'Stream on' Netflix - TV channels still have a future

Don't write off the humble TV channel just yet
On demand is awesome, but there's room for TV channels too

"While hugely popular, the linear TV channel model is ripe for replacement," explained Netflix this week, in an update to its television manifesto, neatly skipping over several major content types to tell us why the future is all about, well, them.

I'm a big consumer of non-linear content; I use iPlayer and download Auntie's best to my iPad, I have Netflix and Lovefilm accounts and I use Sky Go, Sky Go Extra and even the occasional over-expensive digital download.

But to write off linear television is to fail to acknowledge that some content types are simply better suited to that environment. Sport is one and news is, to a lesser degree, another.

Of course, Netflix has a point when it talks about linear TV becoming less prevalent going forward. The 'watch when you want and where you want' mantra is powerful and most people reading this article will already have embraced it to a certain extent.

Water cooler

Those water cooler moments still exist, but they are less inclined to come with advert breaks and sitting down as a family.

Breaking Bad is being made simultaneously available on streaming as it is on TV and House Of Cards, Vikings and Arrested Development have proven that our tiny brains can cope with having an entire season arrive at the same moment.

But currently around 90 per cent of TV in the UK is consumed on that ageing linear channel-based platform and the decline is not going to be either rapid, or complete.

In 2022 we'll still have BBC One and ITV and we'll almost certainly be watching the World Cup final on one of those two channels.

While there is still a market to consume shows at the earliest possible moment there will always be a market for linear, that's why sport and news have linear futures.

Push news

I don't especially want to watch a key football game time-shifted, I don't want 'push' news, I absolutely categorically do want streaming movies, TV boxsets and entertainment content.

Sport is great on linear

Sport is great on linear

Of course, it's important to note that Netflix specifically mentions linear TV channels - presumably acknowledging the need for linear television - but we've yet to see a model in which linear television can be displayed without a host channel.

It's feasible, of course, your device could send you a reminder of when, say, a match is about to start and you plough right into it without having to sit through the last ten minutes of Downton Abbey.

But, for a lot of people, there is a comfort in the humble channel - drifting from one gentle nonsense to the next while you wait for something to arrive that engages you.

Even in households that have DVRs, streaming services ready and waiting, and devices littered around the sofa there is still the odd time where you find yourself watching back to back re-runs of Friends, or drawn in, despite yourself, to a Come Dine With Me marathon.

So, I think Netflix is wrong to write off linear. I almost guarantee that we will see a decline in the number of channels at some point, and that on demand will continue to flourish until it dominates.

But linear has served us well for decades, and I think its got decades left in its tank.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.