Skip to main content

Is Netflix planning to compete with live TV?

Unless you’re brand new to the streaming world, there’s one thing everyone knows about Netflix: It’s an on-demand service. There are no channels or scheduled guides, and no live coverage of events. But that might soon change. The streaming giant has just launched a new feature called Direct as a trial available only in France. Direct is a live TV streaming channel with a prepopulated schedule of Netflix content. You simply fire it up and start watching.

Netflix Direct

Technically, Direct isn’t live TV — the shows that are streamed via Direct are being pulled from the same catalog of content that French Netflix subscribers have always had access to. It’s the video-streaming equivalent of a radio station on Apple Music or Sonos Radio, but with the benefit of being able to see what’s coming up next in the playlist. And just like radio stations, there’s no way to skip forward or back with Direct; you join the stream in progress and let it wash over you.

The radio station analogy fits another aspect of Direct. Unlike the many curated recommendations Netflix users get based on their personal viewing habits, Direct is the same experience for everyone who tunes in.

Direct began rolling out in France on November 5, and Netflix expects to make it available across that country by the end of the month. At the moment, it’s a web-only feature — you can’t access Direct via a smart TV app, a streaming device, or a smartphone app — which suggests that Netflix is using this period to test Direct’s popularity.

If Direct proves successful, it could signal the start of a new chapter in Netflix’s evolution. The company has been a mainstay of the cord-cutting community for years, but it has never attempted to provide a true cable substitute such as Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, or YouTube TV.

Could Netflix create its own version of these services, acting as yet another carrier for the big TV power brokers like Disney, NBCUniversal, and ViacomCBS? No question about it: It has the money, the audience, and the infrastructure to do so. The real question is, does it want to?

Why compete for live TV?

Netflix has proven that it can attract and maintain a massive subscription audience that shows up more and more to watch original productions. From a pure content creation point of view, Netflix is already a TV powerhouse that can rival those other entities. It doesn’t need to create a carbon copy of existing live TV streaming services to survive — but the company might need to adjust its current approach to releasing content.

We’re already witnessing the start of streaming services taking refuge in the traditional weekly release of episodes as a way to stop people signing up, bingeing, then canceling. Disney+‘s Mandalorian has become the poster child for this approach.

Taken to its logical next step, new episodes of streaming shows wouldn’t just show up at a preordained time and day, they would show up first on Direct. Only after that “live” debut would they be made available on-demand, perhaps as much as 24 hours later.

Direct was launched in France because in that country, according to Netflix, “traditional TV consumption is very popular, [and] many viewers like the idea of ​​programming that avoids having to choose what to watch.”

My guess is that tendency to want programmed entertainment is strong elsewhere, too. It explains the huge success of YouTube’s recommended video algorithms, and why, despite the abundance of incredible on-demand options, services like YouTube TV continue to grow.

So Direct may not signal Netflix’s intention to get into the traditional space of live TV streaming as others have done, but it’s the first real evidence we have that it’s willing to disrupt its own tried-and-true on-demand model, even if that means taking a page out of traditional TV’s playbook. And once those floodgates are open, you can bet we’ll start to see an increasing number of experiments as Netflix figures out how to contend with the onslaught of TV’s biggest players into the space that it single-handedly created.

Must-see TV is being upended, in other words. To see where it lands, tune in next week.

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
TNT live stream: Watch TNT sports from anywhere for free
Sling TV logo on Apple TV.

It goes without saying that the TNT live stream is one of the best channels available. It's got great sports coverage, including NBA games, and a ton of other great entertainment options. And, if you know how to watch TNT for free, you'll be able to be entertained like royalty for weeks on end with no payment required. The following live TV streaming services all offer TNT. For each, we'll detail what the service has to offer, the lowest price for the service and free trial availability (at the time of this publication), and links to expanded information about the plans and packages as well as direct links to the services themselves.
Watch TNT on Sling TV

Price: From $40/month; (Sling TV plan and pricing guide)
Free trial: No; (Sling TV free trial information)

Read more
Everything coming to Netflix in March 2024
A girl holds a lantern in Damsel.

It's already March 2024, and Netflix remains the primary destination for Oscar-nominated movies and exciting TV shows. With recent hit shows like Griselda, the rom-com remake series One Day, and the true-crime docuseries American Nightmare, plus blockbuster movies like the hit romance Players and licensed movies like Thanksgiving, Netflix remains the top destination for audiences worldwide.

Netflix's March slate is packed full of must-see shows, films, and events. The month starts with a bang with the series adaptation of Guy Ritchie's The Gentleman. Later, popular returning shows like Young Royals and Girls5eva (making the jump from Peacock) will give audiences a chance to laugh and cry a bit. Then there's the intriguing series premiere of 3 Body Problem, based on the classic sci-fi novel of the same name. Finally, there's Damsel, an epic fantasy starring Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown. Check the list below for everything coming to Netflix in March 2024.
March 1
Aníkúlápó: Rise of the Spectre

Read more
This long-awaited YouTube TV feature is a channel-flipper’s dream
The previous channel feature on YouTube TV on a TV.

The move from cable to streaming for live TV changed a lot of things. Choice, for one. (We have more.) Price, for another. (You're likely paying less.) But not all changes were great. If you're of the channel-surfing variety — or love to flip back and forth between two channels — you've likely been missing that feature.

YouTube TV — the most popular streaming service in the U.S. with more than 8 million subscribers — has addressed the latter. After having been teased in some A/B testing for a while now (that is, some folks saw it, and most didn't), it looks like the ability to hop back and forth between two channels is now rolling out more broadly.

Read more