Does TV as we know it have an expiration date? As content sources diversify thanks to streaming services’ success with original content, and young viewers continue to turn to new devices to get their entertainment fix, the television world is swiftly changing—creating a new generation of viewers who have a completely different set of entertainment expectations.
Netflix has been a clear pioneer in the new trend of releasing entire seasons of a show at one time, having done so successfully with original shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Now, the practice is beginning to trickle over to traditional networks, who are testing the binge-watching waters with the next generation of viewers. Last month, Disney announced that they would be releasing their new show Sheriff Callie’s Wild West directly to their Watch Disney Junior app before the show debuts on cable next year. The entire season will be accessible to young viewers, who are increasingly showing a penchant for consuming content on mobile devices. The Disney Junior app has been downloaded over 5 million times, and Disney claims that iPads and other tablets are increasingly becoming “first screens” for pre-school age viewers. These Plurals are growing up completely accustomed to the idea that content can come from anywhere at any time, travel with them, and be set to their schedule. They call the shots when it comes to consuming content, and their understanding of appointment watching could be close to nonexistent. Disney is not the only brand embracing pre-cable mobile delivery: MTV recently released the entire season of the new docu-drama Wait ‘Til Next Year on their network app before its TV start.
The next generation of television viewers will have even less of a commitment to the actual television set than Millennials do. If the trend continues, their sense of when and how a show should be watched will not be constrained by any of the traditional rules, and they will expect to access the content they want not only whenever they want, but also in whatever amounts they might want it. This could mean that television plays a different role for them. Where Boomers, Xers, and Millennials shared the experience of appointment television, bonding over cliffhangers, and the communal experience of shared pop culture moments, for Plurals content might be a more customizable and more private experience. Alternately, their ways of sharing and bonding over television could continue in different forms: creating fandom pages and connecting with other super-fans online, tweeting teasers, making and sharing character gifs, and racing to watch a series to catch-up and rehash with friends.
Those who embrace the shift could find that it opens up doors and creates interesting content opportunities. The next generation of viewers might have demanding expectations, but they will also be more open-minded about where their content can come from, where they watch it, and what it might look like. They are already beginning to look for more innovative and diverse ways to consume TV, whether through TV show apps, connecting on social media as they watch, or even with “select your own ending” – new forms of entertainment are already popping up to cater to the generation. Throwing out the rulebook on television schedules could mean that more rules can be broken as well, a scary prospect for some content creators, but one that potentially allows for creativity, interactivity, and viewer engagement.