People have been sounding the alarm on the death of television since the first cord-cutters started ditching cable a decade ago.
It’s easy to think they might be right. Broadcast television ratings have been on a steady decline for five years running, streaming subscriptions overtook cable for the first time ever in 2018, and Nielsen has reported that the number of households with a TV set has dropped by four million over the past 10 years.
But like the best twisty, binge-worthy drama, the truth is a lot more interesting and complex.
While the industry is undergoing massive changes, the demand for more choice and live TV options has never been stronger, on both the terrestrial and inflight fronts. Young viewers, in particular, are clamoring to watch what they want, when and where they want to watch it—even if that’s on an airplane.
Tori Johnston, Service Product Line Manager for Live Television and Content at Panasonic Avionics, says a lot of speculation of TV’s demise is based on outdated metrics that rely on channels viewed on a traditional TV set inside a home. “These figures do not take into account a lot of viewers—especially younger audiences—who are consuming TV via other means: the Internet, apps, outside the home, in restaurants, the gym, bars, and on mobile devices. They may even stream app-derived content on their TV screen. So, if you were to actually factor in all the ways people view live content—especially sports—the numbers are actually going up.”
It just takes a look at the growing number of live-TV offerings by over-the-top (OTT, the industry term for streaming subscription services) companies like Hulu, YouTubeTV, and CBSAllAccess to know Johnston’s right.
That’s why we at Panasonic think of television not dead so much as it is evolving, with live TV and hybrid video-on-demand (VOD) options inflight being a huge part of that evolution.
New Ways of Watching
The rise of platform-agnostic content on the consumer front shows us people still watch loads of televised content. They just enjoy it differently than they used to.
The streaming era has unlocked a wealth of choices for viewers and this new, multi-layered approach to media consumption is changing the very definition of television. Those changes are exceptionally apparent in the inflight milieu, where multi-screening is becoming incredibly popular.
Platform-agnostic content and multiscreen ubiquity are just two of the ways television has changed. The third, and perhaps most important element of the evolution of television consumption today is binge-watching.
To Binge or Not to Binge?
Although binge-watching entire seasons of new shows remains as popular as ever, OTT providers like CBSAllAccess, Disney+, Apple TV+, and Netflix have taken a page from cable TV and have begun toying with weekly episode rollouts of their more popular shows.
This is one way OTT providers are looking to differentiate themselves in an increasingly fragmented landscape. Big fans can opt to tune in each week, while others may wait until the season’s over to watch all the episodes in one big binge session.
Choice is key to satisfying customers, says Zina Neophytou, Vice-President, Out of Home at BBC Studios. “I think this hybrid approach offers incredibly exciting opportunities for both programmers and advertisers alike,” she says. “As much as viewers value the instant gratification offered by binge-watching a show, drip-feeding episodes week by week can drive audience engagement and create a ‘buzz’ that advertisers can really benefit from.”
Appointment Television: The Comeback
The hybridization of cable and streaming (e.g. drip-feeding) is also apparent in the growing nostalgia for “appointment television.” You know what we’re talking about: the people who tune in Jeopardy! every weeknight at 7 p.m., the ones waiting to see the latest to get cut from The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, or the ones religiously tuning in to the aftershow of the Walking Dead.
In an era where you could probably binge-watch TV on your own schedule for years, many people—including many younger people—make it a point to tune in to their favorite shows at their broadcast time slot. That’s not only because they can’t wait to see what happens; it’s also because many also want to simultaneously gossip about it with friends and on social media.
“Choice is key to satisfying customers.”Zina Neophytou, Vice-President, Out of Home at BBC Studios.
Live TV Campfire Moments
Appointment television’s counterpart—live event broadcasting—is the bread and butter of television. Sports, awards shows, reality competition finales, 24/7 news channels—the stuff that reminds us we’re people in a world of other people.
“We are all social creatures at heart,” explains Johnston. “And often these big TV events include a social gathering of some kind. These types of events unite people and create a feeling of belonging and camaraderie that is very appealing.”
Noting that airlines with Panasonic’s live television service have seen entire cabins with their IFE screens tuned to the same sporting event cheering (and even booing!) along to games, Johnston says the unity and excitement these events engender in passengers, regardless of where their team loyalties lie, is infectious.
All of which suggests that television isn’t just alive, but thriving, even as it undergoes seismic changes in how and where we watch it.
The Road Ahead: Television Lives!
Through an extraordinary confluence of creativity, imagination, and technology, the streaming era has breathed new life into a medium many thought was down for the count. Far from being dead, television today is more vital and alive than ever.
This new golden era of television has shown us that there is room for everything on the viewing landscape—streaming, binging, multi-screen viewing, live and near-live TV inflight, and even traditional VOD—and the more our inflight offerings can reflect that diversity, the better.
“We feel it could be time for a shakeup of the traditional content delivery methods as passengers start to expect more,” says Johnston. “I think the road ahead for airlines is a smaller, more curated and dynamically updated content set with a bit of live, near-live, and traditional cached television content.
“This follows our terrestrial viewing patterns and gives viewers what they are demanding more and more of right now—choices! As passengers onboard, and in life, we want to be able to select what and how we consume our entertainment without restriction,” she continues.
At the end of the day, it’s about an ecosystem of options rather than a one-size-fits-all solution, adds Dominic Green, Panasonic Avionics’ Director of Media Services. “People expect choice and flexibility in the way they consume content, and live TV is part of that expectation,” he says.
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