Netflix a lone bright spot among a tech lull

With Google Glass and flopping and Apple remaining quiet, the streaming company is easily the most exciting technology story going right now.

Orange is the New Black: does "TV" get better than this?

Orange is the New Black: does “TV” get better than this?

For technology watchers, 2013 hasn’t exactly been an exciting year. There seem to have been more flops over the first seven months than hits, with a number of big companies either limping along or treading water.

There is, of course, Apple, which hasn’t done anything notable this year other than get nailed in court in the Great E-Book Conspiracy. That hasn’t stopped the rumour mill from churning – are cheaper iPhones on the way? How about ones with bigger screens? Yet, if a smartwatch is the sexiest thing we can expect from the company this fall… well, it’s going to be a boring end to 2013.

Google’s biggest headline of the year so far is the flopping of Glass, the augmented reality glasses that were supposed to transform the world but which actually came to be considered as cool as Bluetooth earpieces. Maybe these things morph into something cool as they iterate, but maybe not. And sure, the company announced a new Nexus 7 tablet and Chromecast streaming device on Wednesday and the Moto X smartphone will debut next week. But smartphones, tablets and media streaming devices? How 2011.

Facebook’s Home interface for mobile phones went pretty much as fast as it came while everything Microsoft has tried has failed, sometimes – like the whole Xbox One used games fiasco – in spectacular fashion. BlackBerry looks to be continuing its fall with new layoffs while even Samsung has sputtered with less-than-great sales of the Galaxy S4. And Amazon… well, it’s Amazon. Like the turtle, it’s taking the slow-and-steady approach to winning the race. The company has never made big bucks or huge splashy products, it’s just there, marching along inevitably.

What’s going on? Why are none of the big tech stalwarts doing anything exciting?

Wade Roush over at Xconomy had an insightful piece recently on how we’re in a lull period. He suggests that the three big tech power players of the past decade – Google, Facebook and Apple – may never again innovate like they have because they now have established businesses to protect. It’s the standard innovator’s dilemma, where previously disruptive companies can’t help but settle into a sort of status quo. The next revolutions will have to come from a new generation.

I kind of hope that’s true because the world, thanks to all this technology, has seen dramatic upheaval over the past decade. Google, Facebook and Apple have individually ushered in knowledge, social and mobile revolutions, and quite frankly, we haven’t made sense of them yet. Having a couple of years to catch our breaths would be great so we can figure out just what the effects of all this new stuff are, and whether we actually want all of it.

The next generation of technology firms are surely thinking about this. The next revolution may in fact turn all of that stuff on its ear.

In the meantime, there has to be something to get excited about, right? Indeed there is, and it’s not necessarily a technology company per se, but rather a media company that has technology at its core: Netflix.

How exciting is Netflix? Consider the week the company has had. It started off with a bunch of Emmy nominations for its exclusive series House of Cards and Arrested Development. The nods are television history in the making, marking the first time Netflix’s content has been nominated. Not bad for a company whose products don’t even have to be viewed on a television.

Netflix followed this up by announcing that Arrested Development helped it score 630,000 new U.S. subscribers, which was at the high end of its previous forecast of 230,000 to 800,000. The new customers helped significantly bump up its revenue and profits, yet still the news stories proliferated about how its stock went down because investors were expecting more.

How greedy are investors? Well, consider that Netflix’s stock began the year at $92 and it’s now around $260. If that’s not a trajectory to get excited about, I don’t know what is.

In the larger sense, what Netflix is doing is even more exciting. While the big U.S. broadcasters worry about Aereo, the startup company that re-streams broadcast TV over the internet, Netflix is becoming a huge broadcasting force right in front of them. It has probably already crossed the threshold where it can be considered its own channel, with several excellent exclusive series and a whole catalog of other content. And the most important part is, it’s reasonably priced. Anecdotally, my wife and I are watching it more and more – I’d say we use it for about three-quarters of our viewing.

Netflix is fast transitioning from being a challenger to a leader – wouldn’t it be funny if it went from a handful of Emmy nods this year to domination next year? It’s going to be exciting to watch how everyone else falls in line while Netflix redefines what “television” is.

Of course, as all the companies mentioned at the beginning of this post can attest to, there will inevitably come a day when Netflix too becomes a dog. We should enjoy the ride while it lasts.

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4 Comments on Netflix a lone bright spot among a tech lull

  1. Well, well, well. Do not forget Nokia and its Lumia 1020 smartphone with 41MP camera. This device is getting rave reviews as a first true two-in-one hybrid of point-and-shoot quality camera and a smartphone in smartphone form factor. The device uses the 41MP sensor to produces nearly loss-less very high quality 5MP images for regular consumption, both in daylight and low-light conditions, so we are not talking about just some gimmick here.

    So there is innovation out there, but not by the regular, currently leading players…

    • A phone that takes better pictures? What will they think of next?!?

      Sorry for the snark. ; ). That’s cool, but not too exciting and hardly revolutionary.

  2. Marc Venot // July 25, 2013 at 1:38 pm // Reply

    Youtube is now more than one quarter of the internet traffic even if it’s inaccessible in China.

  3. I love Netflix and i am seriously considering dropping cable tv altogether. For basic, which is more ads and junk than actual content, the cost for me is $27.76. Really not worth it during the summer as the shows are terrible and i’m def’ NOT watching ‘bachlorette’ or big brother.
    By dropping the extra chanels my total bill has gone from $177.65 to $119,28.
    My puter high speed costs $89.26 and i cringe every time i see that on the bill, but i do love my puter.
    I sitll remember using an aerial on the chimney and car companys paid for people to watch tvs.
    I started watching more YouTube after watching “What Happened to the Electric Car’.
    We really dont need tv do we:}.
    All i need is the wire going from my puter to the back of my old sanyo tv.

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