The Future of Live TV

Think about the last time you watched live TV. I’d bet good money you were watching one of the following types of programming:

  • a sporting event
  • a season finale
  • the news

I’m probably missing one or two items for that list, but in general, in a world of DVRs and TiVo and Hulu and Netflix, we no longer have a need for live TV.

That, in itself, is awesome. We have the freedom to choose when we want to be entertained. Can you imagine a time when, if you wanted to watch your favorite show, your only option was a 30-minute period once a week? That constraint is unimaginable in 2012.

However, while it’s awesome for us, the viewers, it’s not awesome for TV. Not that we owe TV anything. But if we want TV to survive as a medium, it needs a way to make money off of us if we continue to skip past the ads.

One way is to sell individual shows–you pay $0.99 and you get a single show, or you pay $5 for a season pass for a show. That money goes to pay the expenses for the actors, production, sets, costumes, distribution, etc. You give the show money, and the show continues to air.

There’s a certain level of democracy to that–after all, when you pay a cable company $100/month, you’re paying for thousands of shows that you’ll never watch. That’s ridiculous.

The other way is to merchandise shows with scarcity, urgency, and affordability. I think this is a win-win-win situation for viewers, TV shows, and advertisers. It’s a combination of Groupon, the Home Shopping Network, and Fashion Star. You know about the first two, but let me briefly explain how Fashion Star works.

Fashion Star is a competitive reality show in which contestants design clothes. Each week there are a few winning designs, and people can purchase those outfits the next day online and in stores. The first episode aired last night, and all three winning outfits sold out within a few hours. You’re incentivized to watch the show–or at least be aware of the results–so that you can have the must-own outfit while you still have the chance. If the show waited a few months to release the outfits, no one would care. It’s also key that the outfits are affordable–they’re $20, $89, and $350 (okay, the last one isn’t affordable, but somehow it sold out too).

Scarcity, urgency, affordability. These are the keys to live TV. Here’s how I see it working:

  1. You’re watching an episode of The Office. You see Jim wearing an awesome skinny tie. You want it.
  2. You log onto your Fashion TV account on your iPad or smart phone, select The Office, and scroll through all the outfits people are wearing on that week’s episode until you find the tie.
  3. The first 500 ties sold are priced at $29. After that, you can still buy the tie, but it’s marked back up to retail of $49.
  4. Fortunately, you’re watching The Office live, so there are still 320 ties left at the discounted price. You purchase one with a single click and continue watching the show.

See how easy that is? And the best part for live TV–for producers and advertisers–is that there’s a huge incentive for people to watch the episode live. You want to be able to buy the awesome skinny tie. Or the dress that the Bachelorette wore. Or the microwave on Modern Family. Or the gift card to Ben & Jerry’s from the joke on The Daily Show. Or the Land Rover from The Walking Dead.

What do you think? Would this get you to watch live TV more often?

12 thoughts on “The Future of Live TV”

  1. Live TV is dying, fast. It is practically dead. I actually watched Modern Family “live” this evening, that is, when it aired (haven’t watched a show, non-sporting event or news, on TV in a looong time). I was struck by my impatience with the commercials. I also kept finding myself wanting to pause the show (I don’t get fancy TV, just an antenna). I think it actually made the show less entertaining.

    I think the Fashion Star idea is interesting and will work for that type of show. It certainly appeals to those people who always need to have the latest fad or gadget, even. For the rest of us, it has no appeal. I can definitely say that that method will not get me to watch “live” TV more often.

    Have you watched any of the web series that are out there now? That is what I think the future of TV is, a total conversion to internet-only programming with lower production costs and embedded advertisements (i.e. product placement). I just wonder how many more reality shows we’ll need to fill all of the available air time once all the scripted shows shift to the internet.

    • Mena–You definitely could be right. In some ways, you already are. There are more and more web series gaining popularity. I love how direct the model is–you like the show, and you pay money directly to the makers of the show if you want more. Cut out the middle man. (Full disclosure: I haven’t actually watched a web series.)

      The one thing about product placement is that I don’t think it’s all that effective. When was the last time you bought something because of product placement? For the most part, I think product placement simply plants the seed in your head that sure, maybe you’ll get Doritos the next time you’re at the grocery store if you remember. But it could be SO much more effective if you could buy those Doritos right away with one click of a button. I don’t think this works for everything–like, with cars, you’re not going to impulse buy a car. But with one click of a button you could get special information about the car and a list of nearby dealers where the car is available.

      You have a good point about the concept I described. I hardly ever shop for clothing, so why would I transform into an impulse buyer while watching The Office? I don’t think it would be a huge incentive to watch more live TV, but it would be a small incentive, and it’s the little things that might make a big difference in the long run. Actually, I didn’t even mention Glee and American Idol–they often sell singles the day after the performance (or maybe the day of?)

      • I’ve watched maybe 5 web series and I’ve never paid for one.

        I was just thinking about your idea and it would be enhanced with some advances in 3D printing technology. It would definitely appeal to the instant-gratification types. Anyway, you could link up the 3D printer to the products available on the show and with a click, the plans to generate that product are sent to the printer and you have it right away. I guess I’d like to see something more like a Star Trek replicator, basically a super high quality 3D printer. Now, THAT would be cool.

        • Never paid for one! What makes you think they’ll keep making them without your support? 🙂

          The 3D printer ideal is very, very cool. Right now 3D printers mainly just seam capable of printing prototypes and mockups, but I’m sure they’ll continue to advance. That’s a very cool idea that I might incorporate into my new novel.

            • Ah, ad support…I truly wonder who clicks those ads. One day, no one is going to click those ads and TV advertisers will realize that no one cares about what they’re advertising (or sees it at all since we’ll all either have TiVos or Hulu) and they’ll stop altogether. Then how will shows make money?

              • I don’t think advertising will ever be completely disconnected from TV. I think advertisers will just devise new ways to make money off of viewers. Also, I think there will always be people who click on those links. I suppose the funding structure will continue to shift to subscription services, but will also include advertisements like we have now. So, I guess the short answer is I don’t know.

  2. The last time I watched “live” TV was more than likely sports related (Probably the Super Bowl). I would go days without turning on my TV so I decided to cancel my cable. As long as I have Netflix and the Internet I can access everything that I need/want to watch.

    I would be willing to pay for a series pass or individual shows. Sometimes if you don’t want to wait a week for an episode to be on the show website you end up paying. Although 9 times out of 10 I can find the episode for free somewhere. I usually cannot wait a week to watch New Girl.

    I like the merchandise concept but for me it wouldn’t necessarily make me watch “live” TV. For me, it comes down to time. I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. And many times I’m not home when my shows would be on so watching later online works better for me.

    • Laura,

      I think Hulu Plus lets you pay to watch shows the next day instead of the next week. However, they still group shows together. You pay for Hulu Plus as a whole, so you’re paying for a lot of shows that you don’t watch.

      That’s a great point that a lot of it comes down to time and your personal schedule. Even if there were a ton of incentives to watching live TV, you can’t get around the time factor.

      • Right now I wouldn’t try Hulu Plus mainly because of that. I just don’t watch a lot of TV shows. The few I watch I manage to find online. Doesn’t iTunes and Amazon have pay by the episode? I thought I’ve had that option before but I’ve never used it.

  3. Are you familiar with Catalina coupons? When you go to the grocery store, and you ring up a carton of Ice Cream, and they give you a coupon for Hershey’s sauce. Apply that to TV. It doesn’t matter if you watch it live at all, so long as you watch the show, you get get X Coupons redeemable for a discount to products that normally advertise.
    It’s not too outside of the box to be perpetually sustainable, but it’d work for a while.


Leave a Reply

Discover more from

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading