My first bit of advice to pissed-off Cablevision customers in New York — who’ve just lost WABC right before the Oscars — I do recommend that you switch to Verizon Fios. You won’t get it in time. It’s not perfect. But for me, it has been a helluva lot better than Cablevision: more channels, better service, better broadband, good phone service, impressive installation. Switch. It will feel good. It will feel just. I spent years sparring with Cablevision to get what I paid for and I’m glad to be rid of them.
This doesn’t mean I side with ABC in this fight. They — like Fox before them — are trying to get us to pay for free TV channels. This was a point I wanted to make at last week’s FCC workshop on the future of media: It’s no longer true that broadcast channels are free. Fewer than 13% of Americans get broadcast channels over the air; the rest of us have to pay for cable or satellite to get access and now these channels — which got our spectrum for free — are trying to charge us yet more.
Who’s fighting for us? Not the FCC.
But I think that as these fees are fought over and granted to broadcast channels and passed on to viewers — adding up to a likely $72 for New York’s half-a-dozen commercial channels — then I still think that there will be a consumer revolt and the FCC will have the cause it seems to have wanted to require a la carte pricing for cable.
Then both broadcasters and cable operators and their parent companies will get their just desserts. I will not pay for 90 percent of the channels I am forced to pay for now. That will reduce revenue to cable. It will mean that many channels will no longer be subsidized. It will kill marginal channels.
And that will open the door for internet programming. More and more TVs will be directly connected to the internet. Program creators will be able to break free of the control of cable MSOs. We’ll be watching more programming on our mobile devices and pads and computers. Fragmentation? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
I would invest in low-cost production of, say, home and food programs that can reach sufficient critical mass online. I’d invest in niche programming — see: TWiT et al — that can reach a very low level of critical mass and sell highly targeted advertising. I would not invest in cable companies or big, old TV companies. They’re just trying to milk the cash cow before she keels over.