Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Quickfire
3 March 2023

Netflix is moving into live TV – and the BBC should be worried

This ambitious move by Netflix is sure to make its broadcast television rivals rather nervous.

By Scott Bryan

There’s nothing like live television. The energy, the unpredictability. The fact that you can tweet about the fleeting moment on screen, and everyone knows what you’re on about. The feeling that a live broadcast might go belly-up at any moment. Where else but live TV would you have found Bounce, a Labrador invited onto the BBC News Channel, with the caption “SPOKESDOG”?

Until now, with the exception of some sports coverage, streaming services have ignored live television, but that might be about to change. Netflix announced this week that it will show a Chris Rock comedy special live. And not only that, there’s anticipation that he’ll finally talk about being slapped by Will Smith at the Oscars in his routine, which will no doubt create big headlines.

The special is being shown at primetime in the US, and so it won’t be at a suitable time over here, but Netflix’s ambition is sure to make the BBC and its television rivals rather nervous. While Netflix has changed our viewing habits forever, encouraging the rise of box-set binges or the nostalgic rewatching of older shows, there’s one advantage the BBC and other traditional channels have over streaming services – the ability to create shared national moments at the drop of a hat.

[See also: 1899 review: Netflix can’t stop cancelling its best shows]

Sure, Squid Game and The Crown got people talking around the world, and millions of people might watch a new Netflix show on any given night. But traditional TV has the power of bringing people across a country together to watch the same thing at the same time. It’s one of the best things about television, knowing that millions of people are engrossed in the same moment as you are. It’s a power the BBC is well aware of too, shown most recently with its decision to broadcast the final series of Happy Valley weekly, rather than just release all the episodes at once.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. Your guide to the best writing across politics, ideas, books and culture - both in the New Statesman and from elsewhere - sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The streaming giants have become victims of their own success. We are now overwhelmed by choice – scrolling through apps to find a show can be tedious. Not knowing if anyone else is watching the same show as you can make streaming feel like a soulless, isolated activity. But if Netflix or other streamers master live viewing, the impact could be huge. The BBC can create national moments; these streamers could create global ones.

Content from our partners
A better future starts at home
How to create an inclusive workplace and embrace neurodiversity
Universal Credit falls short of covering the bare essentials. That needs to change

The challenge will be working out how to do it. Do they focus on live shows and events? Do they debut new dramas in live scheduled slots? How do they stay accessible to viewers in many different time zones? How will they change a culture that they ushered in – one in which you could watch any show at any time? The cost of living crisis has already resulted in millions of streaming subscriptions being cut, so any wrong decisions could have major consequences.

But if Netflix masters live viewing, the consequences for the BBC would be extremely serious. Their collective viewing advantage and their hold over the national consciousness would be at risk. In that scenario, even Bounce the dog could not help them.

Read more:

Netflix’s Scoop is part of a cheap trend of sensationalist docudramas

Harry and Meghan review: Netflix can’t disguise how much doesn’t add up

The Gray Man review: Netflix action film as dreary as it sounds

Topics in this article :