TV predictions: Looking into the crystal ball

Hypotheses for the future of broadcast and streaming.

Given the recent negative news about Netflix, let me begin this column focused on my predictions for the future of broadcasting and streaming with a proclamation.

Netflix is certainly not about to crumble anytime soon. But recent reports of the shares of the digital streamer falling more than 10 percent from April to June of this year (after the company reported global net adds of 2.7 million subscribers, well below the guarantee of 5 million) and a loss of approximately 130,000 subscribers in the United States only magnifies what I have been saying over and over again. Digital is an extension of, and not a replacement for, the linear platform.

Netflix explained that "its array of new shows during the quarter was not as appealing as expected and price increases in some markets stalled any potential growth." But, in this era of "Peak TV," where a streamer like Netflix seems to be throwing as many original series against the wall to see if anything sticks, I have to predict that over 500 original scripted series in one given season is indeed the max. And I do think that Netflix, and its digital competitors will have to keep raising their monthly fees in order to survive as their subscriptions peak.

At this point, just how many more people will be signing up for all these digital streamers?

As both linear and digital continue to evolve (with a network like CBS, for example, focused on building streamer CBS All Access without negatively impacting the broadcast platform), the common goal is a cross media platform environment where there these two very different platforms can both survive and thrive. Easier said than done, unfortunately. And I do believe, in the near future, that the continued array of new streamers (like the upcoming Disney+ from the Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International division of The Walt Disney Company) will give consumers more reason to wonder if they can afford all of these services.  

That said, I predict that Netflix, and the other streamers, will at some point have to include an advertising model to keep the revenue flowing. They will eventually not be able to survive on subscriptions alone and the traditional advertising they have sworn against will suddenly look more appealing. If that happens, these streamers will have to pony up the stats and tell us just who exactly their audience is. Does anyone really know outside of these streamers?

Way back when, or in the early 2000s to be more specific, I recall the concern that the rapid rise of the individual cable channels that offered scripted programming, news, sports, music, movies, and other forms of entertainment, would lead to the demise of the broadcast nets. Of course that never happened. Nor will it this time in this era of digital growth. But my next prediction, which I blame on what looks like a particularly lackluster new array of network shows this fall, is continued audience erosion on the linear platform.

While it is easy to point the proverbial finger of blame to digital for the ongoing network deterioration, original content always comes first. And from what I have seen, I am just not excited about any of the new network entries. Nor are you I presume.

I remember that summer of anticipation when ABC had two juggernauts about to debut…"Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." We all knew they would strike it rich, but was in 2004. I recall telling Johnny Galecki at the Television Critics Association Press Tour back in the summer of 2005 that I thought his upcoming CBS sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory," would be a big hit. And then there was "This Is Us" on NBC three years ago. But flash to the present and nothing on the broadcast nets has come even close to the success of these shows. And probably the most anticipated new series this fall is "Batwoman" on The CW.

The CW, of course, does not resonate, and it never will, via the traditional Nielsen ratings. It survives thanks to social media. And I certainly predict that this world of social media will only get bigger. So, to an advertiser looking to hawk its product, my next prediction is more of an emphasis placed on live events like Comic Con, where the opportunity is all over the place for product endorsements. And I do believe this emphasis on attracting the millennial audience in this digital era is all the more reason why a network like The CW can seem successful despite the lack of actual viewers.

That said, size of the audience for any outlet will remain secondary to the actual demographic skew. Speculation about the digital streamers will eventually have to be backed by pure stats. And the success of any outlet -- broadcast, cable, syndication or digital – will stay dependent on the caliber of the content. That was the rule in the beginning of television, and that will remain the foundation for the future.

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