TV is Dead, Long Live TV!

seinfeld-jerry“That people will only watch television like this in the future is so obvious,” Jerry Seinfeld said this week at the Hulu upfront event for advertisers in New York City.

Seinfeld was talking about streaming of course, and his message was clear: subscription VOD services like Hulu will render traditional, live, linear channels obsolete, much as TV did to network radio in the 1950s. Like Jack Benny and Burns and Allen – who moved from radio to TV more than half a century ago  today’s shows will transition from broadcast and cable origination to on-demand, and the viewers will follow.

Seinfeld can be forgiven for hyperbole, considering that he was likely giddy over the bags of money Hulu is dropping on his doorstep in return for exclusive streaming of all 180 episodes of his 1989-98 NBC sitcom. But I think he’s wrong.

There’s no doubt that the TV paradigm is shifting, in a way that fundamentally benefits the viewer. But I think there will always be a place for smartly curated linear channels, and a program airing tonight on the MeTV classic TV network demonstrates why.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 3.57.35 PMTonight, retro-centric MeTV is airing the finale of M*A*S*H, a 150-minute film that attracted more than 125 million viewers in its initial broadcast on CBS in 1983. While Netflix, the Goliath to Hulu’s David, streams M*A*S*H, they don’t have the rights to the bittersweet final episode (in which the 3-year-long Korean War finally ended after 11 TV seasons). Unless you want to buy a DVD (or view a pirated version), MeTV’s airing is the only legitimate way to watch the finale on your TV, just like 77% of Americans with TVs did the night it was first broadcast.

In addition, MeTV has reunited cast members Alan Alda (Hawkeye), Loretta Swit (Margaret Houlihan), Jamie Farr (Klinger), Gary Burghoff (Radar), Wayne Rogers (Trapper, who left the series in 1975) and members of the creative team to reflect on the series, and the record-breaking finale.

MeTV, a broadcast network available in more than 90% of the U.S. (usually as a digital sub-channel of an over-the-air local station) offers more than just a linear feed of TV shows you could watch on various streaming services. They also provide creative curation and inventive programming blocks (like classic superhero shows on Saturday nights) that appeal to both the Boomers and Gen X’ers who watched these shows in their initial broadcast, and their kids and grandkids who are enjoying them for the first time.

I love the convenience of streaming. It’s thrilling to have easy access to every episode of shows (and movies) I love, and have loved for my entire life. But, in a landscape where there’s so much choice, having everything can almost feel like having nothing. There’s no call-to-action, no immediacy, no reason why I should watch one thing over another right now. But perhaps more importantly, there’s no shared experience.

Linear networks like MeTV and Turner Classic Movies offer not just the curation of smart programmers, they provide an opportunity for lovers of niche programming to feel less alone. Twitter users have latched on to this, by tweeting along with live airings of TV shows and movies and creating their own communities. But even if you’re not tweeting, there’s something fundamentally validating in the knowledge that you’re not the only person watching an episode of Lost in Space at midnight on a Saturday. (No cracks please. I love that show).

Live broadcasts are also an opportunity to encourage sampling by channel-surfing new viewers, in a way that streaming will never offer.

But perhaps most importantly, a linear network means that someone else is doing the work for you. Because sometimes you just want to plop down on the couch and watch, not assemble your own custom lineup from across multiple streaming platforms (and I speak from experience, because I subscribe to pretty much all of them).

Will on-demand streaming be a dominant force in TV? No doubt. In a sense, it already is. But creatively curated linear programming will always be an important option. They call TV viewers couch potatoes, not couch amateur TV executives for a very good reason. Never underestimate the laziness of the American public.

television_watching

About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
This entry was posted in Classic TV, Contemporary TV. Bookmark the permalink.

78 Responses to TV is Dead, Long Live TV!

  1. Personally, I’m not a big fan of streaming TV shows. Firstly because we don’t have unlimited internet in our house and if we were to stream everything we watched, we’d quickly surpass our monthly data allowance. Secondly because there’s no excitement attributed to sitting down and watching episode after episode of a certain TV show. What happened to eagerly anticipating the weekly airing of your favourite TV show? When I was younger, I remember counting down to Tuesday nights when my favourite show (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) would air and that sense of excitement made the whole week worthwhile.

    There’s none of that anymore. I agree with what you said here: you have everything, and yet you have nothing.

    • willmckinley says:

      Great point Vanessa. Only 70% of the US has broadband, and some folks (like yourself) don’t have unlimited data allowances. For decades, it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor – everyone got the same TV. Today there’s a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to digital technology.

    • Night terror news says:

      I agree… it is the advertising buildup. But this generation wants quick fixes ….

  2. popegrutch says:

    As someone who neither streams nor watches TV regularly, I find the idea of a debate between them amusing. It seems to me that there is already an option for “live-streaming” that takes care of the ostensibly “communal” aspect of viewing. Since I couldn’t get the Oscars this year, I streamed the backstage show while working on my blog. In the future, they could opt to live-stream the entire ceremony, if they aren’t already doing it through some paid service. At some point, it will just be more effective to release new material via the Internet first, and there won’t be any reason to hold it in reserve for broadcast, as in the case of the MASH finale.
    Radio still exists, too, if you hadn’t noticed. There will no doubt be a place for some kind of broadcasted TV in the future, but that doesn’t mean it will have an important place in many people’s viewing schedules.
    I actually think that the model for the future is the Kinetoscope: everyone watching tiny, short bits of media independently on tiny screens, and paying for each little hit. Maybe Edison was right after all.

  3. Observer says:

    How much, and what experience you choose to have will be in part dictated by cost as well as how much free time one has to watch. For a while we had both Dish Network for television with a medium-level package (pretty broad but no high-end like HBO), for which we were paying at the time around $60/month. Add the Time Warner Internet at about another $68/month, plus the Netflix subscription (we have both streaming and disc), and pretty soon it doesn’t take a lot to see that you’re spending a lot, for how much can you really watch anyway? For the most part we ended up watching streamed programming as we’re so fond of television commercials (NOT). It finally got to the point of asking ourselves “why are we paying $60/month for a service we’re not even using?” So we pulled the plug on Dish, saving a few bucks, and feel we have a better quality of television, at least via Netflix sans commercials. Hulu’s a different case, of course, but their commercials aren’t as obnoxious as what you see on broadcast TV and there are fewer of them.

  4. I’ve streamed from Netflix when they’ve had shows I wanted to watch, and I catch The Daily Show and the Nightly Show on Hulu the next day because I’m usually asleep when those shows air. Some shows, like certain anime, I can only get through streaming. And while I enjoy the convenience of streaming and the shows offered through that medium, I do love watching shows live. For one thing, it’s a great way to unwind at the end of the day. Not only that, but it’s great to watch a show as it airs for the first time and laugh or cry or gasp in shock with everyone else. You can’t get that with streaming.
    Besides, the commercial breaks give me time to work on whatever story I’m writing while I wait for the show to come back. Can’t do that with streaming, not even with Hulu ads.

  5. segmation says:

    I still love my cable. I wonder how long cable will stay? Thanks for this great post!

  6. sweetsound says:

    I only watch TV through streaming. I prefer to binge-watch a season of something across a week or two, and when I catch up, then I eagerly await the next weekly release of an episode… on the internet. I see what you’re saying about being able to channel surf, but I don’t think the need to channel surf (vs watch something you want when it’s convenient for you) is strong enough across america to keep traditional TV alive. Everything else mentioned in this article, such as viewers being able to find new things to watch, will be achieved via other means. I give traditional TV maybe 20 years tops. But probably less.

  7. Live Long TV!! Cable Rocks.. Thank for sharing this Post.

  8. What if a streaming service offered curated options, like Beats Music does with music? What are your thoughts on that?

    • willmckinley says:

      Excellent point. I’m essentially delivery medium-agnostic. If I can get a favorite linear broadcast or cable channel as a standalone streaming option via Roku, that’s fine with me. This is not about a preference for cable, broadcast, or traditional delivery methods. It’s more about my fundamental respect for the art of TV programming, my enjoyment of the sense of a community a niche-oriented channel can create, and the joy I feel in sitting on the couch and watching my favorite channel.

  9. My mom hated the tv show “Seinfield.” My called the Seinfield show “Infidel.”

  10. susielindau says:

    I haven’t heard of “MeTV,” but will check it out. I am binge-watching Homeland and love being able to watch shows when I have time. It’s less stressful.
    Congrats on your FP!

  11. somuchjarrad says:

    My biggest problem with streaming is my lack of willpower, I end up getting nothing done because I can watch episode after episode

  12. It’s difficult to say if streaming will ultimately supplant cable TV.

    At the moment, I think the various providers are too disparate to do so – there are quite a few different services each with their own exclusive content which makes them more like specialty cable channels than anything else.

    I don’t think streaming has done away with the communality of watching, it’s just changed its temporality somewhat. Instead of watching a show week on week with a mass audience with the communality of that audience built around a specific time of the week, now with entire seasons of a show released at once, that communality is more restricted to the immediate event of the release. It’s more like a movie than a serialised TV show: it gets released, you watch it when you can and risk missing that show being on the minds of people around you if you watch it too late.

    What I find interesting is how it’s changing the relationships audiences have with certain types of shows. When ‘Lost’ was airing there was a certain spirit of communal puzzle solving, an attempt to decipher each episode before the next one aired. For some ‘Lost’ fans, the fun of the show was the ability to try and work through the story as it aired, to try and figure it out, to predict what was going to happen, to discuss theories with other fans. It had the effect of emphasising the serial nature of the show.

    That would be difficult to do if an entire season was released at once to the point that I wonder if a show like ‘Lost’ would work on a streaming service like NetFlix.

  13. giasuniverse says:

    I haven’t watched live TV for years now (since my kids were born). I personally prefer to choose what I watch, when I have the time, and I can’t stand commercials! I get what you are saying about the shared experience, but it doesn’t bother me that much.
    In UK, we used Netflix and Freesat. I made a one off payment for a Freesat dish and a humax box and enjoyed on demand services without any further monthly cost.
    My parents though still insist on watching live TV, and keep on complaining about the time of broadcast of certain programs, or the commercials. Every time I suggest, they record their favorite show, or streaming they look at me like I am mad and say they can’t watch “canned” TV, I never really got what they meant until I read your article 🙂 So thank you for posting it! Gia

  14. Ann Kilter says:

    We switched to an antenna last September, upgraded our internet, bought a roku box, subscribe to netflix and hulu. And we dropped direct TV. Saved about $90 a month. My husband misses CBS (March madness), but we really like saving that money and watc hing what we want to watch. We watch mash weeknights at 7:00. If we miss an episode on live T.V., we can usually catch it on hulu.

  15. Both cable and streaming have their ups and downs. None of these two will ever become obsolete.
    All of u who are interested in technology should visit the following link.

    https://grievancedotme.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/programming-the-hound/

  16. Crissy Dean says:

    We have Netflix and I think that is where the times are headed. It is such a shame though because on the other hand we also have an antenna.. anyways, great job!
    Congrats on being freshly pressed!
    I created a new blog last month called Real Life Natural Wife. I really enjoyed your blog. I hope you’ll come check it out and leave me a comment with your thoughts!
    Keep up the good work! Have a great day!

  17. 70srichard says:

    They call TV viewers couch potatoes, not couch amateur TV executives for a very good reason. Never underestimate the laziness of the American public.

    If linear programming vanishes, how will I be able to fall behind even further in my watching? Even the concept of falling behind will vanish because all programming is contemporary with your viewing it. Don’t you people recognize the danger of screwing with the time-space dimension? If not, you watched the wrong episodes of Lost in Space and Star Trek. Now you have to go back and start over.

  18. samueljusti says:

    I see all the TV series on pop corn time

    http://www.Importadossorocaba.com.br

  19. lol twitter users, I love you guys. Stream is ideal for a busy girl like me the only thing is that I get nothing else done when I start, also I cannot stand commercials and I love Hulu for this less is more. But nevertheless you share excellent points.

  20. Excellent points… We just dropped out cable for streaming.. Although the quality isn’t as good.. The cost benefit is worth it.. And like you said.. You do have every show/movie at your fingertips.. I interest in live tv dwindled..aside from sports anyway..

  21. Technology seems to move in a speed we never thought would be. As a Social Media Broadcaster in Africa, the challenge of Internet penetration and accessibility is still a struggle for users even as much as you can not enjoy internet services paid for. My hope and (our)hopes is for these to come to pass in the nearest future as one would be left with choices. Nonetheless, a fusion of but the New Media and Traditional Media still rocks! Nice post.

  22. Sartenada says:

    I watch some streamed tv-chanels from Internet. Last Sunday it was cool to watch F1 contest directly from Brazil. This is something which helps for language learning and to keep it up!

  23. rohitmaiya says:

    I read this on FB recently.

    Today we had a new professor.
    His first question was: Who likes Game of Thrones?
    About 3/4 of the students raised their arm.
    Then he said: I’ve seen all the episodes. If it is too loud here, I’ll tell you who’ll die next.
    I swear to you, a lecture has never been that quiet.

  24. John Vincent says:

    I love streaming TV shows. For me, it’s a lot more convenient then actually having to watch it on it’s broadcast channel and having to sit through the commercials. I never watch actual TV. I am a streamer for sure!

  25. mauriciofeijo says:

    At my home we have a large bandwidth internet connection and several notebooks, Apple TV, smart tv and such. Streaming is abundant, even on our phones, but we frequently just end watching TBS. Why? Because we don’t always want to chose! Sometimes we just want to watch something mindless and funny, without having to think and pick something. Sometimes we just wan to chill and have others picking it for us, we we watch hours of Seinfeld, family guy and other silly stuff. So, streaming is awesome, but even with every song available on spotify, I often just listen to NPR. There is beauty in not having to decide…

  26. mauriciofeijo says:

    Would the owner of this blog please delete my previous comment on this Post? Thank you.

  27. Pingback: Recommended reading | Down the Road

  28. My husband and I are newlyweds with a baby and like many in our age group we only have Netflix. I don’t ever really feel like I’m missing anything by not having cable. The only shows we don’t watch on Netflix we watch online (Game of Thrones using HBO Go and SNL on Hulu for free). I have a list of shows on Netflix that I have yet to watch and plan to, and for the most part all of Netflix original series have been amazing. I do think cable will be obsolete in sometime in my lifetime and that’s honestly something I’m totally okay with

  29. Thank you for articulating the need for “shared experience” as it relates to live television. I had an argument with my daughter (age 30) just this week when she phoned me during a commercial break during the Dave Letterman’s last visit with Julia Roberts. When I said I had to go when the commercial break was over, she was angry and said that I hurt her feelings. Further, she chided me that, “…the program will live on YouTube forever,” and I could watch it at anytime. I was sorry that I had hurt her feelings, but my attempt to explain to her the “importance” to me of watching these last episodes of a long-lived and much loved program fell entirely short of making any sense to her. You have accurately captured and described the feeling that I had about not wanting to miss the “moment”!! While I know she will still never understand – I sincerely Thank You – I feel a little less crazy now, and a little less like a horrible person (mother)!!

  30. Night terror news says:

    For me, every year when Charlie Brown Christmas specials air, I watch them on television. Because I know millions others are watching as well, and I feel a part of something greater. And for this I think television will always be in some form..

  31. Its crazy to think that Hulu and Netflix could replace classic television in our homes. In the early 2000s, I worked for Sam Goody and when I had started that job, Netflix was just beginning to make itself known. At the time, Netflix was just renting DVDs through the mail. I remember having to sell 3 month subscriptions to customers while ringing them out and I also remember the hesitation and the immediate “NO” when you began to ask. The idea of Netflix was laughable at the time and you were lucky to get 2 interested people a day. And now, 12ish years later, Netflix is one of the few streaming giants threatening to replace television. I believe it’s time for a change, so I welcome the age of Hulu & Netflix!

  32. All I can say is your post is so true

  33. Personally, for me, I watch television to learn, to experience, to share in the moments of other people’s hearts and experiences. And yes, silly me, there are those times I watch television to laugh, to giggle , and to have long, long bursts of laughter where one simply can not stop. Hilarious moments, quiet moments, little giggles, they all come from regular television and so many times, from some youtube posts. Like those old, old movies that are silly and sometimes meaningless, like “Gracy”, and old George Burns. These films, uncomplicated, sily and sometimes ridiculous, are just the thing that you need,once in a while when you want a brain-rest…a little freedom from all that thinking and all that figuring-out stuff that one must do to survive in today’s large bustling, overcrowded cities all over the world.

  34. Reblogged this on Icarus Flies and commented:
    Humm I’ll have to check some out

  35. Pingback:  TV is Dead, Long Live TV! | Icarus Flies

  36. Thank you for your insight and this long debated issue. You make a very validated point, but I don’t believe having a “moment” is not so important now. With live- streaming, we’ve become accustomed to binge watching and I can say that I still have the supposed “moment,” while watching some of my favorite shows. As to the question, Will Television disappear completely? Only time will tell.

  37. kumbarusa says:

    I don’t know, for me watching TV is just more convenient. Simpler and more comfortable. So, yes, laziness plays a major role. And I don’t like watching more than one episode of a show, and with online services all of them are at your grasp.

  38. This is very insightful. I was. Very early adopter of streaming TV (early Netflix when the about of streaming you got was based on the dollar amount you paid, early Hulu, illegal streams of cable channels). I also have had a media PC of some kind or another since 2006. I like being able to watch what I want, yet I also have a cable subscription because I “get” the importance of live TV. There was a period of time when I didn’t have cable and only got a few over the air channels (and that’s when I struggled to find live streaming, but mostly just streamed any and everything I could find…this happened awhile before and right as Netflix was unlimited)…there was something missing from my viewing experience be use I didn’t have that live connection.

  39. Not to mention the fact that when you stream a show that’s no longer on the air, it’s hard to have discussions about it.

  40. lhvi340 says:

    Reblogged this on lbonbylhwmedia.

  41. Pingback: TV is Dead, Long Live TV! | An Oxygenated Brain

  42. Packy - Head Llama says:

    Much like any other entertainment media, TV was inevitably going to be altered significantly when VOD and streaming video services took off. The same is happening with radio now that services like Pandora and iheartradio. Inevitably the way we absorb entertainment will always change to adapt to the technological advances. Bottom line: don’t expect to hang onto your Blu Rays for much longer either, soon everything will be in the cloud… for better or worse.

  43. newsforyou9 says:

    NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

  44. Ghost Writer says:

    Danger Will Robinson! classic

  45. leahknadeau says:

    While I love streaming and I have done so since it came to the masses, there’s something so satisfying as turning on the TV and finding a show that you like that’s already playing. I don’t know what it is, but when you find a show you like to watch and it just so happens to be on TV when you turn it on, it feels like you’ve won a small lottery of sorts.

    -MidTwenties Gal
    http://www.Midtwentiesgal.wordpress.com

  46. I enjoyed your post and agree pretty much with everything you said. By the way; I love Lost in Space and MeTV, as well as TCM. And then there are the live events. I think streaming will survive, but so will television as we know it, and remember it.

  47. Birdie says:

    I rarely watch TV now because the commercials seem to have taken over. It isn’t important to me to watch shows as soon as they air. (I just finished watching Downton Abbey on Netflix years after everyone watched it on TV.) It all comes down to wanting to watch a show uninterrupted. As for radio, I mostly listen to public radio. No commercials! 🙂

  48. Uy Do says:

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

  49. I love MeTV(Glad to see someone mention it)! One of my favorite channels, along with AntennaTV and Hallmark. They all show great, classic shows!
    And your comment about the shared experience of “live tv” is spot on and true. It is nice to know that someone, somewhere is laughing, crying, or getting mad at the same show that we are watching. 🙂

  50. myuransblog says:

    Reblogged this on Myuran Elango and commented:
    Interesting

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