“Through the looking glass: envisioning new library technologies” streaming video services: future of information, future of libraries – Part 1

Published date02 December 2019
Date02 December 2019
AuthorPeter Fernandez
Subject MatterLibrary & information science
“Through the looking glass: envisioning new
library technologies” streaming video services:
future of information, future of libraries – Part 1
Peter Fernandez
This is the first part of a two-part
series on the lessons libraries can draw
from the emergence of streaming video
services. It builds on a recent column on
detailing how changes to infrastructure
of the internet, such as 5G and similar
technologies, are poised to create a new
platform on which the next generation
of technology will be built. Faster, more
robust internet speeds will enable new
kinds of information to be transmitted
online. This will fundamentally change
the way people interact with the
internet. Soon it will be possible for
unprecedented amounts of data to be
easily accessed by anyone with a
sufficient internet connection, with
implications for artificial intelligence,
interactive virtual reality experiences
and applications we cannot accurately
Predicting the implications of
transformative technology is
notoriously difficult. If the technology
is truly transformative, then its
implications are by definition beyond
our current understanding. Though we
cannot examine what the next
transformative technology is likely to
be, streaming video services offer an
ideal prism to explore what may come
next, as they were an integral part of the
last big transition in data-intensive
internet applications. That transition
also changed how people interacted
with information, as well as the
publishing and producing of that
information. Nevertheless, that
transition is not finished. Streaming
media is continuing to evolve in ways,
illuminating other aspects of the
technological and publishing landscape
that will be relevant to libraries. This
first column will lay the groundwork for
the evolution of streaming media,
focusing on Netflix as it transitioned
from a DVD company to a primary
producer of streaming digital content.
The heart of the matter: content
One of the core activities of a library
is selecting and obtaining content that
its users will value to make that content
accessible to their patrons. Although
libraries do much more than obtain
content, such as providing additional
services expertise and spaces, the basic
dynamic of obtaining content and
making it accessible remains a core
activity. To be meaningful, the content
must be of value to the library’s users,
even when that value may not be
immediately apparent. For example,
some books might have information
that is difficult to discover, and patrons
may only realize their value after a
recommendation from a librarian. Other
content might primarily be of archival
value, offering no immediate benefit to
many users, but be invaluable to the
higher ideals of the society. One way or
another, however, libraries aspire to
serve the needs of their community.
A similar dynamic is at play with
streaming video services. The goal of
these services is to have content that
their users value and to provide it in a
convenient way. Service providers
make recommendations to bring new
value to potentially overlooked content.
Their methods of obtaining and
distributing that content are quite
different. Most of the companies
leading in this area are for-profit and
without physical locations. They have
had to develop deep technological
expertise by transferring large, data-
intensive files to their consumers, while
making recommendations that inspire
their consumers to continue paying for
the service. Both similarities and
differences in the library and streaming
video service model can be enlightening
as we consider what the future of this
technology can tell us about
information sharing in the future.
To understand the future of
streaming services, however, it is worth
reviewing how we arrived at the present
A brief history of Netflix
Netflix started in 1998 as a company
that mailed DVD discs to consumers’
households. Once watched, consumers
returned the DVDs by mail and waited for
another to arrive. This allowed people
access to television shows and movies
without the inconvenience of travelling to
a physical location (Netflix’s history,
2018). Because Netflix operated by mail,
they were available to any consumer with
access to mail delivery. Because the
selection of material took place online,
catalog at their convenience. The lack of a
local, physical location also meant that
Netflix was able to offer more content
variety than the average movie rental
store. Together, this allowed them to
serve niche audiences, as well as
generalists. Over time, they were able to
gather a massive trove of information
about what their consumers wanted.
There are many reasons for the success
of this model, but in the context of
streaming video, most consumers did not
sign up for Netflix as a streaming service
at the beginning. The streaming video
options began as a relatively limited
bonus for those who subscribed to the
DVD delivery service (Netflix’s history,
2018). Because this content was not well
understood or valued, Netflix was able to
obtain exclusive rights to relatively high-
profile content for prices that, in
retrospect, were incredibly low. The most
prominent example of this is Starz, whose
16 LIBRARY HITECH NEWS Number 10 2019, pp. 16-18, V
CEmerald Publishing Limited, 0741-9058, DOI 10.1108/LHTN-09-2019-0060

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