I have never watched a ton of TV. I grew up in a household without cable and the only TV allowed was TGIF and weekend cartoons. Today I still don't have cable and rarely watch live TV except for sports. I much prefer to watch TV on-demand and commercial-free and have been that way since Netflix's only product was DVDs by mail.
I am now so used to watching on my own schedule I hesitate to watch any TV show that isn't available on Netflix or HBO Go. I have access to every major TV network's streaming site through various passwords from family and friends, but I rarely use them. The ads are terrible, playback often stutters or completely stops when switching between ads and the program, and I find that quality is less reliable than Netflix or HBO Go. I'd rather just wait for that interesting new series to come to Netflix and see if it ended up living up to the hype.
Several recent data points suggest live TV audiences are declining, even as overall TV viewing is constant. Just last week Netflix CEO Reed Hastings predicted 'We will come to see that linear TV declines every year for the next 20 years'. Due to all of the reasons I mentioned above, I agree with him. Netflix and HBO Now will continue to grow, and more services will come to market to create all sorts of new content that isn't constrained by a 24/7 linear programming schedule. Even sports may not be completely immune to the decline, as highlight shows and things like the NFL's RedZone Channel evolve.
Regardless of how longform video content is distributed to consumers in the future, the 'TV industrial complex' must recognize this shift in consumer behavior. When creating or scheduling a new show, you're no longer just competing with whatever else is live, you're competing with consumer attention for every show available on Netflix. Shows become the unit of measure, not networks. The big lead-in will be less valuable, and programming a less necessary skill.
It will also be interesting to see how business models will change. If more eyeballs move to ad-free services such as HBO Now and Netflix, where do marketers spend their advertising budgets? Hopefully that will lead to more targeted, less repetitive, and better overall ads on Hulu and free services. And I haven't even mentioned YouTube or mobile-centric content. All of this will be up for grabs if Hastings is right and linear TV declines for the next 20 years.