Audiences need linear TV more than ever, says Tom Cape

In the past year alone, our TV landscape has seen big shifts in the way content is consumed – including where, when, on what device – and broadcasters and consumers alike are having to adjust.

In this year’s Communications Market Report, Ofcom continued to discuss the growing uptake of online TV viewing. It revealed that 49% of UK adults are now using their internet connection to view online TV and that smart TVs increasingly infiltrating our homes.

There’s no doubt that this on-going, internet-connected TV transformation is an exciting one. Its potential is huge, putting the control back in the hands of the consumer, rather than leaving us to depend solely on a planned broadcast schedule.

But as the revolution picks up the pace, are we all being a little premature in writing off traditional linear viewing? Are we overhyping the impact of internet-connected TV?

The television industry has been evolving its ‘connected broadcasting’ offering for a number of years now.

The emergence, and growing popularity, of big online TV providers such as Netflix and Hulu combined with linear TV channels moving online such as BBC Three’s on-going move to an IP-delivered service are all examples of this and point to a wider future trend – the convergence of on and offline content.

Despite the much heralded ‘death of linear TV’ I would argue that you shouldn’t write off linear TV just yet.

Instead of being usurped by its digital counterpart, I see traditional linear broadcast remaining at the core of the TV experience.

However, in the future it will be underpinned, supported and complemented by a whole host of engagement technologies.

Video-on-demand can plant the seed for increased consumption of content, therefore driving people back to the linear schedule.

Often consumers will watch back-to-back episodes or a sequence of selection from a service. I think of this as the ‘new linear’, only customer-scheduled rather than broadcast-scheduled.

It’s easy to forget that while audiences are consuming more and more online content, more often than not they are reaching this content from linear broadcasts.

Viewers tend to be guided from traditional TV to other sources of content such as video on demand (VOD), recorded or over-the-top (OTT) services.

Think of the last time you watched a favourite programme and were encouraged to go online afterwards to catch up on previous episodes or see special web-only clips. Or consider all the ads you watch for the latest Netflix or Amazon Instant show.

The reason: simply diving into the wealth of online TV content is overwhelming.

Linear mindset

Audiences need linear TV to identify what online content they can choose to complement their viewing experience.

After all, TV is like music – if it wasn’t for the radio we wouldn’t know what CDs to buy or which songs to download. Broadcasters are still the trusted editorial voice and recognised brand.

Fundamentally, consumers still have a linear mind-set.

Much as we all stick with the same routine day-in-day-out, we enjoy the order of knowing what’s on now, what’s been on before and what’s happening in the future.

We still like to discuss last night’s telly with friends and colleagues. This plays to the strengths of traditional broadcast; it’s the structured nature which gives consumers a suggested direction for their viewing. Without this, consumers risk being overwhelmed with choice – a feeling familiar to anyone who, like me, has spent hours at a time trying to decide what to watch on Netflix.

Broadcasters are being presented with a unique opportunity. By concentrating the next stage of TV innovation on the convergence of linear and web-based technologies and content, we will see an environment where linear broadcast actually enables a seamless, over-the-top (OTT) experience.

Broadcasters will be able to create new forms of content and interactive services for viewers to access by moving seamlessly from linear services to web-based content.

Far from becoming obsolete, linear channels should still be the gateway to the future of TV.

Tom Cape is director of connected solutions at Arqiva