Sometimes people talk about the death of television. Who needs TV when we have Amazon Prime Video? However, we also still have printed newspapers and magazines, and we nevertheless have broadcast radio. Admittedly, each of these media has gone through a transformation and is less relevant as it used to be, but they are far from dead. The same thing is happening with TV. Even though I have no professional relationship with that field, I find it extremely interesting to observe the TV market.
First of all, to clarify our terms, I think that TV covers three things: Broadcast technology (in opposition to streaming), linearly scheduled programming (as opposed to on-demand access), and traditional brands and corporations. In some ways, these will prevail, at least partially.
Broadcast technology is energy efficient since there is only one signal sent for multiple subscribers. It is also reliable and doesn’t go down with spikes in viewership. Most of all, it is private. Websites and smart TVs track you with ad-tech, but nobody knows whether you’ve tuned into a broadcast. What makes it difficult for broadcasters to know their audience is a win for privacy. Therefore, even with all advances in streaming, I don’t think it’s a good idea to get rid of broadcast technology, at least as a fall-back; in the same way, we may want to preserve the POTS (plain old telephone system) even though we have VoIP.
Linearly scheduled programming looks like a downside at first, but live streams are a huge trend when you observe social media. Whether it’s TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube, every platform has a live streaming feature. Twitch thrives exclusively on them. In business, we sign up for webinars. In developer relations, two companies have recently launched video portals with developer content that mimic TV stations, Cloudflare TV, and Microsoft Learn TV (and I’m glossing over those with regular Twitch schedules). We even sync on-demand content through Netflix Party. It seems that we still like to watch things as they happen and at the same time as other people experience them.
When looking at traditional brands and corporations, it’s interesting to see how they try to transform into the digital age. There will undoubtedly be winners and losers. TV stations and content owners are launching streaming services and joining the “streaming wars”, Disney Plus being the most prominent and successful example so far.
In Germany, where I live, the two public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, funded by mandatory household media licenses, have invested a lot into turning their websites and apps into Netflix-esque on-demand libraries. They also launched funk, a content network that produces videos mostly for younger audiences, that they exclusively distribute online, mostly on commercial social media platforms and YouTube. While some might frame this as a desperate attempt at staying relevant, the best German-speaking YouTube content is now often made by funk (I admit to being a huge fan of Philipp Walulis’ work).
German private broadcaster RTL has launched TVNOW, whereas other private broadcasters have teamed up to build Joyn. The latter is particularly exciting because it features both on-demand and live content, including streams for almost all public and private channels (except those that RTL owns, whose live feeds are on TVNOW). In some ways, Joyn is similar to Hulu in the US. They try to establish a brand itself while simultaneously showcasing the brands of the TV stations that deliver the content. They also include content libraries from other online publishers, and their Joyn originals often feature influencers or YouTube personalities. Again, this might seem like a mash-up of unrelated things, but it could also be the perfect strategy to bridge the gap between the old and the new worlds of entertainment. I sincerely root for their success, because I think we need a German or European-owned Netflix. If Joyn plays their cards right, they can play that role.