A piece on All Things D points out that the proliferation of entertainment via the web has yet to have an impact on TV, in terms of viewership or ad spending. Unlike print media, TV is still going strong, and lots of dollars are being spent on advertising. I have some unscientific guesses as to why this might be. I also believe that this situation won’t last forever.
The Web and Live Events
One area where web-based entertainment is still lacking is in live events, particularly sports. Yes, you can get some sporting events live for things like the NHL, MLB and NFL. But those aren’t the only sports in the world, and those all cost money. In some cases, a lot of money relative to what other services can cost. But there are plenty of sports that I can’t easily watch live (or watch at all) via the web. IndyCar, Formula-1 and NASCAR either have nothing, or only partial access via the web. If I want to watch a Sprint Cup race flag-to-flag without a TV, I’m relegated to listening to the commentary on MRN and “watching” with RaceView and PitCommand. I really have no meaningful option for IndyCar, and I haven’t found anything for Formula 1.
Then there are “niche” sports like the Canadian Football League. There are no on-line options for watching CFL games. If I want to watch a game, I either have to be a Bell subscriber, or I have to have TSN on my cable or satellite subscription. Beyond that, then there are the “hmm, I wonder what that is” shows and events which aren’t available live, or for some, can’t be purchased through Netflix or iTunes.
It isn’t just sports. As an example, consider awards shows. Events like the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys or Junos are ones that are most valuable when you see them live. Why watch if you already know the outcome? Then you have shows like American Idol, The Voice and other near-real-time contest shows. Some won’t mind watching them later, but again, their greatest value is seeing them as they happen, live, and most aren’t available live via the web.
Want To See It Now Shows
For programmed TV, now you are dealing with the “I want to talk about it at work the next day” people, those who have to see a TV episode at the time it is broadcast so that they are current and up to date. They don’t want to wait until the next day for it to show up on Netflix, via various web services, or through iTunes. Worse, there are some web services that are country-specific, and unless you want to jump through hoops, they aren’t easily accessible. Hulu isn’t available to Canadians. When I’m down in the US, I can’t watch CTV’s streaming video. Too many services are different or restricted, based on where you are located (I know that the US has far more shows on iTunes to choose from that we do up north).
There are still enough people that want to watch a show when it airs that they will subscribe to cable or satellite, or put an antenna on the roof, to see it “now”. They don’t want to watch it later. For me, I don’t really care. I have some shows that I pick up via an iTunes Season’s Pass, and I’ll wait for days (or even a week or more) before I finally get around to it. But I know I’m an exception. For many, to be culturally relevant means to be culturally current.
It Won’t Last Forever
At some point, we can expect a convergence, where more and more programs are available on-line at the same time they are broadcast. With that will come some kind of consolidation, possibly behind companies like Netflix who have the infrastructure in place. Right now, there is a significant degree of fragmentation. I have to have separate subscriptions to services with the NHL, NFL and MLB to get live games online, and together they would be rather expensive. Basically, I’m paying for games I’m not watching. Cable is like group health insurance: some pay for much more than they get, but others user more than they pay for. But it all balances out so we all have access to what we need and want at a reasonable price.
But while this convergence occurs, expect TV viewing to remain where it is for a while at least.