The traditional television model has been under assault for quite some time. Everything seems to want to cut into the TV pie, from mobile devices to programming services like Netflix. Ratings continue to go down for even the most popular programs and sports. Even so, viewers still clamor for many of the offerings from TV networks. But if people are still interested in the content TV networks provide, why are fewer and fewer tuning in?
The current problem with TV is that it is cable packages are an expensive all-or-nothing deal, whereas most offerings in our current economy come a-la-carte. Traditional TV still uses the “network stream” model where they stream content on one channel and interrupt it with commercial breaks. The problem with this model is that you are paying for things you ultimately don’t watch. Maybe you only want to watch Comedy Central or specific shows on the major networks. As anyone with a subscription already know, you can still be ready to pay for an additional 100 channels that you will never realistically watch.
What people want is an easy-to-use, integrated system to view their content, and they want it on demand. They don’t care where the content comes from or even how they receive their content.
Could the solution be apps for your TV channels and even individual programs? Let’s take a look at both sides and see where video may be headed in the future.
Our Relationship with Media Has Changed
Content has been democratized. Instead of being able to watch what the TV networks broadcast live, now you can choose to watch video content at different times due to DVR, on-demand content, or internet-based viewing. You can watch live streamed content from Facebook Live, Snapchat, YouTube, and other platforms. Plus, more people have the power to create content now, thus creating competition for traditionally produced TV shows.
The digital age has brought about an enormous convergence of media options and blurred the lines between producer and content. People are not bound to the whims of TV executives. Also, the content is not as connected to the producer as years prior. ESPN is an excellent example. While people used to watch their continuous programming for hours waiting to see sports highlights, now the highlights can be easily found online.
Nowadays, people now don’t seek out the producer, they seek out the content itself. That’s why many entertainment companies are trying to grab hold of the distribution funnel since, of course, they want their content to continue to be associated with the producer.
The Argument for TV Apps
Back in 2015, Tim Cook rolled out the newest version of Apple TV and claimed that this was “the future of television.” Instead of focusing on programming services, Apple decided to pioneer boldly into the world of apps. Networks like CBS and NBC, reticent to join before, enthusiastically joined the Apple TV lineup. Why? The networks realized that they could reach cord-cutting audiences by offering their channels through streaming devices.
There are several arguments in favor TV apps, but the main draw is that apps provide you the opportunity to pay only for what you consume. Most people don’t watch even a quarter of what they pay for via cable companies. If you don’t put in a lot of hours watching TV, then it would be prudent to cut down and use apps of networks you watch regularly. TV apps also allow you to be mobile. You can stream a show on the bus, at a friend’s house, and from an airplane.
Companies like Apple could start offering individual TV shows for purchase as well. Instead of paying for the whole TV app subscription, you could pay for individual shows to the tune of $1 per show, theoretically. We’re already seeing a version of this come to fruition with iTunes purchases, but it could progress even further to offer new shows unaffiliated with major networks. This would be the ultimate version of a-la-carte TV.
The Problem with TV Apps
A huge problem with app-based viewing is that, at some point, there will be too many options flooding the market. With the extraordinary success of Netflix, many other companies are pushing their way into the streaming TV market. Disney announced that they will be launching two separate streaming services in 2019: a kids-oriented movie and TV service and an ESPN sidekick service. Rather than cooperating with the services already in place, simply put, entertainment companies not only want to control profits from the creation of their content, but also control the distribution of the content as well.
The first problem is that it will be harder to find the things you want to watch. Instead of Netflix being able to purchase streaming rights and aggregate content from multiple networks, you’ll have each company or network create their own service. If you want to watch a specific show like Better Call Saul, Homeland, or The Expanse, you shouldn’t have to wade through each individual app (AMC, Showtime, and Syfy) in order to access it. This is what people love about Netflix.
The second problem is the price of all of these streaming TV apps will add up. An average cable bill is about $103 a month, whereas Netflix is about $10 a month. But if you go from having two subscribed services to about 10, it’s safe to assume you are paying just as much or more for apps as you did for cable.
What’s the biggest problem with TV apps? The most popular content on leading TV apps are from broadcast TV networks. Take a look at your Netflix and you’ll see that most shows you come across are from traditional TV. Even though original content from TV apps or streaming services is certainly up-and-coming, it still has a much more difficult time getting promoted than traditional TV content. New network TV shows can easily be cross-promoted with similar shows on network television to create new audiences.
Of course, the battle between apps and networks isn’t a zero-sum game. In 2015, the first couple episodes of The Expanse were released on YouTube and other streaming sites before officially premiering a few weeks later. This tactic generated a lot of buzz and showed how TV can easily leverage internet platforms, even if streaming services still have a difficult time leveraging traditional TV.
A New Challenge
The challenges for content creators are how to make better content, how to share the content, and how to make money from the content. The future of TV may or may not be apps. Currently, TV apps generally act as a gateway to the broadcast content many people still seek. As a general rule, the future of TV will be quality content across the board.
As the traditional TV model fades away, new opportunities in the video medium will emerge. Shows can become interactive, they can be displayed across multiple screens, there may be no need for commercials, and they can be shared instantly across social media. In other words, their quality rise will be necessity. Billions of new devices will be connected to the internet by 2020. That means more demand for engaging and quality content that is easily accessible. TV apps may provide options, but ultimately they will muddle an already saturated playing field.