The digital TV boom – Is old programming on its last legs?

The first television broadcast was in 1928 in which the Baird Television Development Company broadcasted the first transatlantic television signal. The TVs accessibility and simplicity made it a staple of a modern household. But in recent years, our source of entertainment has begun to shift away from a big screen and a sofa, to an overheating MacBook in bed. Video sharing sites such as YouTube started this transition, with binge-able content made by and for a younger demographic than most traditional TV. However, since then, big media companies have begun to jump in on the digital media trend, shifting expenses across a multitude of platforms in order to diversify their consumer base.

The case for traditional TV

However, many believe that the old wired approach to entertainment is going stronger than ever with an increase of almost 2.5% in the US cable subscriber base in the year of 2012 and 94.6 million US households directly paying for their wired television. Furthermore, companies such as Comcast, Time Warner and Scripps which all have major stakes in the US’ paid tv subscription industry, all have some of the most solid large-cap stocks in the market. This is, for the most part, due to increased revenues from the raising of their prices. In addition, cable channels are still putting out hits that rack up millions of live viewers whenever an episode is scheduled. The theory is that with well written, expensive dramas or star-studded comedies, fans will not be able to wait for an on-demand option to hit the market thus bringing back the urgency that pre-internet television had. One prime example of this is the record-breaking HBO hit series Game of Thrones, a medieval fantasy epic based upon the books written by author George RR Martin which broke the boundary of ‘nerdy’ fantasy shows into the cultural mainstream. As soon as a new series ends or begins or seemingly everyone’s favourite character dies, it’s the top twitter moment within seconds. Even though the show is set to end soon, multiple spin-off series have already been written and planned, with many fans hoping to be able to keep the GOT ratings train moving. Lastly, the size of cable television is rather well exemplified by the wages that studios are paying their talent. Across a plethora of genres, actors, actresses, comedians and reality stars are all receiving hefty sums for the work they are doing on series that air on paid TV. An example of this is the $560k singer Kelly Clarkson makes per-episode of the MGM talent show known as The Voice. Actor Norman Reedus makes $1 million for every episode that he plays the role of Daryl Dixon in AMC’s The Walking Dead. These heavy sums are somewhat of a wakeup call to those who are sleeping on traditional television as a dying media. The fact of the matter is that studios such as FX and AMC dominate the high-budget programming that dominates award shows such as the Emmys with 60% of the nominations for best television drama going to traditional television providers.

The opposition

The first Netflix original to be released to their online platform was House of Cards with the first episode in early 2013. This shows 5-year run was met with critical acclaim and won the Emmy Award for best directing in its first season. However, since then its seemingly unstoppable run was cut short by the revelations enacted by the Me Too movement that accused starring actor Kevin Spacey of several instances of severe sexual misconduct. However, the smash hit series has nevertheless put a fire underneath the boards of companies such as Time Warner and HBO that digital media can and will be taken seriously. Since that point, other streaming companies such as Hulu, Amazon Prime and even Apple have invaded the modern households evening entertainment. Massive subscriber bases have further helped aid the growth of these companies, this is evident in Amazon’s business tactics of an all-in-one premium service that gifts its customer’s streamable music and video as well as faster shipping and discounts on delivered goods. This clearly works due to the fact that as of late over 22% of adults in the US use Amazon Prime video. These massive audiences provide the income that is required to create shows that compete with the media juggernauts that are HBO and AMC. This is yet again reflected in the wages they pay their performers. These paychecks have skyrocketed as of late, demonstrated by the $1.1 million-per-episode wage that Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are both making in an Apple dramedy that is currently in the works. Furthermore, actress Elizabeth Moss was paid $1 million per episode of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale reboot that has in that past year received mass critical acclaim along with a multitude of awards. Breakout Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown has been handed a hefty $350k per episode salary by Netflix despite just being only 14 years of age. These large paychecks clearly give the public an insight into just how much revenue is being transported in these companies and just how fast this has all occurred considering this concept was barely recognised 6 years ago. And since then, massive companies such as Netflix have burst upon the scene, eventually overtaking cable in the US in 2017.

It is evident that media is moving to digital. The numbers indicate it and so does public opinion with the introduction of a digitally savvy generation forecast to kill the traditional TV service. The fact of the matter is that in a modern world, things that aren’t convenient get cut out and in some time every home’s TVs won’t rely on a cable or antenna to watch shows. Streaming services’ customised selections and multi-platform viewing make it a more accessible medium along with internally produced cult-classics appealing to a wide variety of customers. However, it seems that big TV has seen this coming as demonstrated by the BBC’s establishment of streaming facilities back in 2007 with iPlayer. Since then large companies have followed suit such as HBO launching HBO GO in 2010 and services like Sling which aim to bring cable programming to a digital medium. However, the shift into digital may take longer than expected, those of the older generation may not be informed or be interested in updating their entertainment. So where does it go from here? Traditionally paid TV is forecast to fall over time, however, the studios that once existed on this platform will almost definitely work over the next few years to transfer over to the digital space, with many already well underway with that task. Digital giants like Netflix and Amazon will be subject to further sustainable growth, and could possibly become the dominating recipient of Academy Awards. The gap in digital and traditional TV talent income has seemingly been bridged in the past few years and so has the subscriber numbers, all we can do from here is observe the shift.