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When Will Netflix Add Live TV?

It’s a question of when, not if, Netflix will plug live TV programming into its streaming service — and which cable networks will jump in first.

In fact, Netflix already offers a live feed of Starz online (opens in new tab), although that’s available only through Web browsers, not on Internet-connected TV devices like Roku.

“Netflix is going to be an à la carte Internet MSO,” says one source familiar with the company.

I’m not sure about how truly à la carte Netflix will go, but adding live sports, news or entertainment content is certainly a logical next step. And the company has shown a willingness to create multiple tiers of service (opens in new tab).

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings makes no secret that he’s ramping up acquisition of TV content. He just expanded streaming rights to shows and movies from ABC, Disney Channel and ABC Family (see Netflix CEO: Starz Renewal Isn’t Critical and Netflix Gets Hands On More Disney, ABC Shows).

As Hastings said at the Barclays conference yesterday, “98% of our management time is on streaming, 2% is on DVDs.”

Still, as the Disney-ABC deal illustrates, Netflix has a ways to go before it will have parity status with other pay-TV affiliates. Today virtually all of Netflix’s TV content is from past seasons. For the in-season material it will get from Disney-ABC under the new deal, Netflix had to agree to a 15-day delay after air. And that’s only for a few select series, like Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb and ABC Family’s Greek.

Netflix execs regularly try to position the service as complementary to, not a replacement for, cable TV. But could that just be a head fake?

Meanwhile, Microsoft is supposedly eagerly exploring ways to put together an over-the-top pay-TV service, which may involve selling individual channels (see Microsoft Angling To Be ‘Virtual Cable Operator’: Report).

And don’t forget Apple — which tried, and failed, to put together a subscription service with TV content for a flat monthly fee (see Apple Takes Another Crack At The TV).