Hollywood’s original scripted shows are paused or on hold. Sports is trying desperately to come back, with MLB baseball debuting this week and NBA basketball on the near horizon. The NFL wants to play, as does college football, even though many of the teams have already said they will do reduced schedules and/or move to the spring. All in all, it adds up to one thing: Traditional TV is doomed.
Fellow Insider Dave Morgan is usually the one who writes about TV, but I have to chime in this week. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was pretty bullish on TV because I realized that with people at home, it felt relatively normal to sit down and watch a show. The major networks had some stuff in the can that they could spread out for audiences to watch. The streamers had a plethora to work with. There was an opportunity to broadcast a library of content and get people sitting down as families to watch.
Now we are five months into the pandemic, and people are getting bored with traditional TV, and even a little bit with streaming. There have been some bright spots (like “The Old Guard “on Netflix), but there have been some dim lights as well (“The Eagles Live At The Forum,” on ESPN for a fee). The running joke in our house is that we may have watched all of Netflix and are currently blazing through the National Geographic documentaries on Disney+. Pretty soon we will have exhausted all options as a family.
This is, of course, an exaggeration. There’s literally no end to the content to watch, but that’s part of the problem. TV is no longer a finite system, and appointment viewing is also no longer a thing. Without sports, without the Oscars and without the Olympics, there is no immediacy to television.
This could be OK in and of itself, but now there are so many options, people are becoming annoyed. What are the differences between HBO GO, HBO Now and HBO Max? What about Hulu and Peacock and Hulu Plus and NBC’s app and ABC’s app? Should we cut the cord or should we not?
When you try to cut the cord, the cable companies give you a price that is too good to say no to, so you renew with them and in the course of doing so, you tend to get access to some of the premium platforms as well. I have done the research and I understand most of the differences between these platforms, but your average viewer does not. My neighbors do not. My dad does not. And the fact is, why should they?
It is far too much to expect that average viewer to dive into these numerous platforms, plus examine YouTube TV, Disney+ and more. As the old saying goes, “When you give a consumer too many choices, they will choose not to choose one." My predicted outcome for all these different platforms is that TV is going to effectively kill its own audience.
TV is not the only game in town. People are at home, but they are finding new ways to spend their time. TV used to be escapist activity, and then it became a diversion from the challenges of the day. Now it has become a process, something you have to dive in deep to understand.
I can’t recommend a show to my friends without first asking, “Do you subscribe to Amazon Prime?" If they don’t, then maybe they can go buy it on iTunes and Apple TV. Maybe not.
Don’t get me started on Apple TV -- that’s an entire column by itself. I have gone through that system in detail and I still don’t fully understand what role it is supposed to play. All I know is I have a free year of it, and then it will be no more.
For now, I guess I will go outside for a hike or bike ride. Getting outdoors is the best way to deal with the pandemic, at least until the fall. At that time, I will be tuning into CNN and the other major news networks because the only appointment viewing left will be the lead-up to the election and whatever will happen then.
Here’s to the future!