Is this the end of television as we know it?

When you hear ‘television’, what comes to mind? It likely depends on your age. You might envision bulky boxes in the corner of your living room or sleek flat screens that blend into your decor. But if streaming is your first thought, you’ve probably already ‘cut the cord’ from terrestrial TV.
Our perceptions of TV often revolve around the technology delivering the content, not the content itself. But for many of us, we’re thinking about TV today in a way that will bear no resemblance to how we’ll come to think of it in the future.

How the next generation see television

TV brands must adapt if they want to survive the evolving needs and behaviours of younger consumers. They need to stop thinking of themselves as content distributors and start to think about being content purveyors, via multiple distribution channels.

The traditional ‘electronic hearth’ that was once the centre of many families is now obsolete in a world filled with multiple screens and smartphones. Younger viewers have little familiarity with linear broadcasting and its curated evening schedules of news at 6pm, through to comedy, soaps and drama. Instead, they merely know of terrestrial channels for a handful of must-see shows.

The television vs television as content

TV brands that once ruled the airwaves are now competing with digital platforms for their share of eyeballs. television is at risk of becoming superfluous.

For younger viewers across the world, good content is good content — and they will always seek it out, regardless of the channel or platform. Therefore, terrestrial or linear brands may have to start thinking of themselves as content distributors first, rather than broadcasters of owned content.

Indeed, Director of iPlayer, Dan McGolplin, recently said he can see a day when terrestrial is switched off altogether. Broadcasters are increasingly likely to create and distribute content for whatever the favoured distribution channels are for each generation.

Our analysis is also strengthened by the 2024 Deloitte report on Digital Trends. The Deloitte report shows that almost half of Gen Z (and a big share of millennials) say they prefer video sharing via social media and live streaming to traditional film and TV, or even services like Netflix and Max. Where once it was Facebook, it might now be Netflix; or where it was once Netflix, it might now be TikTok or Twitch.

This is confirmed by the share of the total identified viewing.

Source: BARB

Is this the end of television as we know it?

Not necessarily. This seismic shift might not matter if TV brands can rethink, reposition and rebrand – using every available means to reach their potential audience.

We’re seeing early recognition of this as the likes of Channel 4 and BBC pivot to ‘digital-first’. The success of older linear content on Netflix, such as Top Boy or Kin, shows that content can flourish outside the old-world eco-system of broadcasting.

Or is streaming becoming more like linear TV?

Interestingly, streaming giants like Amazon and Netflix have adopted some linear TV traits recently. The incorporation of adverts feels very linear, as do scheduled sports. WWE and NFL coverage is coming soon on Netflix, and Amazon already streams major tennis tournaments.

They’re also experimenting with live events including ‘The Netflix Cup’, featuring competitors from the streamer’s existing brands ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ and ‘Full Swing’, and several live comedy specials are coming soon.

So yes, streaming is stealing some of linear TV’s clothes, but it’s not becoming linear.

Can breakout hits save linear?

In 2024, we’ve seen ratings successes from The Traitors, The 1% Club, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, Gladiators and The Jury standing out in both overnights and consolidated figures. But the difference between perceived success and failure is becoming increasingly dramatic.

The point at which a show becomes a true brand is a measure of lasting success — and the more hits that a broadcaster has in its arsenal, the more likely it is to survive this tricky transitional period.

Lasting success for any particular content brand either requires ‘evergreen’ status (can be watched again and again over subsequent years) or the ability to create ongoing content for years to come (think Strictly, Top Gear or Bake Off).

There’s nothing inherently unique to linear TV that requires these breakout shows to emerge or dwell in the linear ecosystem. They currently do so because the majority of the population (skewed older) still digest a lot of their content from the linear schedule. The trend we would argue is not in favour of that increasing over time.

What’s in store for the future of television?

Today’s young people will be old people eventually (sorry kids) — but that doesn’t mean they’ll start to behave like their parents and grandparents, any more than we use typewriters, send telegrams or communicate by fax now. It is time to start rethinking what a television brand is: “The television is dead – long live television”.