06/25/2015 02:00 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2016

The Race is Over. Netflix Won and Broadcast Didn't Show Up.


In the land grab that has been over-the-top television, the race is over even before most people realized it had started.

Netflix won, Hulu came in second. Amazon may be third but we won't know for sure until they cross the finish line. And the iconic broadcasters that built the TV industry and controlled it for the past 70 years are nowhere to be found.

Netflix is synonymous with online television. I recently heard someone put this very clearly: people used to say "I'm watching television." Now, they say, "I'm watching Netflix."

Television is a technology but Netflix is a brand, and to tens of millions of people that brand means streaming television.

Hulu is second, not simply because it is smaller but because it's in a different business. Hulu is the online version of broadcast -- they have the best shows on television, online. Hulu competes against the DVR -- why record a show when you can stream it whenever (and wherever) you want?

Amazon is a different story. Don't let their Prime subscription numbers fool you -- they're an online retailer first. But if they sharpen their focus on programming and originals they'll come in third.

But broadcast? The companies that built the television industry have all but disappeared from public consciousness. Certainly for people under the age of 35, CBS, ABC and NBC are virtually invisible. Same thing happened to Times Mirror Corporation and A&M Records.

But except for CBS All Access, networks aren't even trying.

And it may well be too late. There is much written about the media consumption of Millennials, so it's tempting to dismiss their digital video viewing as a trendy, youthful behavior.

But Millennials are watching more digital video, not less, and they're 18-34 years old. That's a big chunk of the 18-49 and 25-54 demographic categories that networks promote and advertisers buy. As these viewers consume less traditional TV, broadcast networks are losing a race they don't even seem to know is being run.

Stations are starting to figure it out. Some of them see the trends and they're responding, individually and en masse.

At this point, an all-out scramble to launch and market digital video products is the only hope of the big networks.

It's a game of catch up, to be sure. But at least broadcasters will be in the game.