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Game On: Television Is Going Through Revolutionary Changes

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When we were brainstorming themes for this year’s Sourcebook cover, we initially landed on “Game Over,” to signify OTT’s victory over traditional TV. But as one game ends, another begins, with new players and new rules.

There’s more great television than ever, and a healthy percentage of it is being produced by television networks such as FX (Fargo, The Americans), AMC (The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul), and even the big three (ABC’s The Middle, NBC’s Blindspot, and CBS’s Supergirl). And those are just U.S.-based shows; add in U.K.-produced shows such as Channel 4’s Catastrophe and BBC One’s River, not to mention Scandinavian products such as the Swedish/Danish collaboration Bron/Broen (The Bridge), and it’s clear that we’re living through another golden age of television.

But if any doubt lingered in 2015 about the staying power of OTT and online video, 2016 should erase it. Television isn’t going anywhere; it’s just completing the change from a linear programming model to a multidimensional one.

Recently, my 6-year-old son Isaac was playing “Super Mario 3D World” on the Wii U with my 31-year-old brother-in-law Nick, who played the original “Super Mario Bros.” on the Nintendo console 20 years ago. As Nick gave Isaac a master class in video gaming, he commented that while the new version adds a dimension to how the characters can move, it’s more forgiving; if you miss a move or fall off a cliff, you’re a lot more likely to get another chance than you were in the original.

Just as in “Super Mario 3D World,” today’s television landscape offers more options than ever before. When you take the great shows that the networks are producing, add to them the original content that Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and other OTT services are creating, and then consider the number of live events—from big games to the minor leagues, and from major awards shows to concerts by relatively obscure bands—the choices facing consumers are mind-boggling, almost paralysis-inducing.

But it’s also easier than ever to see what you want, when you want, on the device you want. If you miss something when it first airs, you no longer have to worry about whether you remembered to set the DVR, or whether you have a season pass on your TiVo. (Or, if we want to go back even further into television history, you don’t have to hope that you’ll be able to catch it in reruns.)

That said, pay TV subscriptions continue to drop in the U.S., even as numbers rise in Europe and Asia. Cord-cutting is real, but viewers are still paying for access to content from traditional television networks; they’re just not necessarily paying for it via their pay TV subscription. (Plenty are, however, as recent numbers from Time Warner in the U.S., as well as BT and Sky in the U.K., showed increases in the last quarter of 2015.)

So, if indeed one “game”—traditional linear television—is indeed over, then a new one has already begun, one in which the winners and losers have yet to be determined. In the new television game, the old labels don’t necessarily apply. What’s a television network in 2016? Isn’t it time we start referring to Netflix as a television network, what with its reach of 70 million subscribers in more than 190 countries?

The video game is also changing in the enterprise and education markets, as we have finally arrived at the long-promised day when video would be available to everyone in an organization—every employee and student, not just CEOs and instructors. It’s no longer just a BYOD (bring your own device) world; it’s now a BYOC (bring your own content) world, and it’s revolutionizing the ways in which we work and learn.

As it does every year, the Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook gives us a chance to present our readers with our take on the state of online video in all of its forms, as well as offer up buyers’ guides and tutorials that will help you make smart purchasing decisions and implement new technologies and workflows as you keep up with these changes playing out everywhere online video is being used.

This article first appeared in the 2016 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook as “Game On!”

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