Netflix wants linear TV to die. CEO Reed Hastings, who has been beating the murder drum on TV for more than 8 years, reiterated his belief in today’s investor call, confidently saying that Netflix is in a very good position position, because linear TV will be “dead in 5 to 10 years”. “
Hastings is financially incentivized to say this. One of the biggest rivals to the biggest streaming service on the planet is a set of totally free streaming channels that can be delivered via an antenna to any TV, along with their more expensive friends on cable.
Netflix needs linear TV to die because it needs streamers who are still using it. It lost 1.3 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada over the past three months, according to its second-quarter 2022 earnings report. It has more than 220 million paying customers worldwide and basically finds as many subscribers as possible. It’s struggling to get subscribers: it’s got new ad-supported tiers (without everything you get right now), it’ll try to end the practice of account sharing — forcing sharers to subscribe or not stream anything bigger than a laptop screen. But when you basically have as many subscribers as you can currently, you need your competitors (linear TV, YouTube, TikTok, Outdoor, etc.) to do worse. So yes, of course, Hastings wants linear TV to get out of the way.
But will this really happen? TV ratings are down, that’s for sure. After the increase in the volume of original cable TV content in the 2010s, the market became fragmented, and the power of radio and television stations weakened. Grey’s Anatomy It remains one of the most-watched shows in the United States, despite an increase in average viewership per episode from 20 million to 4 million.
But broadcast TV is still…you know…free. You don’t have to pay for internet and then pay for subscription (or 12 times). All you have to do is turn on your TV, and as long as you have a good enough antenna, you can get tons of premium content—content that Netflix is desperate to recreate with its own service. Office, Friends, Grey’s Anatomyand the CW’s entire teen series has been one of Netflix’s most popular content for consumers, before licensing deals allowed them to bounce back to other services.
Broadcast TV is also about to get a major upgrade in the form of ATSC 3.0. While its rollout has been slow, the new standard for broadcast TV promises all kinds of quality improvements that streamers will charge extra for—if it can deliver. ATSC 3.0 supports 4K, 120 frames per second, wide color gamut and HDR. Netflix currently charges $19.99 a month for it, and HBO Max has been so slow to roll out 4K that I sometimes wonder if it even knows what 4K is.
And broadcast TV is just one (free) element of linear TV. Even though streaming is supposed to save us from exorbitant fees and supporting content we have no interest in consuming, we still subscribe to all the cable channels. While ratings are down, cable is still the least obnoxious way to watch sports, it’s the fastest and highest quality service to watch TV, otherwise limited to a single app, which may or may not have any benefits, And it will definitely cost more than you want to pay.
Plus, few big streamers can match one of linear TV’s most soothing features: the entire linear playback of content. A never-ending stream that you can tune in and out at your leisure, it can serve as a gentle background noise in your everyday life.I crave something simple like make a playlist on Netflix and get an app that forgets I started persuade the night before.
Compared to Netflix, linear TV is struggling. But how should linear TV die when streaming continues to have so many problems and struggle to compete on the ultra-popular content front? It feels more like streamers are chasing linear TV and whispering “it’s dead.” But it remains to be seen whether it will die within the 5- to 10-year window that Reed Hastings hopes.
Disclosure: edge Recently produced a series with Netflix.