Americans love to watch TV. In 2014, the average American watched two hours and 49 minutes of TV every day, and that was up 3 minutes a day from the year before.
But the way we watch — or at least the way content is delivered — is shifting. Antennas gave way to cable television and a world of hundreds of channels, but another seismic shift is under way.
Over the past decade, there has been a surge in the popularity of programming delivered over the internet. Companies like Netflix, Inc. (NFLX), Hulu, Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) and Apple Inc. (AAPL) are no longer on the bleeding edge with their services — they’re on top.
According to a report released by Leichtman Research Group, in 2010 only 24% of U.S. households had a TV that was connected to the internet in some way. Today, streaming boxes outnumber cable TV set-top boxes and two-thirds of U.S households are watching video on their TV using an internet streaming service.
Tech giants like Amazon, Alphabet and Apple are jockeying for a way to dominate video delivery the way they came to dominate the music business. At the same time, content providers are leery and the same cable companies that stand to lose money over declining cable subscriptions own the pipes that connect homes to the internet. In other words, anything could happen.
But based on current trends, rumors and corporate strategies, here are the 10 ways you can expect to be watching TV in 2020.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Netflix
Don’t expect Netflix to go away any time soon.
Subscriber growth may be slowing, but the company that came to be synonymous with streaming video continues to add subscribers (currently at 81 million), and is now available in over 190 countries.
Netflix continues to push the boundaries of high fidelity video, including 4K and HDR, as well as a growing library of its own content, including shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This in-house content helps protect Netflix against any moves by content providers to pull back on licensing their videos.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Amazon Prime Video
Amazon is flying high and selling plenty of Amazon Prime memberships along the way. And with those Prime memberships comes Prime Video.
Not everyone who has a Prime membership uses Amazon’s video streaming service, but the company is working hard to change that.
Following a similar strategy as Netflix, it is offering an increasing number of self-produced shows and pushing the quality of streaming video by offering more 4K content.
Amazon Prime members also have the ability to “cut the cord” altogether by downloading some content (mostly original programming) to watch offline on their mobile devices, without an internet connection.
Amazon has also doubled-down on streaming video by releasing a series of popular streaming devices, including the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. You can expect Amazon Prime Video to be bigger than ever in 2020.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: YouTube Unplugged
Google’s YouTube got its start as the site for uploading and sharing video online.
It currently boasts over one billion users, and Google says that YouTube mobile alone reaches more 18 to 34 and 18 to 49 year-olds than any U.S. cable network.
The streaming service has expanded into online movie rentals and ad-free YouTube Red subscriptions. Reports also have it pursuing a bundled cable TV service called YouTube Unplugged that would let subscribers ditch their cable box altogether.
Look for YouTube to be a bigger player than ever come 2020, and a more serious threat to competitors like Netflix when it comes to replacing traditional cable TV.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Apple TV
Apple rewrote the book on selling music and it has been trying hard to recreate that magic with video.
Its Apple TV set-top box video streaming is in its fourth generation now, and while it faces tough competition from rivals like Amazon, the Apple TV remains one of the most popular video streamers.
Apple’s iTunes Store has a huge range of content available for purchase or rent, which is great for offline viewing and collectors, but not so good for people looking to replace their cable TV.
However, Apple is aggressively looking to change that, including pursuing partners for bundled live channels and dipping its toes into producing its own content.
With its deep pockets, a need to break into new lines of business and a determination to dominate the living room, look for Apple TV to be both a set-top box and a compelling video streaming service by 2020.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Hulu
As streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime get more popular and continue to push their own original programming, the Hulu partners might take the opportunity to grab market share by making some of the vast content library they control — decades of programming from television networks like NBC and ABC — exclusive.
Protecting the interests of Comcast, which takes a hit every time one of its cable subscribers cancels to switch to streaming, Hulu recently confirmed it would offer a bundled channel cable replacement service starting in 2017.
Cable channels and exclusivity could push Hulu to the forefront among streaming services by 2020.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Facebook
Although YouTube was traditionally seen as ground zero for video sharing, with links to the site posted on Facebook Inc‘s (FB) mobile and desktop platforms, Facebook is now starting to take over with an increasing number of videos and views (8 billion daily) on its own native video platform.
Facebook is popular with users on PCs, but is also a powerful mobile presence. And it knows more about its users than any other platform.
All of which makes Facebook an advertiser’s dream. As Forbes explains, this combination is “[b]ig and focused on where YouTube and Network TV are most vulnerable.”
Facebook’s video focus may currently be on sharing videos, embedding video content hosted by other sites and live-streaming video, but by 2020, you could also be counting on Facebook for your TV and movie-watching fix.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Game Console
Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) has two of the big pieces needed to make a splash in video streaming: millions of Xbox consoles attached to TVs in living rooms around the world, and its Azure cloud-computing platform.
Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t fare so well in access to mobile devices, and in 2014, it cancelled plans to begin producing its own video content.
Sony Corp (ADR) (SNE) has plenty of movies available to stream on its Playstation 4 — a nice side effect of owning the movie studio behind popular films like The Amazing Spider-Man — and produces hundreds of TV series. The company already offers Playstation Vue monthly streaming TV plans, with as many as 100 channels on tap.
However, even if (like Sony) you have the content and the service on tap, the trick is to get gamers to see their consoles as video-streaming hubs and then to get them to pay.
Even where the console manufacturers fall short, there are apps from popular streaming services like Netflix available.
Regardless of whether Playstation Vue ultimately makes a dent on the market or whether Microsoft has a change of heart on Xbox programming, by 2020 you can expect that millions of households will be routinely watching TV routed not through a cable box, but via their game console.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Mobile Video Streaming
Ten years ago, pretty much the only people who watched video while on the go were lugging around battery-powered, hand-held TVs that relied on an antenna to catch over-the-air signals, or parents playing DVDs for their kids on a portable DVD player.
LTE changed all that. Now, with the speed of LTE data and the popularity of streaming video, mobile service providers are offering streaming video services to their customers, like Verizon Communications Inc.‘s (VZ) Go90.
A convergence of factors — the ever increasing popularity of streaming video, smartphone display sizes that keep getting larger and sharper (all the better for watching video) and the upcoming 5G wireless standard (up to 100x faster than LTE) — mean that when you watch TV in 2020, there’s a good chance it will be on your mobile device.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Network Apps
While Apple and Google are maneuvering to put together channel bundles that replace traditional cable service, some networks have proven they can be successful in going solo with streaming.
The poster child for this is Time Warner Inc’s (TWX) HBO. The HBO Now app gives full access to HBO’s catalog of programming, without requiring a cable subscription that includes HBO.
The success of HBO Now could well lead to a flood of networks making their TV programming available exclusively through their own streaming apps as well, instead of licensing it to services like Netflix.
10 Ways You Will Watch TV by 2020: Oculus VR
Rounding out this list is an entirely new way to consume television programming. And it’s not just a different way of delivering the content, like streaming versus cable, but a futuristic shift in the programming itself.
With Facebook’s Oculus Rift now shipping and more companies piling on the VR bandwagon, demand is quickly rising for immersive, 360-degree video.
By 2018, it’s expected that 25 million of these VR headsets will have been sold, and that means a large and growing market of media consumers anxious for content. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that virtual reality TV shows are already in the pipeline.
If the VR experience lives up to its potential, those flat screen TVs currently dominating living room walls may be threatened by 2020, as families strap on their Oculus Rifts for an evening of watching TV.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.