By Bill Schultz
The fall TV season is upon us! Emmy’s are out and episodes are on! If you’re a pop-culture junkie like me, you’re probably getting ready for the full-on assault of fall programming. But in 2013, it’s no longer as simple as the checking your local listings.
Television is in the midst of massive disruption – one that is greater in scope and magnitude than the music industry’s upheaval. Sure, there’s piracy, new technologies and new players. But TV’s biggest problem is cannibalism. Viewership is fragmenting as consumers have an ever-multiplying number of choices.
A snapshot of my viewing checklist proves it:
What I find most-fascinating about television these days is the incredible amount of innovation spewing forth as a result of the turmoil. Who would have thought Amazon and Netflix would add “television producer” to its list of credits? But while it seems viewers have more choice, we are still at the mercy of a dated industry.
Kevin Spacey – star of the Emmy-nominated Netflix series “House of Cards” – summed it up best in a speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival: “Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price and they’ll likely pay for it rather than steal it.”
He’s right! Each month, I bristle when I open the Comcast bill. I imagine a world where I have a tailored set of programming delivered to whatever device I want, by any creator or provider that I can change up at any time without much hassle.
That utopian world is still a dream because several battles wage on. But each hold some great promise for innovation:
Creating great content. Networks like ABC, NBC and CBS have long held on to their formulas for shows. Cable companies both paid (HBO, Showtime, Starz) and basic (AMC, TNT) first broke that mold with compelling, narrative-based stories that became the new “must-see TV”. But now new entrants like Netflix and Amazon are challenging the challengers with cable-like programming that can be consumed in one sitting…literally.
Monetizing that content. Reaping monetary value from that content is becoming harder and harder as a result of fragmentation and business model upheaval. Ad dollars used to be the only source of revenue. Today, it’s ad dollars, subscription fees, retransmission rights and more. But the playing field isn’t level. Some networks (CBS) have no corporate parent and thus must fight tooth and nail to protect and monetize its content. Others (Comcast/NBC Universal) own the content, the channels that rebroadcast, the cable networks people are actually watching and the pipes through with that content is delivered, which means they can hold consumers hostage.
New delivery systems. To challenge the iron grip of certain companies, technology companies like Sony, Intel and Google are innovating solutions to help people cut that cord. I believe this to be the final television’s disruption. But the battle will be hard fought. As more eyeballs watch content on-demand and on mobile devices, ultimately, it comes down to who owns the pipes that deliver broadband connectivity, not necessarily the service. Unless the ideals of net neutrality become a reality, watching Viacom programming on your Sony internet TV service will just be another thing to pay for.
This battle is just beginning. We can expect more innovation from technology companies for sure. We can also expect the cable companies to crack down with strategies like usage-based pricing packages designed to help them profit as the consumption of HD video over the Internet skyrockets, or their own service. And we haven’t even talked about regulatory concerns!
Who will ultimately win the quest for BYOTV? It’s unclear. But I can tell you this, I’ll be tuning in for sure.