Even In the Age Of Netflix and Hulu, Traditional TV Is Here To Stay


When I tell people I work in advertising, one of the questions I always get is, "Do you think TV is going to go away?"

It's a notion that somehow got planted into our collective minds with the advent of Hulu and Netflix Instant. It's fun to think about. After all, our computer is our portal to the world, so we don't really need that bulky box in the living room, right? Wrong. 

The numbers indicate a small downward trend in TV ownership. Five million zero-TV households in 2013, vs. 2 million in 2007. That's not insignificant. But the average American still watches 34 hours of live TV each week, plus three to six hours of recorded content. 

So those are the macro numbers. But what is the logic driving them?

One word: now. Traditional TV is the only thing that brings us live content now. From sports to news to regular shows, now is something we hunger for. 

You can't be a sports fan without TV. The pro sports leagues realize this, and have done a very good job of restricting their content to live TV and behind online pay-walls. They're in no rush to change this, as their television contracts are massive: the NFL makes approximately 4 billion per year in TV contracts, while the NBA makes almost 1 billion per year. For reference, those are both more than #1 show American Idol. I'm a Knicks-Packers-Yankees fan, and I want to watch my games when they're on, in their entirety. Live updates on Twitter and highlight videos on ESPN.com the next day are not enough. 

The same is true of news. God forbid another 9/11 should happen, we'll all be huddled around the nearest TV set for hours straight. Refreshing CNN.com (or PolicyMic.com!) similarly doesn't cut it. I can't imagine not being in front of a TV when presidential election results are announced. 

There are also traditional TV shows I need to watch live. When Mad Men premieres on April 7, I'll be glued to the TV. No way am I waiting to see it the next day on iTunes. That's laughable. 

But that's just me. There are any number of things that a person could need to see live: weather, C-SPAN, Jon Stewart, even the world premiere of The Avengers on FX. This thirst for now is what will keep TV sets flying off the shelves and cable companies in business. Yeah, I know Netflix is awesome, but talk to me when all 82 Knicks games are on there.