The Inauguration as a tipping point for the death of broadcast television

We’ve long argued that broadcast television, that is television broadcast over the air, your traditional television stations days are numbered. The rise of on demand television shows online, despite internet enabled televisions still yet to be available in millions of homes (many launched at CES) shows a switch away from traditional broadcast television.

The counter argument has always been live, big events, such as sport will sustain broadcast television, although as we’ve seen many sporting bodies are now embracing live online feeds as well. But something strange happened for the inauguration of President Barack Obama: despite live coverage being offered on nearly every station, millions turned to online streams to watch.

How many? well the methodology isn’t brilliant, but NewTeeVee counts 70 million views vs 35 million for television. Even allowing for repeat views (each load is counted, vs viewership with television) online streams at very least rivaled broadcast television.

Millions didn’t turn on their televisions, instead they turned to the web. Live streaming on the internet has moved past a curiosity and bit player to become mainstream.

Which raises an obvious question: if people are happy to watch live television on a computer, even before many can play the stream on their televisions, how long now until the idea of broadcasting over the air dies?

Broadcast television stations involve large costs for licenses to broadcast. If their viewers are just as happy watching online, why continue broadcasting over the air?

As newspapers are slowly starting to switch to online only (or just closing), it’s conceivable that broadcast television stations may follow a similar pattern, although with cable thrown into the mix. Cable offers penetration into most houses in the United States, and internet offers a replacement to the costly broadcast licenses and supporting technology needed to broadcast, particularly so with the switch to digital television.

Within the next five years, internet enabled televisions will be mainstream, and along side video on demand, users may well pick a stream from their local station instead of an over the air signal. Broadcast television will die, and like newspapers, the smart stations will dump their attachment to the airwaves, and have long and possibly prosperous futures.