Is Linear Television Declining?

“Video killed the radio star,” sang the Buggles at the end of the 1970s. In today’s fast paced technological environment, the linear television production company is slowly dying. What is killing them? On a fundamental level, the flexibility of new viewing methods.

Back in the eighties we had a good old-fashioned television set, hooked up to a cable or an antenna. Television was broadcast and followed the broadcaster’s schedule. Families would wait in anticipation for the next installment of their favorite show and evenings would often be planned around a particular prime time show. As a child, I remember rushing through the bath and bolting down my dinner to make the next episode of my favorite soap opera, and being very upset if I missed it. Even if you were lucky enough to have a VHS recorder, you were still limited to the times dictated by the big media companies. The days of studying the monthly scheduling guide and setting the VCR to automatically record your show are over, swept away in the wake of new advances such as on demand viewing and digital streaming.

Today most personal electronic devices are capable of showing video; some cars even have infotainment systems for this purpose. With this innovation, has come a change in the way people view media. More control is now in the hands of the consumer, we can decide what we want to watch, where, and for how long. No longer restricted by some third party, binge watching has become a popular past time, often leading to people looking slightly dazed or cross eyed after a session.

Although this has had a massive impact on big television production companies, linear television is far from dead yet. Some things naturally lend themselves to the linear style, such as sport and news, which are in increasingly popular demand, so from this aspect, linear television seems to have a long life ahead of it. Human nature is averse to change and some of the older generation, with solid viewing habits, still prefer linear television. Others like to have programs suggested to them in the linear fashion instead of having to choose exactly what it is that they are going to watch. So, there are some good reasons why linear television is still around.

Television production companies are slowly coming around to the pressure from consumers (and some producers) to limit the amount of programming and increase the viewer freedom afforded to their audiences. New companies such as Netflix, Hulu and Showmax have tailored their services to fit the new ways that content can be appreciated. It is a brave new world, and no longer a time where people are forced to comply with the rigors of one monopolizing television company. Indeed, the freedom that the internet now affords people allows us to freely discuss, criticize and dissect offerings by all the major television production companies, forcing them to remain competitive or else lose their competitive edge.

Just like video never managed to kill the radio star completely, so linear television is set to hang around for a while. What is changing is the content that is delivered by that channel. Will it still be around in twenty years’ time? You’ll have to ask the next generation.

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