In twenty years, the only television that will be aired at a specific “live” time will be sports and news. There will no longer be television schedules, where people have to tune in at the same time each week to watch their favourite show, which has all its thirteen to twenty-six episodes stretched over three months.
In fact, this is already beginning and most people reading this will already have changed their viewing habits. I never watch any show “live.” I have a digital, television recorder (Sky+ for those that are interested) which I use to record anything and everything of interest. I then wait until I have a full series and usually watch the whole thing in one (or a couple) of sittings. That means I don’t have to worry about shocking cliffhangers, storylines which are slowly being developed over five episodes or, best of all, adverts.
Most people may not go the extremes I do but I’m sure many people do watch the favourite television show from week to week but after it has aired. The time we view tv shows is no longer prescribed to us but instead we watch when it is most convenient for the viewer. This in itself has changed the way television is being shown.
The smallest change is the fact that we get shows repeated over and over in one week. Most people would complain that it lacks originality and that there is “nothing on.” I see the logic, especially in a time when the DVR is a lifestyle necessity, having lots of choices of when you can record your favourite show frees up the more congested and contested television nights.
It has also led to stations and television companies giving the viewer new opportunities to watch a show. It started small, with “catch-up” services like the BBC iPlayer in England, helping people see shows they may have missed. It’s now grown to the point where some shows will be previewed on BBC iPlayer, gauging their popularity before being broadcast mainstream. Its led to other companies exclusively using the internet to air tv shows.
House of Cards, an American drama starring Kevin Spacey, was launched exclusively on Netflix. It can only be seen with a Netflix subscription. The added bonus of doing this, you can see the whole series in one go. Not dragged out, week by week, but in one boxset format. From the first of February, the whole series was available to anyone who wanted to watch it.
This is a logical step though. More and more people are catching up with television shows through boxsets, digesting a whole series in one weekend. Some may have caught it the first time, spreading the hype of how good it is, but shows like Homeland, Breaking Bad and Dexter have survived on word-of-mouth and boxset sales. What Netflix is doing is cutting out the middle man, not dragging the process out and giving people their boxsets the moment they want it.
The surprise may be when the move that Netflix, and other companies like Sky and LoveFilm in the UK, have made don’t just begin to replace “live-to-air” television but also replace DVD and Blu-Ray ownership too. If all it takes is a fifteen to thirty pound a month subscription to have a host of tv boxsets and films at your fingertips, purchasing and owning these are no longer necessary. In twenty years, anyone who is serious about television and films will already be streaming on a fast broadband connection and when companies realise this is cheaper than producing discs and packaging, they will begin to “force” the rest of the viewing public to do the same.
I predict that what you will have, in twenty years at the most, is a subscription (or two) to a media provider. You then stream everything that you want to see, from movies, individual tv shows or complete boxsets. Shows won’t be released week-by-week but released in whole seasons. This will have added benefits of clear ratings and responses. A whole season will be available to air rather than a show being cancelled prematurely, half-way through its run. It gives the audience all the choice and also frees the shackles of the studios and production companies.
Pay-to-view tv, like HBO and Showtime, has resulted in edgier, grittier and amazing television, from The Sopranos, to True Blood, through to The Wire or Boardwalk Empire. If almost everything was pay-to-view, then tv shows could be grittier, more mature and take more chances. The fees would be coming directly from the viewer and hopefully giving tv creators more freedom.
Overall, Netflix releasing House of Cards in the same week that the BBC announced exclusive iPlayer content highlighted a shift in tv and film viewing. It won’t take long for more and more people to move away from their scheduled programming and towards television that is released and watched when people choose to. TV series will be available in full for a weekends viewing or to be seen over two or three months. It does mean that you’ll need a tv and film streaming service, but this is only a small cost for a much wider benefit.