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.
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.
I liked the ending. The banality of evil. The devil’s in the diner. Jersey as purgatory. There is no justice. Cue Sartre.
At the NJ.com forums, the ending confused some folks: They thought their TV’s had died. Damned TiVo, cut off again. Art appreciation in the land of the Sopranos. Existentialism doesn’t play outside Princeton.
It was a great run and an appropriate end.
Viacom just demanded the YouTube take down clips from its networks, including Comedy Central and MTV. Wave bye-bye to Jon Stewart and Jon Stewart should wave bye-bye to audience.
Just last night, my son showed me Bill Gates on The Daily Show via YouTube. My son, a teenager and the future audience for the network, had never watched Jon Stewart. It was through YouTube that he discovered and enjoyed the man. But Viacom just cut off that means of free — free! — promotion and distribution. Instead, the company is going to have to advertise heavily in hopes of reaching my hard-to-reach son — he’s busy watching YouTube, you see, instead of MTV and instead of television, for that matter — to build audience in the future. Of course, this is a negotiating tactic. But it is also bad business. It pisses off your own audience, who is recommending your shows. It cuts off that free promotion. It increases marketing costts.
Variety covers the alleged attempt of the big nets to start their own YouTube. I spoke to the reporter and made additonal points:
The networks are foolishly trying to maintain the old-media model of getting everyone to come to them — rather than going to where the people are — and that will both cost them marketing dollars and cost them the marketing opportunity of reaching a new audience. They should be embracing this new world and figure out how to monetize it with advertising and as a free marketing vehicle: You want viewers to recommend your shows! You want new viewers to discover your shows! You want your shows to be cool and to be cool you must be in the conversation! And if you’re really, really cool, you’ll want the viewers to turn into producers making shows around your shows: witness both Star Trek and LonelyGirl15.
But I also had lunch with a smart media exec who shrugged at all this news about an attempt to start TheirTube: “If there is…” he said. In other words, it could just be a negotiating ploy vs. Google and YouTube.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the infrastructure, effort, and expense of big TV v. small. Lately, I took along my video camera as I did a few things with ABC 20/20, Frontline, and CNBC.com and, as a demonstration, whipped together this little video. I tried to show the effort that goes into a simple interview in network news: four pros who spent hours setting up and taking down a shoot and who put great effort into getting it just right (and they were all nice enough to put up with me taping them). I wanted to make fun of the TV convention of B-roll, in which they get allegedly casual footage of you being yourself so they can use it in editing (and then I made two seconds of my own). And I was fascinated by CNBC.com’s smaller TV for the internet. My video quality is crap (something to do with getting video off my old camcorder, since replaced) and my editing is amateurish — but then, that’s the point.
Go here to get shareable links.
: LATER: A commenter thought I was being snarky about the guys having to wait between shoots. Not at all. Want to make that clear. As I say in the video, these guys are real pros and they do their jobs extremely well and they were also terribly nice explaining some of what they do to me. Ditto the Frontline people. It’s not their fault that the form has come to expect B-roll. What fascinates me is the contrast between the time-honored way to shoot TV and the new possibilities. That’s my point.
YouTube started a new feature called Quick Capture allowing you to record a video directly to the service from your laptop camera. So I tried it out. Didn’t work so well for me. And it took hours for the video to appear online. When they get the bugs worked out — and they will — this will lead, I think, to an epidemic of video conversation. Imagine forums in video.
Gareth Cartman liveblogs the launch of France 24, the Gallic competitor to CNN, the BBC, and Al Jazeera, vying for a global crown: “9:06 – Over to the French channel now, and a fabulous wave of hair is reading the news. I mean, wow, this woman has HAIR. Really, you have to see this.” If only we could.
I turned down an invitation from the channel to fly over for the launch to blog it. Now you know the price of integrity — or stupidity.