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The End Of Live TV? (As We Know It)

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Will ‘On Air’ for some soon just be ‘Online’?

Some time back I wrote about the nature of Live Linear TV and how that continues to evolve into a better interactive experience. My assessment was that it won’t necessarily die out the way Ted Sarandos predicted. You can read the article here but I did promise to discuss how actual Live TV broadcasts are being impacted by competitors and substitutes.

Just to set the context, Live Linear TV (or just Linear TV as some call it) is a continuous broadcast of scheduled content and it may contain News or Sports-related Live Events broadcast from a venue (though it’s never really live since some countries provide censorship control and it could be delayed several seconds). So while Live Linear TV  is still a relevant proposition, it is fascinating to see how the two contrasting event types are being impacted differently via online viewing.

Suffice to say, everyone knows who’s performing better. Sports is still one of the kings of content. NFL and Premier League viewing continues to be rated premium in the eyes of consumers who are vested in the idea of the interaction but prefer the lean-back view and auditory sensations. NBC Sunday Night Football was the first sports program to take the top spot of most-watched programs on US network television. And it has held that spot for three years running to 2016. Likewise, the Superbowl itself has dominated the past three years with a 110+ million viewership statistic.

Twitter did surprise many when it signed a USD10 million, 10-game NFL venture — the biggest in a slew of summer deals it signed with sports leagues, including MLB, the NBA and NHL — is likely the beginning of what will eventually become a major shift in how sports are consumed, experts say. I’m not so sure. But I don’t think the networks are shivering in their boots about this.

By contrasts, news could be struggling to stay relevant in its context. The legacy of the studio-bound newsroom watching events unfold from afar (often with a correspondent) seems too formal for viewers who want to be ‘in the moment’. With a smartphone camera and internet connectivity, Citizen Journalism is creating eye-witness moments that are disturbing, yet eerily intriguing. Combine hardware with a social media (eg. Facebook Live/Periscope) and suddenly you have a hungry audience waiting to log on when something happens live. And what is that doing to TV news broadcasts?

For now, it doesn’t seem to be such a threat. MSNBC revealed viewership growth for the week ending 6th February this year, as captured by Nielsen. The cable network reported +78 percent growth year-on-year. Similarly, Fox Business Network posted a +58 percent increase year-on-year. Is it Donald Trump attracting the headlines with his new government or are just more people tuning in to news? The NYT times seems to agree, by the way, with their report here.

Despite that, my prediction is that news channels are still under threat and will continue to evolve and embrace more citizen journalism. The notion that sometimes, citizens have better access to breaking news means mandating ways to incorporate that into their digital strategy. Whether it be Facebook Live or other outlets, it need not matter. But the statistics of FB Live speak for themselves. Buzzfeed’s countdown to the US presidential election generated over 862,000 shares and 55 million views. If that wasn’t enough, the Atlanta Buzz report on people giving police officer hugs garnered 967,000 shares and 38 million views. Even simple live casting of the NBC News electoral map update drew in 271,000 shares and 36 million views. The Facebook TV app just announced is another step towards making live video easily accessible to its users.

So while Twitter does the unthinkable and launches an app for Apple TV just to make sports viewing more social, the onus really is on OTT news services to step up before they become irrelevant. They can either work with our without social media, but in the end social media might just put them out of work instead.

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