The End of Legacy American TV and Cable? Derek Thompson From The Atlantic Thinks So...

written by: Richard Kastelein

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Interesting editorial piece from senior editor at The Atlantic (an American literary institution since 1857), Derek Thompson, who oversees business coverage for the website. He leads with 'People have been predicting the demise of cable television for years. After this week, they might be right.'

He pointed out two pieces of news last week that will likely upset the value chain in American TV:

First, Viacom yanked its 19 channels — including Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central — from DirecTV after the two companies failed to agree on subscriber fees. Second a federal judge cleared the way for Aereo, an exciting new startup that could bring local TV (NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS) to any device you wish, from a smart phone to an actual TV.

Big deal, you might say, so DirecTV people can't watch "South Park" and techies can get a crappy stream of "The View" on their iPad. That's not a wrong interpretation of the news, but it's too narrow. The bigger story here is the death of the bundle.

Every year, 100 million homes pay for a bundle of cable channels. Like any bundle, it's hard to see exactly what they are paying for. That is somewhat the point of bundling — to disguise the true cost of the constituent items. If you watch ESPN and 17 other channels regularly for four hours a day, you are probably getting a good deal. And that means that millions of other people are getting a "bad deal" on their cable and are subsidizing your TV experience. For these millions of households — who don't watch live sports; or only want HBO; or only need their Law & Order, ANTM, and Daily Show fix; etc — an à la carte option for television would almost certainly be cheaper.

But à la carte would blow up television, which has been the most dependable and lucrative business model in modern entertainment history. The Internet gutted the music industry. Print journalism has been forced to innovate or die — or, sometimes, both simultaneously — in response to the Web. The American movie industry has survived fundamentally because it learned to diversify away from the terms "American" and "movie industry" — most of their revenue now comes from overseas and "merchandise-able" franchises. But the cable bundle is still basically the cable bundle, and it is still growing by hundreds of thousands of subscribers a year. Innovation is an answer to a problem. As long as cable providers don't have a revenue problem, they have less need to innovate.

Interesting that he draws analogies with the music and print industries as I have also done for several years. And he's spot on with Tapas TV... more on the Aereo story:

The Aereo story is different. It's not about cable. But it is about distributing broadcast networks online. Once sports fans can get the Olympics and NBA and other shows without a cable package, whenever they want it, it could serve alongside Netflix, Hulu and other services to replace the cable bundle.

The Internet is ruthlessly efficient at stripping cross-subsidies and allowing content to shine on its own. (As Jim Fallows has pointed out, newspapers once paid for international coverage with classifieds and cars. Now, if you want classifieds and cars, you go to a classifieds site or a cars site. Bye-bye, cross-subsidy.) Devices like Aereo combined with cases like Viacom's could be leading to an a la carte model for television. The question isn't really if the Internet's unbundling revolution will visit the television industry but when.

 

 

About the Author

Richard Kastelein
Founder of The Hackfest, publisher of TV App Market and global expert on Media & TV innovation, Kastelein is an award winning publisher and futurist. He has guest lectured at MIT Media Lab, University of Cologne, sat on media convergence panel at 2nd EU Digital Assembly in Brussels, and worked with broadcasters such as the BBC, NPO, RTL (DE and NL), Eurosport, NBCU, C4, ITV, Seven Network and others on media convergence strategy - Social TV, OTT, DLNA and 2nd Screen etc.

He is a Fellow of the UK Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and UK Royal Television Society (RTS) member.

Kastelein has spoken (& speaking) on the future of media & TV in Amsterdam, Belfast, Berlin, Brussels, Brighton, Copenhagen, Cannes, Cologne, Curacao, Frankfurt, Hollywood, Hilversum, Geneva, Groningen (TEDx), Kuala Lumpur, London, Las Vegas, Leipzig, Madrid, Melbourne, NYC, Rio, Sheffield, San Francisco, San Jose, Sydney, Tallinn, Vienna, Zurich...

He's been on advisory boards of TEDx Istanbul, SMWF UK, Apps World, and judged & AIB awards, Social TV Awards Hollywood, TV Connect & IPTV Awards.

A versatilist & autodidact, his leadership ability, divergent and synthetic thinking skills evolved from sailing the world 24000 miles+ offshore in his 20′s on sailboats under 12m.

He spent 10 years in the Caribbean media & boating industry as a professional sailor before returning to Europe, to Holland.

A Creative Technologist and Canadian (Dutch/Irish/English/Metis) his career began in the Canadian Native Press and is now a columnist for The Association for International Broadcasting and writes for Wired, The Guardian & Virgin. His writings have been translated into Polish, German and French. 

One of Kastelein's TV formats was optioned by Sony Pictures Television in 2012. 

Currently involved in a number of startups including publishing TV App Market online, The Hackfest and Tripsearch TV. As CSO for Worldticketshop he helped build a $100m company.

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