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Is Traditional TV’s Uneven Approach to Streaming Responsible for Linear’s Demise?

Lauren Forristal

There has been a major shift in broadcast philosophy in recent years. Media conglomerate cable networks have been slacking on the TV originals front, airing only a minimal amount of new programs as they save their best for streaming and yet still continue to charge customers premium prices. In 2016, Discovery had 413 TV originals available. In 2021, they had just 243, a more than 41% decrease, according to data from Variety's VIP+.

Let’s face it, TV networks have always been a step behind streaming, and it’s a torturous cycle that has been occurring for years. Think of it like the Roadrunner as the young, spry streaming services and traditional TV networks (Wile E. Coyote) are left scratching their heads and running into brick walls. Okay, that maybe a little too harsh, but can we all agree that linear television is outdated?

Back in the early 2010s, when Netflix took off, the networks were making quick bucks by licensing older content to the streaming service, which in turn helped propel the service even further ahead (surprise, surprise), and put the traditional networks on even more uncomfortable footing.

In 2016, when Fox, Disney, Comcast, and Time Warner’s Turner networks banded together to combat Netflix by launching Hulu, they inadvertently began the cannibalization of TV itself. The networks shot themselves in the foot by immediately putting their cable shows on Hulu the day after airing on linear. Yes, it encouraged viewers to pay for an ad-supported subscription, but at what cost (literally and figuratively)?

Viewers that were more interested in the entertainment programming that these media companies had to offer than the news or sports provided by cable, now had a financially effective way to cut the cord, pay significantly less, and still get the content that they were most interested in.

In reaction to millions of customers fleeing traditional TV, networks have decided that the best way to recoup that lost revenue is to charge the remaining consumers more money for less programming. So it’s no surprise that 10 million people have canceled their traditional TV service over the last five years. This strategy from the networks is, needless to say, reckless in an environment of increased competition and low-cost rivals.

Linear television is grappling with the issue of maintaining its business while also adapting to the modern world of streaming. Instead of doing what Paramount has done with “Yellowstone” — windowing content for pay-TV and then moving it over to streaming months later — other networks have transferred assets away from TV altogether in favor of their streaming services, making content available immediately on their subscription platform.

For instance, in 2017, AMC had 37, NBC had 20, Disney had 13, A+E Networks only had four, whereas Paramount just had one, and WarnerMedia had zero. But by 2021, Warner Media had 55 TV originals on subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, Paramount had 22, NBCUniversal had 42, Disney had 70, AMC had 77, and Discovery had a whopping 145.

In essence, this is saying to users that while it was once possible to pay a flat fee to watch all of the content that networks produced, now customers are forced to pay more money for fewer shows in addition to having to pay for subscriptions to streaming services in order to watch the high-quality originals that were once destined for TV.

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