The Battle of Hastings

So, Reed Hastings, boss of Netflix, has aimed his bow and arrow at linear TV. Hastings thinks Netflix is the only future for TV and film consumption: on-demand and via broadband. Bye-bye channels. On Radio 4’s The Media Show he boldly predicted the end for ‘traditional TV’ as consumer behaviour evolves. I was invited on to respond; I disagreed then and I disagree now.  A few days later, in The Guardian, he plucked another arrow from his quiver and again loosed it at linear TV, comparing it to ‘the landline of 20 years ago’, Netflix being the mobile phone.

It maybe hadn’t occurred to him that Netflix won’t work well in homes without a landline, but, that aside, he is aiming at the wrong target. It won’t be linear TV cowering behind its shield but more likely competitor on-demand subscription services like Lovefilm and the DVD rental industry.

Netflix is another infant in the ever-expanding TV family and I’ve no reason to doubt its business model; it has proven popular in the US.  It will offer TV companies some extra revenue out of the long-tail of their content.  And it’s starting the right way in the UK with a substantial TV advertising campaign. Cheers, Mr Hastings. My issue is merely with its contention about the future of linear TV.

Linear TV is in excellent health. Last week we announced BARB’s latest figures which show that linear TV viewing in 2011 matched the record 4 hours a day average that was set in 2010.  This record has been reached during a time when on-demand TV services have proliferated. On-demand services have not dented linear viewing and are unlikely to do so; there is too much evidence that most people like watching live TV most of the time.  There is something very seductive about real-time events, as YouTube is now understanding with its own launch of scheduled channels.  In fact it seems TVOD encourages more linear viewing as it’s used primarily to catch-up with linear TV.

Even if more TVOD starts to be consumed when it arrives properly on the main TV set, the schedule will still be the single biggest influence on what is watched on-demand.  Deloitte put it beautifully in its recent ‘Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2012’ when, talking of how the TV schedule continues to dominate and how technology has made it stronger, they pointed out about on-demand that ‘choice is cherished, but choosing is a chore’.  Why?  Because, like a restaurant without a menu, TV without trusted channels leaves people feeling stranded and confused; search and recommendation will help but will not be enough.

And it’s worth saying that I have no vested interest in whether linear or TVOD predominates; TV companies are able to monetize programmes equally well, whatever the format.

We do want on-demand TV, but as a convenient and supplementary choice to our linear TV, not as a replacement. The time we spend watching on-demand TV is not currently replacing the time we spend with linear. If it is taking time from anywhere, it’s from reading newspapers and magazines – or even updating your social media pages.

Linear TV is fighting fit, partly because of TVOD, and channels are here to stay. Unless Netflix can create a new type of human, it will not give one in the eye to linear TV.  Netflix will just become one more part of TV’s rich tapestry – Bayeux or otherwise.

  • Tess Alps
    Tess Alps
    Chair, Thinkbox
  • Posted under
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