Comcast (CMCSA) became the latest company to throw its hat into the digital ring. It will offer existing cable subscribers access to streaming TV shows and movies through a new service called Streampix. Comcast is only charging existing customers $4.99 a month for the service; it will be included at no additional cost to those who bundle their cable, Internet access, and home phone service through the cable giant.
If you're already a Comcast subscriber, it will seem like a pretty good deal, assuming the content is decent. If not, then you'll need to weigh your options... and there are a lot of them to weigh.
Exclusivity is a Mixed Blessing
Video fans can't simply subscribe to the most convenient offering and expect that all of the available digital content will flow their way. No one subscription will be enough, particularly as streaming services begin to ramp up their proprietary offerings.
Take, for example, Lilyhammer, a gritty new mob-based series starring Steven Van Zandt. It debuted earlier this month. Don't check your local TV listings for showtimes. It's not available through broadcast channels. Cable and satellite television providers also aren't offering it through their growing collection of networks and premium movie channels.
Netflix (NFLX) is the only outlet for the show, and if you're looking for the Sopranos supporting star in a signature red Netflix DVD mailer you can fuhgeddaboudit. Netflix is only making the series available through its streaming service.
Lilyhammer is Netflix's first foray into offering exclusive streaming content, but it won't be the last. House of Cards -- starring Kevin Spacey -- will air later this year. The anxiously awaited fourth season of cult favorite Arrested Development will be introduced through Netflix next year.
It's not just Netflix playing for keeps with original content.
Two of the most popular streaming titles on Amazon.com's (AMZN) Prime Instant Videos service are Sky Pirates and I Think My Facebook Friend Is Dead. The movies shouldn't ring a bell. They didn't play at your local multiplex. There was no major studio bankrolling their release.
The movies are part of an "Amazon Studios" initiative to help young filmmakers produce flicks.
Over on Hulu, the TV-centric service is offering Battleground as its first original series. The sitcom dives into a Senate race in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Google's (GOOG) YouTube -- the world's most popular video-sharing site, though not a premium streaming service itself -- has spent the past few months lining up celebrities for exclusive programming.
Unique content is a great differentiator, but it's going to make it hard for video buffs to stay true to a single service if they see something compelling pop up on a rival platform.
Streampix hasn't gone public with any plans for exclusive content, but it's really just a matter of time. Comcast owns NBC Universal, and surely there are some forgotten pilots waiting to be dusted off for the cyberspace spotlight.
Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article, except for Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Netflix, and Amazon.com.