The next frontier of visual content in your home will likely star some familiar faces.

“Who’s going to be the big streaming services in 10 to 20 years? It’s going to be the same big four media companies that have typically dominated everything else in the United States, and Amazon,” said Jimmy Ivory, a professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Communication.

Ivory, whose research focuses on the social and psychological dimensions of new media and communication technologies, predicts that group will include:

  • Walt Disney, which includes ABC, ESPN, and Hulu, as well as the rights to properties like Star Wars and the Marvel Universe.
  • Paramount Global, which was formerly known as ViacomCBS and includes Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, and Comedy Central.
  • Warner Bros. Discovery, which includes HBO, Turner Broadcasting, Discovery, and CNN.
  • Comcast, which includes Xfinity and NBCUniversal, which includes the USA Network, the NBC news networks, and Universal properties.

With the exception of Amazon, which Ivory believes has enough diversified interests to also survive, the reason companies will rise to the top is simply – they own the stuff people want to watch.

“You’re the king if you own the content,” Ivory said. “Disney+ showed that. The day they opened; the landscape was totally different.”

Ivory said the expansion of streaming services during the last decade follows the general pattern of new technology. No matter how perfected the innovation, it typically doesn’t become widely successful until people are ready to embrace it.

“A lot of times when we see technology change the world it has a lot more to do with what we are doing in our living rooms and what’s being sold to us than the technology itself,” Ivory said. “The story with streaming technology is it failing at first with most of the content non-mainstream stuff, like pornography, and then catching on with certain users before breaking through to the masses.”

Ivory said the growth in popularity has both helped create and benefitted from the shift from people enjoying content together and at the same time to largely doing so alone and on their own schedule. Streaming has also been greatly enabled by the increased accessible to broadband internet and the availability of streaming services on non-traditional screens, such as tablets and smartphones.

The early growth of many streaming companies was largely due to their ability to stream other companies’ content. This created large mix of service providers ranging from new companies, like Netflix, to more traditional content producers, such as HBO and Paramount. That trend, however, is drastically changing.

“Streaming, during the last few years, has suddenly become worth big companies’ time because everybody has decided to stop paying their cable bills,” Ivory said. “Those companies control most of the stuff that’s been on anybody’s screen in the last century and now they’re starting to gobble it back up.”

So, what does the shifting landscape mean for the average consumer? Ivory predicts:

Added convenience and affordability

“It’s going to get easier to navigate. We’ll finally get back to the point where it’s easier to find out where something is, and I think it will become cheaper too. I’m personally not sure if convenience at the price of diversity of ownership is a good thing, but it’s happening.”

More advertising

“Using advertising to subsidize revenue has been the American broadcast media model since Westinghouse used advertising to drive radio,” Ivory said. “We’re already seeing that a lot with streaming, where what was once a premium service without advertising is now a streaming service with advertising.”

More consolidation of services

“Already a lot of services are brokered through certain platforms, like having a Showtime subscription through Amazon or Hulu. But it’s not only that these are the biggest media companies who can leverage ownership of content to take over other media companies, but they can also tie subscriptions to your phone contract or to you ordering underwear to your house.”

Struggles for those in the middle

“There’s less and less of a place for people trying to rent or buy other people’s media to stream to you, and that’s where we’re going to see some interesting stuff happen with companies like Roku and Netflix who serve has as a middleman. We’re already starting to see that with Netflix, who is slowly becoming sort of an indie arthouse film repository. Netflix has been very successful with some original content, but has also deliberately stifled some of its own most popular series to the detriment of its own content vault—and this will likely be painful for Netflix in the future as competitors continue to pull their own content back.

More traditional services fade away

“Cable will likely follow the path of the landline phone. There’s very little reason for most people to have a landline in their house, and most people who do are probably over 50. Cable will get that way too. It’s a generational shift.”

By Travis Williams