6 Ways Streaming is the Future of TV

crazy-eyesPreviously, I outlined 6 Reasons Network TV Fails And Cable Stays Winning. I shared how network television has positioned itself to not be competitive in today’s market. But that is only half of the story. What is most important is how each of these players will fare in the future. And right now, it looks like cable and streaming television are a thing of the past.

Looking to the future, one thing is clear: viewers want a more customized viewing experience. People watch their shows on tablets, phones, laptops, and computer screens in increasing numbers. Nielsen has started a ratings system for Twitter. It is clear that the landscape is shifting. And the cable and streaming outlets are best prepared for what is coming.

1. Better programming

For years, it’s been a foregone conclusion that cable TV has the best quality shows. They always win the top awards and they attract the best talent.  But now streaming outlets are making names for themselves in the world of original programming too. From Netflix’s House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black to Amazon’s Alpha House, consumers are finding the grass is greener on the online side. These shows typically reflect some of the grittier aspects of life and they have the freedom to push the envelope making for a very unique watching experience.

2. Accessibility and Broader Offerings

Network television has been moderately aggressive about getting more of their shows to be available online, but they are a few steps behind what their new competition has been able to achieve. Take Hulu for instance. With a Hulu Plus account, you are able to access your shows on the computer or from a multitude of devices (iPad, XBox, Kindle Fire, PS3/4, etc.). And it is all pretty seamless.

But wait, you say. You can do that with big network shows also, right? The answer is yes. However, if you were to do the same with ABC for example, you’d be limited to ABC shows. With Hulu Plus, you’re watching shows from a multitude of sources, big networks included. There’s a clear winner and loser here.

3. Binge-viewing

There is nothing worse than catching onto a show after it has been on TV for 2 or 3 seasons. You don’t completely understand what is going on, there are frequent references to things you never saw, and invariably, you’ll never get all of the magic. I ran into this same issue when I finally realized that I should be watching ABC’s Alias. The solution was to hunt down digital copies of the episodes and watch them back to back. This was a rare occurrence back then, but that practice is now commonly known as “binge-watching”.

Cable makes their catalogs easily accessible online or through video on demand. And while network stations could do the same, their episodes tend to be in limited supply. And Netflix’s whole original programming model is based on this premise. Each season is released in its entirety all at once, and you can watch the shows when it is most convenient for you. No waiting. Perpetual reruns.

4. Independence from traditional season structure

Since the dawn of time, network television has structured the airing of its shows are a pretty stringent schedule. In fall, their best and brightest shows debut. Most shows take a break over the winter holiday season, and then their runs complete in spring. There is filler programming that takes up the summer, and then it all starts over again in the fall. While this is a great way to set expectations, it doesn’t jive with the viewing habits of the modern TV watcher.

Cable and streaming are free from these bonds, releasing new content whenever they see fit and enabling full season runs without reruns. But that’s not where the benefits end. This also allows for more flexible shooting schedules and the ability to bring in top talent without disrupting their other obligations. This gives their shows bigger buzz, which leads to higher ratings.

5. Revenue structures/Captive audience

The biggest obstacle the network TV faces is its own revenue structure. All of their income comes from advertising (part of the impetus for the traditional season structure). But cable and streaming make money based on subscribers. I may never watch Masters of Sex, but the money I pay for my Showtime subscription goes towards supporting that production.

This also creates a captive audience. I am much more likely to watch Masters of Sex and other offerings from Showtime simply because I have already paid my subscription. And the more programming I get hooked on, the more likely I am to renew my subscription. Now that sounds like a plan to make some money.

6. Taking chances

At the end if the day, a major difference in these entertainment options is their ability to take chances. While network TV stays inside the box, alternative outlets blow it up. Just looking at the talk show genre, HBO had the freedom to take a chance on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. And Netflix is changing the game again with their upcoming launch of the first major online talk show with Chelsea Handler.

This is why there is steady growth. They keep trying new things. And that excitement alone is enough to pique the interest of new subscribers, not to mention the loyal fan bases that will want to follow these stars.


It’s clear that without some swift and sweeping changes, cable and streaming television are set to overtake network television. And the reason why is quite simple. These outlets are catering to the shifting desires of today’s viewers. And if you stop meeting the needs of your customers, you’ll end up going the way of the Oldsmobile.

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.