The Internet has given us yet another method for finding and consuming audiovisual entertainment. The availability of fast broadband Internet service in the home (much of it via cable TV, and some via phone and satellite companies) has enabled the Internet to become a competitor of the more traditional television networks and services. You can even drop your cable subscription and still find tons of things to watch, although this often requires paying for new (albeit cheaper) subscriptions to services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime. Still, there are free venues like Crackle and YouTube.
Internet content can be watched on your computer monitor, or your smartphone, but there are also tons of set-top boxes that can stream it to your TV, such as the Roku box, most gaming systems and many DVD players. Traditional providers are also jumping on the online bandwagon by providing streaming options to subscribers, like Comcast's TV Anywhere or HBO's HBO Go, which require a cable subscription but allow you to watch otherwise inaccessible programming via computer and mobile devices. And traditional networks like ABC often let you stream their shows online, as well.
There is a growing trend of people cutting off cable and satellite in favor of the Internet, but the vast majority of U.S. households still subscribe to a multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) service. If you are addicted to staying current on the latest programming, it's not necessarily possible to cut the cord just yet without losing access to at least some of your favorite shows. But even if you continue to subscribe to more traditional TV, the Internet can also be used to greatly increase the amount of content available to you. Online services offer far more on-demand movies and older seasons of shows than you generally find in cable's video on-demand offerings.
As of early 2013, cable and satellite providers have the right to carry certain channels and the responsibility to carry others, and most Internet providers are blocked from providing a lot of their instantaneous content. But the FCC is considering changes to the definition of Multichannel Video Program Distributor that might possibly allow Internet-based TV content distributors to carry more channels. Such a change could result in many more viable choices than we currently have.
Online providers are getting creative, too. While previously, they simply licensed and made available existing TV and movie offerings, they are now starting to fund and create their own content, such as the upcoming "Arrested Development" season 4. It was a critically acclaimed Fox show that was canceled after three seasons, but Netflix decided to order more episodes for their streaming service.
Though most of the money and content is still in the major networks and cable/satellite providers, there may soon be a new sheriff in town. However, you might still be tethered to cable or satellite to provide the super high-speed Internet you need to view this content.
Check out our other countdowns of fascinating inventions from throughout history.