Commentary

Recent Stories Imply Linear TV Is At Point Of No Return

Journalists who have long toiled on the TV beat have covered all of the various phases of TV history since the 1980s in which threats positioned as “existential” arose to vanquish linear TV.

But for all intents and purposes, linear survived.

But now, the current era has taken on a kind of “jig is up” quality that seems to preclude linear from ever reversing or even plateauing its continuing losses in viewership and corresponding ad revenue.

Two stories juxtaposed one on top of the other on MediaPost in March tell the story. One headline read: National Linear TV Revenue Forecast: Down 2.6% In 2024, Steeper Decline Next Year.”

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The part of the story that packed a punch for me was a quote: “It is now clear that outside of sports advertising there should no longer be expectations of a recovery for linear TV advertising,” said Michael Nathanson, senior research analyst and cofounder of MoffettNathanson Research, which made the forecast.

It is NOW clear, said Nathanson, as if this has not been clear until now, even though many have felt that this has been “clear” for a while now.

Maybe what the researcher is saying is: We have arrived at a point of no return in linear TV's decline (that is, if a return was ever really possible).

Something else I read this week said essentially the same thing. It was a paragraph within a very long Wall Street Journal story about the challenges facing ESPN and its chairman, James Pitaro.

“ESPN’s cable business has shrunk to the point where it can no longer be the foundation for the future,” said the story.

“Since 2011, the number of U.S. households paying for cable packages that include ESPN has fallen by about 29 million, reflecting a cable-TV industry collapse.”

Everyone in the television business kinda, sorta already knows this. And yet, the two quotations cited above place the situation in a kind of sharp relief, as if to say: Just in case you didn't know it or somehow were in denial about it, cable TV is toast. Got it?

The story that came right underneath the one about the projected decline this year in linear TV ad revenue was another story that should also surprise no one.

The headline on that one read: “February Streaming Viewing Climbs 10%, YouTube, FAST Platforms Show Growth.” 

Linear TV is down and streaming TV is up. And that's about the size of it.

Photo credit: Homer Simpson, “The Simpsons,” courtesy of Fox TV Network.

This column was previously published in the March 22 edition of TV Blog.

1 comment about "Recent Stories Imply Linear TV Is At Point Of No Return".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 3, 2024 at 9 a.m.

    Adam, linear TV is just one way for getting TV program content whiile streaming is another way. Over time the linear TV content producers and distributors have developed, and then modified their busiess models, to reflect the realities of audience volume, program and other costs and sources of revenue. Now, with many homes still perfectably satisfied with the current linear TV business model and the content it delivers, its premature to label this type of TV as at a point of no return. Just as it's rather early in the game to consider streaming as the "winner"---especially as few of its players are making a profit while linear TV---with half of all  viewing, remains profitable.

    It's all "TV" to most consumers and as time passes, the distinctions between linear and streaming will become incresingly blurred. Soon, streaming will look much like linear TV in terms of content, the number of ads, and the profile of its audience as one  merges with the other.

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