Written by Joe McDonald / January 20th, 2016, 9:30am
It’s pretty clear that 2015 has turned out to be the year of Netflix. Their combination of adding quality programming like ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ with their commitment to original programming like ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘Making a Murderer’ means that the online streaming service has evolved into a television channel with a difference – the viewer has complete control of what to watch when we want it. With the news that Netflix has committed to providing 600 hours of original entertainment through 2016, it’s clear that the television world is changing.
This would be great if I thought for one second that this kind of competition was good for the visual media market as a whole. While viable competitors like Amazon Prime and Google Play are providing a challenge for Netflix to up its game, I can’t help but feel that the traditional channels are being left behind.
Take Saturday night for example. This is just my opinion of course but I turned on the television and there was nothing on. The Voice UK was on BBC1 but I’m boycotting that show since they took the remarkably stupid decision to dump a singer and musician with over 50 years experience for someone who can’t sing (I’d like to say this is my opinion also but there was a petition last September to replace Paloma Faith as the vocals for the rugby theme tune so yeah...).
Meanwhile on ITV, Paddy McGuinness was hosting yet another series of Take Me Out which is like Blind Date if you replace all the quality with tackiness. Later on we had the Jonathan Ross show. This week at least he had some great guests – Sir Michael Caine for example – but the chat show format can be hit-and-miss depending on the guests and usually devolves into ‘wacky’ and ‘hilarious’ shenanigans and a soul-destroying musical performance (in the wrong way). The programmes on the other channels aren’t even worth mentioning.
Put simply, the offerings on traditional TV are becoming stale and uninspired, and it baffles me that the corporations behind the channels aren’t making any more changes than they have to, to compete with on-demand and other non-linear services. Instead we seem to get the same old formats of reality TV, soap operas and chat shows.
Admittedly the BBC seem to be doing more to compete than anyone else. It’s a shame that they had to pull BBC3 because of budget cuts (seriously, leave them alone, Mr. Government) but their move online could become a success if their programming is good enough. It’s a big ask at this point, considering how big Netflix and Amazon Prime are becoming, but at least they are trying to get the youth demographic to stick with them.
As for the rest, just because we might find the Real Housewives franchise or Storage Wars strangely addictive does not mean that we want it on 24/7.
I’m saying all this because I came to a worrying realisation the other night: it is now more normal for me to boot my laptop up and watch something on Netflix than to sit down and watch traditional TV. The only things I am watching on TV at the moment are the BBC’s Dickensian and their fantastic adaptation of War and Peace – and those plots and characters have been tried and tested already. There’s nothing original that’s grabbing me.
This complacency among networks in the face of on-demand services is dangerous. It’s inevitable that viewership is going to decline – indeed that decline has already started -- but I believe they can still control how gradual that decline is. Their goal for the year should be to work out how to retain viewers and that means moving with the times. Perhaps the answer lies in releasing a batch of new programmes and episodes at once, and letting the viewer choose which programme to watch and when. One thing’s for sure: watching traditional TV will soon be a thing of the past. It’s up to the channels to decide how best to fit in with the present.