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Linear Television Is Here To Stay. Where Is Another Story.

When we talk about the potential demise of traditional linear TV, we’re talking about the potential demise of cable and broadcast delivery of linear TV, not linear TV itself. 

That’s an important distinction as, like the difference between “OTT” and “CTV”, it clouds up discussions about the future of TV.

So for starters, linear TV is not going anywhere.

That’s one of the few developments around the future of TV I’m willing to make a firm bet on and it’s based on the fact that most people don’t like being their own personal programmer.

In my book, Over The Top, How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry, I referred to it as the “Spotifyization of Television” and it’s a description that still holds up today.

On Spotify, users can listen to whatever song they want from a library of over 50 million songs. They can listen to a playlist they’ve created or one someone else has created. Or they can listen to one of the tens of thousands of radio station-like playlists that Spotify has created, including playlists that are personalized to their unique tastes.

Spotify’s own playlists have proved to be very popular with users as people quickly grow tired of their own music and want to listen to something new, only not too new.

That’s the basic premise behind the boom in linear-like channels on the FASTs, many of whom have hundreds of options ranging from genres like Crime and Horror to channels devoted to a single series.

The channels make it easy to use TV as background entertainment, to be able to click around, find something that is interesting enough for the moment, lean back and bliss out. (Or attend to emails, dinner preparation and similarly banal tasks.)

At some point soon I suspect we’ll have personalized linear channels too, either entire pre-populated channels (“Alan’s Crime Channel”) waiting for you, a personalized YouTube-like autoplay channel once the show you’ve just watched is over, or both.

Until then, there are certainly enough options on the FASTs where viewers have the ability to click from channel to channel the way they do on old school set top box cable.

Having these lean back options is important given how much of the current Second Golden Age of TV consists of “lean forward” options–shows you’ll want to pay careful attention to and watch with no distractions. They’re the yin and yang of streaming TV.

There’s another area where linear will find a home on streaming and that is live programming, be it news, sports or a special event.

There’s no reason why these three genres would not work on streaming, particularly if that’s where the bulk of their potential audience is.

Streaming is just a delivery system that uses the internet rather than broadcast signals or cable wire. If anything, it’s a superior delivery system as it allows for additional features like Amazon’s X-Ray, which shows the names of the actors in any particular scene. Easy enough to imagine a corollary feature that shows the athletes on any particular play.

The biggest advantage to moving linear to streaming is that it consolidates the number of inputs and allows viewers to take advantage of the ability to switch between linear and VOD at will, so that if a linear streaming channel plays a random episode of “Seinfeld” a viewer can quickly search for “Festivus” and watch that episode next.

It also allows for localization, so that streaming channels can be adjusted to reflect local tastes and news can be localized as well, right down to zip code-based weather reports.

Finally, it allows for better targeted addressable advertising, of the sort found on digital, that allows for better measurement and less wasteful ad spends.

One big caveat to all this: I wrote the aforementioned book in 2015 and much of what I wrote is still relevant today. Not because I’m any sort of genius, but because not much has changed over the past six years.

While there is the old saying “things change slowly and then all at once,” I’m not sure that applies to the television industry where things seem to change slowly… and then slightly less slowly.

We’ll know soon enough.

Read Part 1 in this series: The Only Question Worth Asking

Read Part 3 in this series: ‘15,000 Merits’ And The Evolution Of A Two-Tier System For TV