The Online Streaming Shift: How TV Networks Are Adapting

Ryann Rasmussen | Mar 31, 2014

Streaming video is the latest media phenomenon and, as statistics and trends report, it’s not going anywhere. As of 2012, 100 million Americans watched online videos per day, which is up 43 percent since 2010, according to TechCrunch.

While this increase was largely driven by YouTube, streaming video services like Netflix (44 million subscribers as of December 2013) and Hulu (more than 5 million subscribers as of December 2013) are taking hold as well.

As a result, TV networks are beginning to take notice and are including online streaming in their airing and promotional strategies. But why are TV networks starting to adopt streaming practices, and is this an effective strategy for their shows and brands?

Why Would TV Networks Go for Streaming?

TV networks have a number of reasons for embracing the streaming phenomenon. The most obvious reason is that it opens up the programming to new viewers who wouldn’t normally watch the show on the TV network. Some people don’t have traditional access to TV anymore as they strictly prefer streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which are becoming more and more popular with each passing year.

Interaction with shows via social media is another reason why TV networks have begun to embrace the consumer shift toward streaming TV programming. While cable TV providers are beginning to release exceptions to the rule, generally speaking, it’s not possible to share what you’re watching directly from your television, particularly not the content itself.

By releasing their content online, TV networks open themselves up to new opportunities to engage viewers, particularly those who would not otherwise watch the programming on the actual network itself. This includes sharing the actual streaming link on viewers’ social media profiles, but it goes further than that. It also includes other unique ways that TV networks can allow viewers to interact with their shows and their brand, such as sharing photos, clips or status updates as created by the network and shared online.

For these reasons, many TV networks are beginning to stream their shows online. For some this means streaming On Demand after the initial showing, and for others this means live streaming in conjunction with the original airing of the show itself.

Still others are beginning to experiment alternating the release of episodes on TV and online streaming. This mix of releases encourages viewers to take part in both types of programming and possibly even edges them forward to consider either signing up for the streaming service (if not free) or signing up for the TV network in their homes.

Many TV networks are releasing and have released programming both on TV and online, and many more are likely to join in the future.

Recent Apple and Comcast Talks

Very recently, it was announced that Apple and Comcast were in talks about possibly teaming up to create a streaming television service (both live and On Demand) that would use Apple’s Apple TV set-top box in conjunction with programming from the largest cable company in the country. The two intend to bypass web congestion to provide a streaming service that is devoid of extensive loading and buffering, which can interrupt the viewing experience for streaming consumers.

These aren’t the first talks in the works for this type of deal, and they won’t be the last. The fact that two companies as big as Apple and Comcast are discussing creating a streaming service points to a significant shift in the presumed TV watching habits of consumers. Networks may gladly sign on to be a part of such a deal with Apple, thereby extending their ability to reach still more consumers outside of their on-TV programming.

HBO’s “Girls” Season 3 Streaming

Earlier this year, HBO’s “Girls” premiered its third season and decided to take a different direction in promotion and garnering of fans early on for the latest installment of the series. For the first two episodes of season 3, HBO made the content available on its channel and On Demand service, but it also created two YouTube videos to allow streaming of the episodes for up to four weeks after they aired.

HBO presumably did this to appease those who would not pay for the HBO service and who would download or stream the episodes rather than use HBO’s Go service anyway. HBO realizes the shifting preferences of its intended audience, particularly for that of “Girls,” and it wants to cater to those consumers in a way that connects them to the show and possible encourages them to even subscribe to the channel later on.

Other Examples of Live and On Demand Streaming

HBO’s Girls is not by any means the only show that is taking advantage of online streaming capabilities to reach a wider audience. Several of the larger TV networks, such as ABC and NBC, regularly live stream their shows online to enable viewers who do not have access to traditional television to enjoy and possibly even interact with their programming. Shows like ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and NBC’s “Believe,” for example, are streamed live along with the standard TV showing, plus the programming is available even if you missed its original airing time slot.

Even the Oscars was available for live streaming via ABC’s Watch ABC web and mobile platforms. However, it was only available if you were a subscriber to one of eight pay-TV providers (such as Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, and Charter) and were located in one of the eight U.S. markets the content was streamed to (including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and others).

It appears that incorporating online streaming is an effective move for TV networks today in terms of capturing more viewers and increasing interaction with their shows and brand. As this shift toward streaming progresses globally, only time will tell how TV networks will continue to adapt in the future.

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