Does television risk going the same way as the music or newspaper industries? That is the question asked in a far-reaching new report, The Value of Content, by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The report, commissioned by Liberty Global, argues that a major industry shake-up is on the way because of the increasing popularity of online content. It forecasts that this could happen much more quickly than anticipated and that “significant numbers” of TV channels could fail. Television is, of course, no stranger to change, and it has always managed to adapt to new challenges. But the report argues that today’s challenges mark a paradigm shift away from the normal pattern of evolutionary change. A proliferation in the number of ways in which anyone can access online video content means that consumers are becoming choosier about what they watch and when they watch it. Industry players who make or hold the rights to what people want to watch, and can distribute it in the way they want to watch it will succeed – while those who stick to more traditional ways of doing things will fall by the wayside. So what is driving these huge changes in our viewing habits?

First and foremost, new technology. New streaming networks and software are now capable of delivering high-quality video directly to televisions and other connected devices. By 2017, 74 percent of the European Union and 96 percent of the United States will have access to “video-ready” fixed broadband. Then there is the increased availability of high-quality content – produced for consumption online or on television. And thirdly, new and cheaper models of online content creation are driving large audiences to channels such as YouTube. The most successful YouTube series to date was made for less than US$50,000 dollars an episode – but each one attracted several million viewers. By 2020, according to the report, we will be watching an average of 24 hours of online content a week. Half of all entertainment viewing in the United States is expected to be time-shifted by then, with the European Union following closely behind.