Talk Show on Netflix: A Game-Changer for Live Events?

Eileen Meng Lu  |

Streaming service giant Netflix's (NFLX) hiring of Chelsea Handler to host a late night talk show on Netflix in 2016 just rippled through the broadcast world. It's one thing to stream second-or-third-run shows, or even produce its own dramas like House of Cards, because traditional television stations regularly produce and broadcast TV dramas as well, and both two platforms thrive in different ways. 

But a talk show usually is a signature of linear TV channels to accumulate a good audience base. Netflix is going after the crown jewels of TV channels. If goes well, Netflix could be a game-changer. However, just like the company being vague on the content and format of Chelsea Handler's coming show, Netflix’ plan to upend TV could be just be talk.

On June 19 Netflix signed E! Enternainment star Chelsea Hander to create and host a "late night" talk show. "The Internet has disrupted many of the conventions of traditional television and together with Chelsea Handler, Netflix is looking forward to reimagining the late night talk show for the on-demand generation, starting with the late night part," Netflix's Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said in the announcement.  

Leaving aside his coy tone, he is right that the internet has disrupted many conventions that were once exclusive to TV stations. Started as a subscription-based DVD service, Netflix has become a big success in the on-demand streaming media service industry. 17 years after its establishment, Netflix has topped 40 million subscribers in the US. The company is the largest paid streaming service in the US, and one of the biggest counterparts of conventional television companies. In the next ten years, Netflix expects to grow its subscribers to 60 to 90 million

As just a digital distribution provider, Netflix has been doing their job, but they have continued seeking change throughout the years. Six years ago, the company made new blockbuster movies the priority. Later the focus shifted to homemade original programming like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black to make Netflix a bigger name. It then added the scripted comedy reboot  Arrested Development and added kids programming partnered with DreamWorks Animation. In 2013 it stepped into the territory of stand-up by comedy by producing  comic Russel Peters’ special. In 2014 the company was recognized in the industry by the nomination of its documentary series The Square for an Academy Award. 

Now, with its deal with Chelsea Hander, Netflix is trying to make "the first-ever talk show for the global on-demand generation.” 

However, the problem is that the technological limitation of streaming service simply cannot upload content fast enough to achieve a "same-day" late night show.  

At least for now, there is no way to stream broadcast-quality shows on the internet in a timely manner like a broadcast TV station can. Neither Netflix, nor other internet-based streaming service giant Hulu, has shown the ability to tape a show in the afternoon and have it uploaded and ready for viewing in the evening.  

For broadcast networks, it usually takes a half or a day to prepare and upload edited shows for streaming, even though they have the bandwidth to deliver live events immediately. HBO also developed its own on-demand media streaming service in HBO GO, but even the home-owned service doesn't have the capacity to stream talk shows timely like real television. It’s true that scripted shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones can be immediately available to all time zones, but for unscripted talk shows, it’s a different story. For example, HBO’s Last Week Tonight and Real Time With Bill Maher only appears on HBO GO in the next morning.   

There are some speculations concerning Netflix’s deal. One possibility is that now Netflix is using the long lead-time to collapse the time needed to render broadcast-quality shows to the internet, but this certainly does not count a live events. It also loses the point of spontaneous weekly or daily-base talk show. There should be an important cause, a momentum for talk shows to be “talk shows”: they needs to nod to current events; they need celebrities right in the midst of scandal; they need guests to talk about latest released movies; they needs to have jokes on very current issues… if none of these are achievable, Netflix may have to make the talk show evergreen and less topical. 

All the above reasons shed doubts to the feasibility of Netflix’s nighttime talk show. Even if it is feasible it’s got to be a new form of talk show completely different from what we know about current broadcast world.

That’s not saying that TV is more prestigious than streaming services. Even if Netflix don’t produce a timely nighttime show, it stills a big competitor - maybe better to say a counterpart, or a supplement - to networks. They use their different infrastructures to build different platforms to deliver digital contents. Linear TV networks sell ads to make profits, they need to leverage programming against advertising, and they care about how many people watching the show at this time period. This makes it possible when networks have privileges with bandwidth to immediately deliver shows.

But streaming services basically make money through user subscription. It doesn’t matter how many people watch it, instead, it matters how many people pay for access. That’s why Netflix’s dying to be TV is so odd. Anyway, in Chelsea Hander’s case, the market doesn’t see a clear picture how it’s going to be a game changer of live events; it’s even highly possible it will barely be a normally-formatted talk show. Just hope Netflix can come up with a spectacular and refreshing new form of talk show following its blockbuster launching pad, otherwise users will be very disappointed.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:

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