If you’re in the media industry, you can’t avoid being caught up in the frenzy that is streaming video. It’s the talk of the town. Netflix this, and Hulu that. There’s innovation from every angle, disruption of business models, and even venture dollars streaming in (pun intended). It’s terrific fodder for the blogosphere. Judging from the proliferation of products and services over the last few years (Amazon, Vudu, Roku, Boxee, Google TV, Apple TV, and so on), the market’s ready for services that let us access our content when and how we choose. But for all the new solutions out there, none has fully delivered on the promise, which I’ll summarize as my media, my way. The ideal is still a figment; leaving one to fantasize how, if given supreme power and influence, he’d design a solution from the ground up that meets all his needs. My own wish list, which I think probably speaks for many, would include the following:
- Provide a LOT of programming options, covering a broad range of genres and formats (i.e., short and long form).
- Live programming, especially news and sports. I would also have access to the content I want on demand.
- The menu UI and navigation would be simple to use and easily harness the myriad of content choices.
- Let me choose what to watch, and when, but also cater to my passive moods (which is most of the time when I’m watching TV) and curate the “must see” programs for me.
- Deliver much of my content in HD. And in the near future, HD3D (I’m happy to wait for when the goggles are no longer necessary).
- Be ultra reliable, resistant to severe weather conditions, and don’t degrade in quality even if everyone in my neighborhood is online at the same time.
- Push my content instantly. Little or no time for downloading or buffering.
- Seamlessly connect with my TVs. It wouldn’t require another hardware component on the shelf, or if it did, it would be a small footprint. Setup would be quick and straightforward.
- Deliver content to my other screens as well – my PC/tablet and my smart phone.
A demanding list, I know. But wait a second! Doesn’t a cable subscription and DVR, combined with TV Everywhere deal structuring and authentication, deliver all of the wish list items, at least in part? For all the hype out there, isn’t cable TV still the single best solution? One of the last big pieces, streaming live video to our PCs and smart phones, appears to be falling into place with the latest deal announced earlier this week between Comcast and Turner. VOD windows are shrinking as well. The other domino is device compatibility, which is in the midst of tipping too (see also Comcast for iOS). Comcast is obviously ahead of the curve on these initiatives, but is a reasonable proxy for the direction of the industry overall.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that the cable guys don’t have more work to do. But with all the hubbub about the online-only challengers, it’s easy to lose sight of just how close the incumbents really are to the goal line. The fact is that the challengers have a much bigger gap to fill. Any household that chooses to “cut the cord” as things stand today will do so only with great sacrifice. This video summarizes it nicely.
My point is this … the online guys have helped to identify the market need, and in doing so, have been getting much of the attention. But the buzz around their efforts has sounded the wake-up call for the paid TV incumbents. Yes, traditional, subscription TV is expensive, and yes, the challengers will continue to work on the large gaps in technology and content (driving up their cost of goods, I might add). The incumbents, though, have a solid head start, and the technology, the capital, the content relationships, and (maybe most importantly) the incentive, to strike back hard. Already, they, and especially Comcast, have demonstrated that they can move relatively quickly. So before you join the pile-on, give the cable guys some credit. They will not sit idly by. In fact, we can expect them to come out swinging.