The Changing TV Landscape

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We are in the midst of the biggest TV revolution since cable TV stormed the airwaves in the 1970s. And when I say in the midst, I mean it isn’t at all certain what the television/video landscape will look like in five years. No one knows. But there are signs pointing in certain directions, and I’ll attempt to point them out in this article.

Traditional/Live/Linear TV

Traditional TV is where you buy a bundle of TV channels from a cable, satellite, or telco company. You typically get a set top box per TV, and some sort of DVR to record shows. Race TV available on RSF Connect is this kind of service.

The vast majority of TV shows are advertiser supported, and thus a DVR is a nice addition to allow you to skip over ads.

Costs range from $70 – $250/month depending on how big and fancy your channel bundle is.

Streaming Services

Streaming TV is where you buy access to a particular content producer’s or distributor’s platform and watch content streamed over the Internet. Netflix, Hulu, ESPN+, HBO, and Disney+ are examples. In the past, you would also need some sort of set top box to access this content from the Internet (eg. Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV), but as of the last few years, new TVs have streaming apps built into them, thus no need for an extra box. Costs per service range from $5 – $16/month. Most streaming service business models are subscription based and thus have little or no ads.

Unlike traditional TV where you must search for content, record it, and watch it as it gets broadcast, streaming services have their entire library of shows available for instant viewing. Among other things, this has changed how people watch TV. People will now binge watch an entire season of a particular series over a weekend. They may wait months after a series has started before watching it, knowing the entire series is always available online. Some shows now will release an entire season’s worth of shows all at once to accommodate these viewing habits while others adhere to a weekly episode schedule for new shows.

In the past, streaming services suffered from poor video quality and video that would pause due to Internet bottlenecks. This is no longer an issue, and in many cases, video quality is better than even the gold standard of traditional TV video quality of DirecTV.

Viewing trends are clear. Among 18-49 year olds, the share of people watching any form of major TV broadcast show has dropped 35% in the past four years.

By the way, YouTube is a big force in this area. While you might think of YouTube as a place where home videos go to die, the new reality is that it has turned into a very high quality, very relevant video delivery platform with YouTube stars making millions of dollars per year. There are regular shows (“channels”) that have much higher production values than most of the stuff on cable TV. The breadth of content is staggering. YouTube is both advertiser sponsored, or ad free with a $9.99/month subscription to YouTube Red. 

Traditional TV over Streaming

There is a third type of TV service. While the streaming services provide access to good movies and original shows, they generally don’t provide access to live TV such as local channels, sports and local news. So there is now another type of streaming service that provides access to a traditional TV channel lineup solely over the Internet. Their feature set is all over the map with virtual DVRs and various limits. While they provide the same content as traditional TV, the user interface isn’t quite as robust. For instance, fast forwarding typically doesn’t show what you are skipping over. Sometimes you will record a show and when you watch it, fast forwarding over commercials is not allowed. This review describes some of these frustrations.

So while live TV over streaming seems like a good idea, it is still very much rough around the edges and still evolving. I personally would recommend waiting for a year or so before looking into this way of getting live TV.

Where Are We Headed?

Here are some data points.

Talk to any parent with teenagers these days and you’ll find that their kids do not watch traditional TV. At all. Oh, they are more glued to their smartphones and iPads than ever before, but they are watching shows on YouTube. Or they’ve bought a monthly Netflix subscription, or they use the family iTunes account to watch movies. But they generally don’t even know what a TV channel is, or why the heck would you have to watch a show at a particular time, and what’s this recording thing all about anyways?

The “Traditional TV over Streaming” market is still nascent and in flux. One service, Playstation Vue, is shutting down, while the others are hiking their prices on a routine basis and making substantial changes over time. 

DirecTV launched their last satellite a year ago. New innovations like 4K TV, while currently being demo’d on DirecTV, won’t be broadly deployed on that platform, and instead AT&T will stream such content over the Internet.

Many specialized sports are only available via streaming.

If you want specialized content, like watching specific autoracing events, or following your nephew’s minor league ice hockey team, your ONLY choice is to subscribe to a particular streaming package. These high quality video events are not available on traditional TV. 

ESPN has long been at war with the traditional cable TV/satellite/telco delivery networks because they’ve insisted on having their channels be included in the lower price tier services and charging the delivery networks a lot for the content. This year, with the launch of the $4.99/month ESPN+ streaming service, it is clear where ESPN is heading and it doesn’t include the traditional delivery networks.

And finally, one of the major pay-per-view sporting promotions, the UFC, has left traditional TV entirely and now their premium $60/show pay-per-views are available only on the ESPN+ streaming platform. 

In summary, it is clear that the future of TV is online streaming. For those with a solid Internet connection, what young adults are doing is subscribing to a mix of streaming packages like Netflix, HBO, maybe Hulu, ESPN+, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ for the kids. This will total something like $70/month but it conspicuously omits some live sports, news, and local TV channels. In some ways it is far better than traditional TV, other ways, not quite as good. 

Conclusion

You’ll need access to live TV to watch the Olympics

If you want live TV (for instance, there is no other way to watch the upcoming summer Olympics without it), then I’d recommend sticking with a traditional cable TV, satellite, or Race TV (see review). Live TV over streaming is still in the early stages, and won’t give you the same experience as a service that has in home DVR. 

But it is clear that more and more video content is only going to be available via various streaming services. As time goes on, don’t be surprised if you acquire a proliferation of streaming video subscriptions.

I suspect that this same article written in 3 to 5 years from now would say that you can consume all “TV” content with no compromises, in 4K resolution from a streaming service, and that the traditional wholesale TV model with traditional TV channels is almost gone.