Why Live Linear Streaming is still King
Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos controversially said in October 2015 that, in 10 years time, he felt linear TV will be dead. Surprisingly, the response to that was muted except for certain observers like nscreen Media which posted an analysis to the contrary. The publication rightly pointed out that recent Pure Play OTT services that have launched with a heavy linear focus, showing it is still a valid proposition (in the context of this post, I’ll be referring it as ‘live linear’ since non-live channels that are programmed from a VOD playlist, do exist).
The industry trend has been to also introduce ‘lite’ OTT packages that actually focus on live linear streaming, catering to potential ‘cord-never’ customer segments. And don’t forget that TV Everywhere services still get great audience engagement from the linear channels that are streamed out – people want to watch TV on the go almost as much as they watch time-shifted content (from my personal working experience anyway).
But back to the Pure Play examples. These include Sling TV which was launched by parent company Dish TV, offering a variety of linear channels from Pay TV providers. Another giant weighing in is Sony Corp with Playstation Vue, which offers a large variety of linear channels as well. Both services also provide VOD content.
Pluto.TV with lots of live linear and play-listed channels to choose from, and each with its own programmed schedule, is also making waves. The company just announced 20 new channels from content providers such as IGN, The Onion, Legendary Digital Networks, Newsy and World Poker Tour. In Europe, France’s highly anticipated Molotov service promises over 100 free and paid channels contained within a stunning user interface. It’s the latest to be launched and it definitely won’t be last.
Next year Hulu is promising a new live streaming-plus-on demand bundle designed for the younger generation. According to several reports, Hulu is negotiating with the various studios and content owners to stream ESPN, Disney Channel, Fox News, FX and others.
So it is hard to believe – from the current trend – that linear viewing is dying. The problem has not been that live linear is out-dated, live linear as we know it has not evolved into the interactive, intelligent lean-back experience it could potentially be. The Pure Play providers are proving it.
Sadly, broadcasters are still struggling to hold on to terrestrial viewing and the all-important revenues they derive from it. Many are holding on to their golden geese of premium live sports, news channels and exclusivity. There’s no denying that these continue to represent the main reasons why people won’t churn away from TV so easily. Many broadcasters are grappling with ways to monetize TV Everywhere, especially if they are AVOD-based. It’s a constant battle to keep CPMs up.
But they should not ignore the huge potential being afforded to live linear streaming, with its ability to offer targeted advertising and interactivity. Initiatives like HbbTV promise a set of standards that result in the best of terrestrial viewing with broadband-based interactivity (ranging from companion device pairing to multi-audio and subtitling). However, the ‘h’ stands for hybrid and that is what it is: a transient state. A compromise that leverages legacy technology. Ultimately, terrestrial TV’s limitations mirrors a decaying castle under siege. At some stage it will simply give in. A fully connected world delivers too much potential to be ignored. The problem is that we don’t know when this utopian state will happen. We know that it will happen though.
Ted Sarandos was representing an iconoclasts view of the world. Ironically, Netflix has become an icon of SVOD in the way broadcast was, and still is, to the Baby Boomer generation. It’s premature to share his ebullient views but we know that live linear has a valuable place at the moment.
In my next post, I’ll even talk about why I think these two bastions of live – sports and news – are under threat. But for now, broadcasters can still breathe a little easier.