Capital Law: http://www.capitallaw.co.uk/