Netflix? Amazon? YouTube? A surfer's guide to TV

Suddenly everyone wants to make quality telly. Confused? Log on with Sarah Hughes to the brave new viewing world

When the American remake of House of Cards arrived on Netflix in February, it was hailed as the future of television. Or at least television drama. Last week saw the launch of the company's second drama series, Hemlock Grove. And it's not just Netflix – everyone from Amazon to the BBC, from Sky to YouTube is scrambling to cash in on a broadcasting future that appears to be online and a world away from old-fashioned scheduled television. But what does it all mean for you, at home, scratching your head in front of the box?

What's the big deal with Netflix?

Netflix is the biggest online streaming service in America. It's been available in the UK since January 2012; for a flat rate of £5.99 a month you can access a library of 6,000-plus titles, including the most recent series of the critically acclaimed drama Breaking Bad. You can watch on most devices with an online connection. That said, Netflix don't have the latest DVD releases.

I already subscribe to Lovefilm, which does get the latest DVD releases – so what does Netflix offer that Lovefilm doesn't?

Netflix recently made headlines by developing original drama for television. The first, House of Cards, arrived last February (it's still available to watch). It was produced by David Fincher, who also directed the first two episodes, it stars Kevin Spacey, and was written by Oscar-nominated playwright Beau Willimon. They got through $100m making the series. Hemlock Grove was released last week, to be followed next month by the long-awaited new series of cult comedy Arrested Development and then prison drama/comedy Orange is the New Black.

House of Cards is a hit then …

Who knows? Netflix chooses not to release subscription details, although Ted Sarandos, the company's chief content officer, recently called it "the most watched thing on Netflix right now".

Why the fuss?

The classy talent involved, the money being thrown at the shows and the way they're being made. Horror king Eli Roth is behind Hemlock Grove, while Arrested Development, which reunites the old cast including Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi and Will Arnett, has a cult following. "We offer a different type of creativity because people aren't working under the same constraints, they don't have to worry about a pilot season or ratings … they have more freedom," explains Joris Evers, Netflix director of communications.

That's all very well, but how am I supposed to watch these shows?

It's up to you. Netflix released all 13 episodes of House of Cards and Hemlock Grove at once, and will do the same for Arrested Development, allowing viewers to "binge watch" the entire series over a weekend or spread it out over a month, or even two. But watch out for others who have seen more than you tweeting and Facebooking spoilers about these shows – that's one wrinkle with the watch-whenever-you-want credo.

Is anyone else offering the same sort of service?

Yes. Online retail giant Amazon has some original comedy pilots currently in production, most notably Silicon Valley comedy Betas from Michael Lehmann, the man behind pitch-black 1980s teen movie Heathers, and Zombieland, a spin-off from the cult film. It will also air pilots for six children's shows. All of them will be available on Lovefilm (which Amazon owns) in the UK. Sony's online streaming site, Crackle, recently aired the Jerry Seinfeld web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and if that all sounds too American, the BBC is also getting in on the act thanks to a production deal with US streaming service Hulu.

Hang on – is the BBC going to put original comedies and dramas online instead of on the telly?

Not quite – the production deal with Hulu saw the two companies co-produce the fourth season of The Thick of It and they have also worked together on the new James Corden/Mathew Baynton comedy The Wrong Mans. However, while that will air on Hulu worldwide it will be shown on BBC2 in the UK. "I can't see us putting an entire drama or comedy series online," says Victoria Jaye, head of BBC television content online. Hulu has, however, worked with BBC3 to create a series of short films, which will air exclusively online.

I keep hearing about YouTube …

YouTube's idea is slightly different. The video-sharing website allows users to create their own "channels", essentially the home page for any user's account. The recent YouTube Original Channel Initiative saw Google plough $100m (£65m) into funding original content on the site.

How does that work? YouTube's just full of videos of cats doing silly things, isn't it?

If only. The YouTube Original Channel Initiative is supposed to move the site closer to a television station by funding professionally produced shows with original content. They've recruited a number of American celebrities, including Madonna. Among the best non-celebrity sites are sports show Grantland, which produces clever content that captures the witty feel of its sister website Grantland.com. In the UK, the news production company ITN has cleverly used the site to provide a rolling news service, a celebrity news channel, and last year launched Truthloader, a YouTube channel dedicated to citizen journalism. The company claims its content is viewed more than 35 million times every month.

And this is all free like the silly videos, right?

Yes, but that's about to change. YouTube recently announced it will be introducing paid channels costing between $1 and $5 a month (60p & £3). The company may also introduce some pay-per-view content.

If this is the future, should I just throw out my television and start watching everything online?

Not quite yet. But it's true that traditional broadcasting companies are investing more in their online services: Sky recently put series one and two of Game of Thrones on its catch-up service, Sky Go, and is increasingly making both its back catalogue and its older US imports available on demand. ITVPlayer and 4onDemand offer a mix of programming new and old, while the BBC is to launch a number of programmes online ahead of its scheduled television broadcasts.

So, basically, I'll have more control over what I watch and how?

Sort of, yes. Provided you love American shows and are prepared to cough up for the pleasure.

'Hemlock Grove' is available on Netflix now. 'Arrested Development' comes to Netflix on 26 May

Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape