Connected TV

Live Programming is TV’s Past—and CTV’s Future

Netflix’s “Love is Blind” stumble shows how important live programming is to streaming

Live Programming is TV’s Past—and CTV’s Future

5 Min Read

On July 12, 1962, the first live television signal was beamed across the United States, Canada, and Europe. At that moment, everything changed. Live programming reshaped how we thought about entertainment and communication, and was a monumental step toward today’s interconnected world. 

In time, live programming became so ubiquitous that consumers didn’t really think about it. Sports, news, musicals, concerts—live content was everywhere. It was just expected that when you’d turn on the TV, you’d be able to find live programming during primetime viewing hours.

Sixty-one years after that first signal, everything old is new again.

As streaming overtakes broadcast TV and cable in viewership, and as more services expand their offerings to stay competitive, live television has become the new frontier for CTV as major players start experimenting with bringing the format to streaming. But moving past its unique value proposition of exclusively always on-demand content has been difficult for streaming—a lesson that Netflix learned firsthand this week. And yet, streamers and advertisers are more optimistic than ever about a live-CTV future. 

Netflix’s Love is Blind Breakdown

Last month Netflix made headlines when it aired its first-ever live programming, Chris Rock: Selective Outrage. Within hours, the hotly-anticipated special cracked Netflix’s Top 10 list in the US. Happy with its success, Netflix was looking forward to its second attempt with this week’s highly-anticipated “Love is Blind” live reunion. Unfortunately, lightning didn’t strike twice for Netflix.

Scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, viewers who tuned in were met with a delay. A couple of minutes after the scheduled start time, Netflix tweeted that the show would air within fifteen minutes. Soon came more delays and more tweets that pleaded for patience. Viewers were repeatedly kicked out of the show and couldn’t get back in, and many that did get through were greeted with a continuous error message. Soon many fans—including elected officials in the U.S. government—were voicing their frustrations on social media. Others were ditching Netflix altogether as word spread that the lucky fans who could get through were charitably live streaming the event on channels like Discord, Instagram, and TikTok. 

Almost an hour and a half after the reunion’s scheduled start time, Netflix tweeted out an apology and announced they had commenced filming—and that it’d be available on-demand as soon as humanly possible (this turned out to be Monday afternoon, a full 18 hours after the original promised air time). Ironically for many fans, Netflix’s second live event was consumed like any other piece of content on the service—at a later date, on demand.

The Fallout

The irony of a cutting-edge streaming service fumbling live programming wasn’t lost on many, as the Netflix outage became meme fodder for both brands and fans online. Some found humor in the fact that Netflix, which is in the midst of cracking down on account sharing, was encouraging account sharing after all as frustrated fans took to social media for second-hand live streams. 

The Love is Blind hiccup wasn’t just a temporary embarrassment for the legacy streamer; it comes at a crucial pivot point as competitors like Apple and Amazon are racing each other to incorporate more live programming into their content mix. For their part, Netflix has been an equal mix of apologetic and celebratory as the show was viewed 6.5 million times after airing. “We’re really sorry to have disappointed so many people,” said co-CEO Greg Peters. “We didn’t meet the standard that we expect from ourselves to serve our members.” 

One of the reasons for the outage was surprisingly placed on the success of the Chris Rock special and Netflix’s continued pursuit of improvement. On the company’s first quarterly earnings call without former CEO Reed Hastings, Peters reported that the Love is Blind snafu was a result of a bug that the streamer introduced after making attempts to strengthen its live-streaming capabilities after Rock’s standup special.

What This Means for Advertisers

Netflix’s issues are a reminder that live programming is still in its infancy on streaming; sports and news have had an easier transition to CTV, but other programming and tentpole events seem to still struggle. Ironically, the challenges lie in both technological capabilities and streaming’s approach to programming. Netflix and its peers have never had to rely on the technical demands and complexities of live streaming before; now they’re being forced to rethink their approach as they accommodate both on-demand and live content—and that includes accommodating a large influx of viewers logging in at once to watch.

As Netflix and other streaming services continue to commit to live content, these technological and philosophical barriers would continue to come down—and that’s great news for marketers. Brands have always been drawn to the idea of being able to hitch their wagons to big tentpole events. Streaming offers another avenue for brands while also providing a level of ad targeting and measurement not possible on linear TV. Premium CTV ad platforms like MNTN Performance TV contribute through flexible and agile capabilities that let brands rapidly start or pause advertising or seize upon a memorable TV moment as it’s happening. The framework for advertisers is in place, now streaming services are committed to building out the final piece of the (live streaming) puzzle. 

A Live-ly Future

Already Netflix is looking past this week’s snafu and focusing on the future. In a Q1 earnings call, Peters doubled down on Netflix’s commitment to live content. “We hate when these things happen, but we’ll learn from it and get better. We do have the fundamental infrastructure that we need,” he said. Peters’ co-CEO, Ted Sarandos, agreed by noting he was “super disappointed” in the outage while remaining optimistic about the future. “I do think sometimes those results-oriented shows do play out a little bit better on live and they do generate a lot of conversation,” Sarandos said. “But keep in mind, like on Chris Rock, about 90% of the viewing happened after. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a big event when it happened live.”

Sarandos was clear that he still believes in live event programming for Netflix. “Streaming is the future…and we have plenty of room to grow,” he said at the end of the call.

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