Posts about cable

Google’s TV

chromecast

Google just demoted your television set into a second screen, a slave to your phone or tablet or laptop. With the $35 Chromecast you can with one click move anything you find on your internet-connected device — YouTube video, Netflix, a web page as well as music and pictures and soon, I’d imagine, games — onto your big TV screen, bypassing your cable box and all its ridiculous and expensive limitations.

Unlike Apple TV and Airplay, this does not stream from your laptop to the TV; this streams directly to your TV — it’s plugged into an HDMI port — over wi-fi via the cloud … er, via Google, that is. Oh, and it works with Apple iOS devices, too.

I’m just beginning to get a grasp on all the implications. Here are some I see.

* Simply put, I’ll end up watching more internet content because it’s so easy now. According to today’s demonstration, as soon as I tell Chrome to move something to my TV, the Chromecast device will sense the command and take over the TV. Nevermind smart TVs and cable boxes; the net is now in charge. There’s no more awkward searching using the world’s slowest typing via my cable box or a web-connected TV. There’s no more switching manually from one box to another. If it’s as advertised, I’ll just click on my browser and up it comes on my TV. Voila.

* Because Google issued an API, every company with web video — my beloved TWiT, for example — is motivated to add a Chromecast button to its content.

* Thus Google knows more about what you’re watching, which will allow it to make recommendations to you. Google becomes a more effective search engine for entertainment: TV Guide reborn at last.

* Google gets more opportunities to sell higher-priced video advertising on its content, which is will surely promote.

* Google gets more opportunities to sell you shows and movies from its Play Store, competing with both Apple and Amazon.

* YouTube gets a big boost in creating channels and building a new revenue stream: subscriptions. This is a paywall that will work simply because entertainment is a unique product, unlike news, which is — sorry to break the news to you — a commodity. I also wonder whether Google is getting a reward for all the Netflix subscriptions it will sell.

* TV is no longer device-dependant but viewer-dependant. I can start watching a show in one room then watch it another and then take it with me and watch on my tablet from where I left off.

* I can throw out the device with the worst user interface on earth: the cable remote. Now I can control video via my phone and probably do much more with it (again, I’m imagining new game interfaces).

* I can take a Chromecast with me on the road and use it in hotel rooms or in conference rooms to give presentations.

Those are implications for me as a user or viewer or whatever the hell I am now. That’s why I quickly bought three Chromecasts: one for the family room, one for my office, one for the briefcase and the road. What the hell, they’re cheap.

Harder to fully catalog are the implications for the industry — make that industries — affected. Too often, TV and the oligopolies that control it have been declared dead yet they keep going. One of these days, one of the bullets shot at them will hit the heart. Is this it?

* Cable is hearing a loud, growing snipping sound on the horizon. This makes it yet easier for us all to cut the cord. This unravels their bundling of channels. I’ll never count these sharks out. But it looks like it could be Sharknado for them. I also anticipate them trying to screw up our internet bandwidth every way they can: limiting speeds and downloading or charging us through the nose for decent service if we use Chromecast — from their greedy perspective — “too much.”

* Networks should also start feeling sweaty, for there is even less need for their bundling when we can find the shows and stars we want without them. The broadcast networks will descend even deeper into the slough of crappy reality TV. Cable networks will find their subsidies via cable operators’ bundles threatened. TV — like music and news — may finally come unbundled. But then again, TV networks are the first to run for the lifeboats and steal the oars. I remember well the day when ABC decided to stream Desperate Housewives on the net the morning after it aired on broadcast, screwing its broadcast affiliates. They’d love to do the same to cable MSOs. Will this give them their excuse?

* Content creators have yet another huge opportunity to cut out two layers of middlemen and have direct relationships with fans, selling them their content or serving them more targeted and valuable ads. Creators can be discovered directly. But we know how difficult it is to be discovered. Who can help? Oh, yeah, Google.

* Apple? I’ll quote a tweet:

Yes, Apple could throw out its Apple TV and shift to this model. But it’s disadvantaged against Google because it doesn’t offer the same gateway to the entire wonderful world of web video; it offers things it makes deals for, things it wants to sell us.

* Amazon? Hmmm. On the one hand, if I can more easily shift things I buy at Amazon onto my TV screen — just as I read Kindle books on my Google Nexus 7 table, not on an Amazon Kindle. But Amazon is as much a control freak as Apple and I can’t imagine Jeff Bezos is laughing that laugh of his right now.

* Advertisers will see the opportunity to directly subsidize content and learn more about consumers through direct relationships, no longer mediated by both channels and cable companies. (That presumes that advertisers and their agencies are smart enough to build audiences rather than just buying mass; so far, too many of them haven’t been.) Though there will be more entertainment behind pay walls, I think, there’ll still be plenty of free entertainment to piggyback on.

* Kids in garages with cameras will find path to the big screen is now direct if anybody wants to watch their stuff.

What other implications do you see?

Dear Verizon,

I have a simple, helpful suggestion for you:

Put your technician assignments online for customers to see so we can judge when we need to be home and so we don’t get mad at you for having to stay home all day.

Our internet went out after the storms in New Jersey. We were lucky: We lost big trees but they only scraped our house and didn’t take out lines. We lost power and heat but I managed to get the last hotel rooms in the area so we had warm beds. Our power was restored after about 36 hours (many around us in the state still don’t have it) and with power we also got our phone and TV back. But our internet didn’t return. Not so bad. Troubleshooting over the phone with my wife for an hour yielded nothing, so we were told we had to have a visit. But the storm damage was widespread and Verizon was going to take two weeks to come. Internet being lifeblood to me — imagine me Twitterless — I appealed for help to @verizonsupport and they quickly and nicely gave us an appointment after only a few days. That came yesterday.

We were told we were to be the first appointment of the day. So my wife didn’t go out to restock the refrigerator, which was high priority. She waited. She waited 10 hours for the technician to come.

When he came, he said that we weren’t first on his schedule; he had an install, and we know from the effort that went into ours that that takes time. Then his dispatcher inserted another appointment before us. That’s fine, of course. Things are crazy in New Jersey right now. We don’t mind waiting. We just want to know how long to wait.

So here’s my suggestion, Verizon: Go to the Apple store and see the screen that tells customers where they are in line. When you see you’re No. 6, you know you have time to duck out to Starbucks. Apple doesn’t guarantee an exact time — and I know you hate doing that. But Apple gives us enough information so we can know what’s going on and make our own judgments.

Now go to Continental Airlines, look up flight status, and see that they give fliers the complete stand-by list for seats and upgrades. You can see how many seats are open and how many people are ahead of you so you can judge your odds. Again, they give us information. There’s no reason not to. I wrote about this in Public Parts as a simple example of a company being more open. It improves our experience. It saves gate agents from getting the same anxious questions over and over. (I hope this nice practice isn’t lost in Continental’s merger with United.)

So, Verizon, why not open up and simply let customers see a list of how many appointments a technician has and even where they are so we can judge how long it would take to arrive. Give more information when it’s helpful — e.g., that installs take a few hours. When things change, send an update, just as airlines now send SMS or email updates on flight status. You’re a communications company; I’ll bet you can do that well. If we’d had that yesterday, my wife could have spent the morning outside the house (and I wouldn’t feel so guilty for being in New York all day).

When the technician arrived, he was very good and spent time solving our problems with the internet and TVs. He replaced our router.

That leads to another suggestion: Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to send us a router? We’d have had it before the technician came, which means you could have saved the expense of our visit at a really crushed time. Worst case: It wouldn’t have fixed the problem and the appointment would have stood; the only loss would be the shipping cost.

These might seem like minor irritations to customers. But so was Bank of America’s $5 debit card fee. And look what happened to them. In this post, I attributed the bank’s retreat to a young woman’s online petition. But others perhaps rightly credited #occupywallstreet with stirring up productive anger at the banks and winning this small but symbolic and gratifying victory against them at a time of low trust and high contempt for banks in this country.

Friendly advice: You and the other telephone and cable companies could be in a similar boat. No surprise to you that there’s pent-up anger about you. In Public Parts, I tell this story about Frank Eliason, who started Comcast’s @comcastcares — a model for the very helpful @verizonsupport (he later came to New York to work for a bank):

“He was candid about Comcast’s problems, with a rare sense of corporate humor. I watched him at a Salesforce.com event when he came onstage and said, “Customer service . . . . We’re well-known for service, aren’t we . . . . C’mon.” Pause for laugh. “We’re actually working very hard to improve the customers’ service.”

Now see Susan Crawford’s excellent piece for the Harvard Law and Policy Review, out this week, arguing that we are faced with a cable/phone duopoly over our internet access. It is a call to action for regulation of you. It is also, possibly, a focal point for anger about how we customers are imprisoned with our one or two choices.

So beware the seemingly small things — $5 debit cards, 10 hours of thumb-twiddling — can become rallying points for anger and organization against you. We, the community of customers, now have the tools to organize and be heard.

I’m grateful I got my appointment yesterday; thank you @verizonsupport. I’m grateful I got good service from your technician; thank you, Michael. I’m grateful to be using my internet connection at home right now to write this. I’ve also mellowed since Dell Hell. So I want to be helpful.

My helpful suggestion is: open up. If you know information that could be helpful to customers, share it — because now we have the tools that enable you to do that.

P.S. Yesterday was perhaps not the best day to notify us that our rates are going up.

Why I was rooting for Cablevision: Free Glee!

Glee - wide-eyed 04Believe it or not, I was disappointed that Cablevision settled with Fox, albeit grumpily, agreeing to pay retransmission fees for its signals. It’s not surprising: Baseball fans wanted their World Series; the FCC was hankering to intervene (without the power); and one really couldn’t imagine going without Fox forever … not yet. So Cablevision caved. Some say this is a sign that content remains king. I think it’s more a case of Humpty-Dumpty teetering.

Hanging tough against Fox was a first shot in the next media battle: the unraveling of TV, the separation of programs from channels. Old TV channels have become an unnecessary layer of curation. It’s the shows we want, not the networks. Networks are and always have been meaningless brands. They provided services: distribution, promotion, monetization. But as in the rest of media — as with news publishers, book publishers, radio stations, book stores — those functions can now be taken away from the middlemen and done more efficiently elsewhere.

The problem for Cablevision is that the unraveling has to start at home. It can’t unbundle Glee and the World Series from Fox until it unbundles its huge packages of utterly unwanted channels that cable companies force us to pay for though we never watch them. Physician, heal theyself.

Of course, this unbundling will be painful for cable companies. They gather huge revenue selling those bundles to trapped customers who have no choice but to pay for Fuse if they want Food. It won’t be an easy transition. But once choice arrives, we will demand our freedom from bundles.

And this unbundling will be quite painful — no, fatal — for many channels. No longer subsidized by being sold with Food, Fuse may die.

Producers and stars will also have trouble with the transition, though I think they’ll come out on top as kings of content. Today, they have to share revenue with many middlemen but at least they know how to use the system. It gets better for them, though, when they’re on the other side of the transition, building direct relationships with fans and not sharing revenue with so many middlemen. They’ll be more efficient — maybe smaller but also possibly more profitable with more control and less risk. Yes, it’ll be harder to make blockbusters but that’s getting harder anyway as we get more fragmentation (read: choice) in media.

What it will take to start disrupting the old ways is for a big star or show to start distributing directly on the internet. The big star’s name will be sufficient for promotion. Distribution is all but free. There needs to be a structure for monetization: selling ads (Google? AOL?) and/or subscriptions (Amazon?). Note well that in entertainment, as opposed to commodity news, I believe pay walls will work. I’ll pay for Weeds — I already have — but won’t pay for one of 5,000 news stories about the same event I could watch myself.

So when we reach the promised land of entertainment, we get rid of the old, value-extracting middlemen: channels. Will cable companies still be around? Possibly. Probably. Someone will still deliver the internet to our devices. That could still be the cable company if it learns how to start adding value rather than just extracting it with bundles and fees and restrictions on what we can do with our own TVs.

There is a new role for curators who add value by helping us find the entertainment we’d like. Enter Google TV among many hopefuls for that job. There are new opportunities to make money with data and targeting (cue privacy fretting). We the audience are no longer hostage to Burbank programmers’ schedules, so entertainment can change form; it can be something other than 22 or 44 minutes long; it can be collaborative, with someone becoming a host and a platform for our creativity (YouTube?); it can last for as many episodes as it should rather than as many as The Office is making.

As with so much else in entertainment and technology, the FCC could screw this up. They’re about to try by asking for more authority to intervene in the retransmission negotiations like those Cablevision and Fox just went through. The problem with that — as with so much else the FCC and FTC and meddling in — is that they would act to support the incubments and prevent disruption, against our own interests, propping up old pricing structures and old models of entertainment and keeping disruptive newcomers out. No, FCC, no!

Here’s the problem with retransmission: Fox succeeded in making Cablevision pay for the right to transmit its broadcast signals. Except those broadcast signals — transmitted on airwaves we, the people, own and gave to channels — are supposed to be free. But now Cablevision is paying for them and those fees will be passed onto its customers. So we, the viewers, will pay for Fox twice — once as an opportunity cost in revenue lost to taxpayers by not selling TV spectrum and now twice in new fees to Cablevision and other cable companies. Thank you very much, FCC and Congress. Way to go. Whom are you serving again?

Once we get socked with more and more fees thanks to retransmission blackmail by channels, I’ll just bet we’ll start protesting to the FCC and it will have reason at last to pressure cable networks to unbundle. Once that’s done, we also need the right to unbundle broadcast channels; I don’t plan to pay for the CW, whatever the hell that is anyway. And once that happens, retranmission becomes as irrelevant as rabbit ears.

Now the next problem is that channels will give up their exclusive rights to programs over their dead bodies. But it has been happening, starting when ABC streamed Desperate Housewives online and as shows show up on Hulu. But now that, too, is getting ugly as Fox tried to block Cablevision users coming to Hulu (until it found it was screwing non-Cablevision viewers, too). And now ABC, CBS, Fox, and Hulu are blocking Google TV, which is insane, for they’re only blocking viewers who want to find their shows. Thus arise all kinds of new (and, for me, unanticipated) network neutrality issues, blocking content based on how you come to the internet or what search vehicle you use. Insane.

Listen, people, TV should be simple. It will be simple, damnit: We want to watch the shows we want to watch whenever and wherever we want to watch them. We’ll watch ads with them or we’ll pay for them. We won’t give a damn whether we watch them on a channel or on a web site or in an app or via Facebook; via a TV or a computer or a phone or a tablet; streaming from the cloud or from our hard drive; found via search or friends’ recommendations on Facebook or Twitter. Channels that stop us from watching them [Fox, are you listening?] are hastening their own deaths. Stars, producers, and studios will, like water, find their way around you as will we, the viewers. You middlemen are doomed. It’s only a matter of time.

So don’t think that Fox won this war. It only won this round. Fox’s parent, News Corp., is turning into the last of the great control freaks of content, building pay walls around its newspapers; blackmailing cable providers — not exactly a sympathetic bunch — into paying retransmission fees for content that is otherwise broadcast free over our airwaves; and pulling links off Google. News Corp. is turning into the uninternet. So fine. we’ll watch how they do as TV and media unravel around them. Can’t wait.

Where the TV fight goes

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.

Surrendering advertising … killing bundling

Two things strike me about News Corp.’s battle to get cable fees:

(1) Again and again lately, the company is surrendering the advertising battle. In newspapers, it is saying that advertising won’t support its high costs and so it will sacrifice traffic and advertising the hopes of building build pay walls. In MySpace, the company handed over its advertising fate to Google and then couldn’t produce. Now in TV — which is where Murdoch fils says the future of the company lies — they’re trying to eke fees from cable operators.

(Under must-carry rules, a station can demand premium placement — which would benefit audience and advertising — or can demand a fee, but the cable company can decline to pay and carry the station. That’s the stand-off occurring now.)

(2) News Corp. may succeed at getting fees from cable operators, but I predict that will raise prices for consumers as more and more fees are passed along; consumers will be further enraged that they have to spend money for bundles of channels they don’t want or watch; and that will give regulators the cause they need to demand a la carte pricing — which will end up hurting and likely killing second- and third-tier cable channels subsidized by bundles and wil hurt cable operators as they end up charging less.

Add to this the paper-tiger nature of News Corp. threat to take Fox stations off cable. Oh, no, they taunt on crawls across the screen, you won’t get American Idol. Except we will, online, on Hulu, co-owned by News Corp. For News Corp. knows that the value of its own stations as ad vehicles is diminishing as the value of internet distribution rises. And so then this story comes full circle as News Corp. will likely threaten to charge consumers on Hulu — again, a capitulation in the advertising model.

What we’re seeing is the disaggregation of another media form. We don’t buy albums; we buy singles. We don’t buy newspapers or magazines; we aggregate, curate, and link to the best stories we like, bypassing editors’ packaging. We don’t go to bookstores to get the books the system decides to put on the shelves; we buy what we want from Amazon. We listen to radio less and listen to our own playlists more (a trend that will only accelerate as we listen to new forms of radio on our phones). Now we will end up picking and choosing TV channels and even shows, diminishing the power network and station programmers’ and cable MSO’s hold over us.

At the highest level, what we’re seeing is the death of the mass audience — and the value of distribution — and the advertising model that supported it.

I don’t think advertising is dead. I think it’s dying for mass companies with high cost structures. Advertising will shrink, as Bob Garfield argues in the Chaos Scenario, and it will migrate to new media and new forms. News Corp. knows that; every media company finally does.

So I think we’re seeing News Corp. milk the dying cash cow. Newspapers aren’t going to grow and will shrivel and sometimes die. The value of local stations is only going to shrink. (MySpace was a mistake.) So News Corp. is begging for cash wherever it can get it — from readers online or viewers on cable (via cable companies’ billing) — no matter that there’s no strategy there.

How to handle an ass (like me)

I want to love my cable company – honestly, I do. They bring me things I love and depend upon. I love TV. I really, really love the internet. (The phone? Well, I love that, too – but unfortunately for the cable company, it’s my iPhone I adore.)

So why don’t I love my cable company? We all know why: because it’s a marriage as ruined as the one in War of the Roses. It’s a relationship built entirely on aggression and passive aggression, on each party trying not to give the other one what it wants, on stonewalling or fighting. So how do you change that? I speculated in What Would Google Do? about what a cable or phone company run by Google (GT&T) would be like, but that’s only wishful thinking.

After my contretemps with Cablevision this week – and the ensuing lively discussion about it in the comments here, on other blogs, and in Twitter – I’ve been trying to think about it how this relationship can be rebuilt. Because I don’t like the relationship and I don’t like the way I am in it.

When my internet didn’t work. I called the company and its employee read off a script: ‘Sorry to hear that sir, let’s try this. Oh, that doesn’t work. We’ll see you in three days.’ I then operate off my script: ‘That’s unacceptable. I pay for the service. I want it fixed ASAP.’ Them: ‘No.’ Me: Get me a supervisor.’ Them, after much argument – because it always takes argument: ‘OK, tomorrow, but you have to wait home all day.’ Me: ‘That’s unacceptable. I have a life.’

I pay for the service to work and want it to work. They want to maximize customer service efficiency (is that a sufficiently nice way to say it?). We end up in a standoff that, in my experience, can be broken only by outlasting them and being angry. It’s still a script. But I don’t like the role I play. I don’t like myself. I’m an ass. Because it works. I end up victorious – the internet I paid for is working again – but sullied and embarrassed by what I had to say to get the service I need. How to break that cycle?

There are a few new factors in the cable business in recent times.

First, cable companies have competitors (yay!) – well, at least one competitor: the phone company. In Twitter, it took no time at all – less time, indeed, than it took Cablevision to respond – for Verizon people to smell the carrion of a dead marriage and to seduce me.

Second, we have Twitter (and blogs and YouTube). As I said in the comments on the post below, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have because your message can spread and so the smart company has to respond. The people formerly known as consumers are now media.

But the company also has Twitter. Witness what Frank Eliason (aka @comcastcares) has done to respond to customers and to humanize his company. Oh, Comcast still has problems – Eliason will confess that – but the fact that I got better service on my Cablevision account from a Comcast employee speaks volumes. It says there’s a lesson to be learned there.

At the end of my Dell contretemps, I wrote an open letter to Michael Dell with what I sincerely hoped would be helpful advice. They didn’t change their ways because of what I said. But what they did end up doing what I suggested and I’ve since written about that in BusinessWeek and in my book.

So I’ve been trying to think of advice for Cablevision.

First, throw out the script. Give employees the ability to take responsibility, to deal with us honestly, and to get things fixed. That’s one of the things Dell did and it made a huge difference.

Second, become human. Comcast’s Frank Eliason is a person. He’s not a bot with standard answers. We wouldn’t stand for that; as the Cluetrain Manifesto teaches, markets are conversations and we recognize when they are being held by man vs. machine. Microsoft, Dell, Sun, Comcast have all been enriched by enabling their people to talk with us as people. Not every employee will be capable of that; it’s the ones who are you want working and speaking for you.

Third, I’d invest in customer service as the best form of advertising possible. Zappos learned that lesson and it just earned them $900 million.

Fourth, create a service level agreement (SLA) so customers know what to expect when they call and so they can hold the company to it. That’s the real problem. We come loaded for bear because we know what’s going to happen, we know the script: the cable company is going to push us off as far as possible and we’re going to demand as soon as possible. The agreement becomes an assurance (natural disasters aside) we can count on and we know the consequences.

Fifth, you’re not going to believe that I’m saying this, but charge for better service. Yes, I would complain about that. But here’s the way I think it would play out: The cable company charges for a good SLA; its competitor, the phone company, sees the competitive advantage of advertising that you get that included with them; the cable company is then forced to meet the challenge. And we end up with the SLA. If we don’t, I predict that local governments and the FCC and FTC may impose them. So I suggest you figure out the way to get there on your own.

Sixth, make it a goal to have delighted customers. Yes, I know, that sound silly: fodder for needlepoint. But go back to the beginning: I want to love my cable company. If – surprise, surprise, surprise – I do, I’m going to talk about that. In the age of Twitter, that’s the best advertising you can get. This is how the investment in customer service will pay off: with advertising that’s better than anything you put in TV or newspapers … and it’s free. And it keeps customers from leaving for Verizon. That’s how a company takes advantage of the free economy.

This attitude also might motivate cable companies to change other policies that irk, like bundling in dozens of channels I have to pay that I never watch. But the issue that bothers most people about their cable companies is dealing with them for installation and service. That’s what I’d concentrate on first. Service isn’t a favor you do for customers, as various employees implied with me. It’s how you live up to your deal and delight customers.

You see, I’m not an ass. I only play one on the phone to get what I think I deserve in a business deal in which I have no power other than that. And, cable guys, I know you’re not lazy slugs trying to rip me off; that’s just the script they make you read from the policies they set in the front office. Can’t we all get along?

Drowning upstream

Here’s what I think is a pretty solid business tip: I wouldn’t back or bet on a company and industry that’s described this way in today‘s New York Times (my emphasis):

Like newspaper owners, media moguls are looking for new ways to protect their investment from the ravages of the Internet. And, as with the newspaper industry, the answer remains elusive.

I’d rather invest in a company that will take advantage of the new opportunities of the internet, not seeing ravages in the future but instead growth and profit. I’ve said often that protection is no strategy for the future. An industry whose strategy for the future is built on trying to keep us from doing what we want to do and resist the flow of the internet is an industry that is merely biding time. That should be the lesson they learn from newspapers and music.

Yes, I think that the tactic described in that story, put forward by Time Warner’s Jeffrey Bewkes, of enabling us to watch shows we’ve already paid for online makes sense. Indeed, I refuse to use HBO on demand on cable today because they want to charge me extra to watch what I’ve already paid for. So I’ll rush to the chance to watch my shows without having to go through the bother of recording them or paying for them twice.

But the real future is an on-demand future, an unbundled future. Once freed from the forced march of cable bundles, I will buy only the content I want to buy online, no longer being bribed into supporting the 90 percent of cable channels I never watch so I can get the 10 percent I want.

For that matter, what’s a channel? I was an an event last week with entertainment moguls of various camps and one asked another whether the channel would die. The second exec didn’t think so. At first, I agreed, as I pictured myself on the couch watching one of the channels I do care about.

But then I pictured my kids on the couch. They’re not doing what I do. They never just watch channels (tennis matches excluded). They live on-demand. They watch programming only through the web, Hulu, the DVR, on-demand channels. Some look at that future, our kids’ future, and see “the ravages of the internet.” They’re not long for this world; they’re only trying to delay the inevitable. They’re trying to swim upstream against the internet. But they’re only going to drown there.

Comcast spared the electric chair

Bob Garfield declares victory against Comcast from his ComcastMustDie shock & awe. What, so he installed Verizon?

No, he points to stories in the Times and Post about the new Comcast attitude and praises Comcast for having…

…institutionalized the practice of listening, in live forums around the country but especially on the internet, to resolve individual problems and learn about the (many, gaping) holes in its customer-service operations.

Does this solve the biggest part of their structural problems? No, not by a long shot. They acquired cable systems too fast and have been inexcusably slow in building network-wide infrastructures for installation, repair and the most rudimentary customer-relations management. In short, they still totally suck. (As Comcast quality czar Rick Germano euphemistically frames the situation, “There’s a lot of upside for us.”) But they are investing a lot of money to build those very structures, and have turned a corner in corporate culture.

Glad he pointed that out. The only real solution to bad customer-service and public-relations problem is to have a great product and service. No — no — cable company is there yet because I argue that they are still built around telling us what we cannot do (no, you can’t watch what you’ve bought whenever and wherever and on whatever you want; no, you can’t just plug in your expensive and sophisticated TV but you have to put this clunky, stupid box inbetween you and the world of possible entertainment and information; no, you can’t host anything to the world because we don’t think you’re creative; no, you can’t download that much; no, you can’t upload that much; no, you don’t have a life and so you have to wait all day for the cable guy). Cable companies are still built on fucking us. But at least now they’re grinning while they do it.

Nonetheless, give credit where it is due: Comcast has made a number of important changes in its relationship with its now-empowered customers and, like Dell, it has benefitted as a result. They also vow to take a next step and within a year play host to a ComcastMustDie on their own. But why wait a year? In the spirit of cooperation, I’ll suggest that they can do it now with GetSatisfaction.com — which they apparently are using, with Comcast employees interacting there — and with an equivalent of MyStarbucksIdea and Dell IdeaStorm — where people can make real suggestions.

In any case, the cause of vendor relations management marches on.