Category Archives: Cable

Post #15 – Okay, now I have Aereo. It’s unlikely to change TV.

Aereo became available for Boston so I signed up to see what it’s all about. The Web interface is nice and the guide is well thought out. It’s easy to set a DVR recording of a show. They have the usual two sizes of online video – too small and too big.

My choices for seeing it on a regular TV screen, for the moment, are Roku and Apple TV (using Airplay). The problem is, so what? I can get all my local channels through my FIOS box. Or directly over the air through my TV tuner with a cheap indoor antenna for free. On older TVs you also need a cheap converter box.

I obviously don’t have any idea how many people there are who would consider paying almost $100 a year to get something that they already have, and can still get, free. Even if they’re cable cord cutters, they don’t have to pay extra for local channels. But I’m sure there are some, and if Aereo’s costs are low enough, perhaps it can be financially viable.

However, it’s hard to see Aereo as a major factor in TV distribution, even if they continue to win court cases. The hoopla is really about the possibility that Aereo will lessen the value of free TV to cable MSOs, which pay about a billion and a half to broadcasters for retransmission rights.

At least one cable company has already speculated that it could use Aereo’s “tiny antenna” approach to carry TV stations without paying retransmission. But if you think about what it would take, an antenna dedicated to each subscriber PLUS the need to stream the stations on demand, it would be a complicated set-up for cable to implement. It could also really tax their current on-demand bandwidth. Seems unlikely.

Aereo is also handicapped by its inability to let its subscribers watch when they’re out of the market. They have to geo-filter to prevent someone with a sign-on from Boston from watching in NY (who wants to hear those biased New York sportscasts?). I’ve often thought there’s also a small market among people who used to live in a city who want to keep up with the news and sports. Like Boston fans living in Florida.

Aereo is unlikely to change TV in any significant way.

Post #14: What are the goals for reinventing television?

As Lewis Carroll said “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” So where do we want television to go?

The goals in a nutshell are: quality programming, fewer, more valuable ads and a diversity of pay models, all available on demand, on any device.

What’s quality programming? By that I mean a diversity of well produced, watchable shows across a broad spectrum of tastes. It doesn’t mean just “PBS” style programs. Scandal has its place, and certainly Downton Abbey does as well as the Housewives of New Jersey. The key word is “balance”. Right now, increasingly desperate, me-too reality programming is crowding out good scripted entertainment for reasons of cost.

Fewer, more valuable ads is a necessity that I’ve touched on before. It’s the most complex part of reinventing television because it requires cooperation across platforms, programmers and advertisers. Currently TV advertising is very wasteful, exposing millions of viewers to ads that have no relevance to them. They don’t like seeing them and the advertiser doesn’t want them to. The result is a crushing commercial load that makes ad-supported TV almost unwatchable without a DVR to skip the commercials.

The solution is a system that allows better targeting of TV ads to demographics or zip codes so that the programs can generate the same, or more, income from fewer, more valuable ads. This does not require any technology breakthroughs but it does require the creation of new systems which can handle the intelligent insertion of ads in program streams in real time, Basically what Doubleclick does for online ads, but done for television.

It also requires that all programming be delivered as on-demand feed, a not insignificant change but one which we’re already moving toward and that consumers want. The cable companies should be embracing any commercial solution that requires streams since they are the best positioned to deliver them over cable or Internet.

The pay model for television is in pretty good shape, with lots of options. However, I would like to see a micropayment solution added to help support short videos like the ones on YouTube.

Platform diversity has also moved pretty quickly in the right direction. I can get different kinds of video on just about everything I own – Vizio TV, LG DVD, Apple TV, iPad, etc.

But ad-supported TV has a long way to go.

Post #12: It’s time to take the censorship shackles off free TV

It’s long past time to let the broadcast networks compete on a level playing field with cable and pay cable networks. The censorship restrictions on free TV are part of what’s slowly strangling their ability to do quality, mature programming.

About 90% of the viewers in the US are seeing the networks via cable, which of course they have to pay for. So why should broadcast TV be singled out for pointless content restrictions that hamper its ability to attract the largest audiences?

Make no mistake about it. The overall quality of scripted entertainment in this country depends on the networks continuing investment in very expensive programming. Reruns of those programs are the bulk of what fills the cable-only networks.

So why aren’t they allowed to show a little skin or say some “dirty” words? Because they also operate broadcast TV stations that have a federal license? Britain has somehow survived despite the fact that their commercial networks program adult themes at night when the kiddies are presumably asleep.

Cable, which as noted serves 90% of TV viewers, carries all sorts of stuff that parents might not want their kids to see. That’s why cable systems all offer parental controls which can be used to keep youngsters from watching inappropriate content using the programming rating system.

There’s lots of stuff on cable, including X-rated pay adult programming, that kids could see if they’re not supervised. There’s a lot more and worse stuff on the Internet. Parents who are worried have tools which they can use to filter both TV and the Internet.

Given this ability to control viewing, which is the responsibility of the parents, it’s time for the FCC to stop being big brother and get out of the program censorship business.


Post #4 – TV Advertising, continued

Following up on my previous post, the concept of cable MSOs as the “Double Click” of television deserves a more in depth explanation.

A growing number of TV programs are consumed as one-to-one streams. All Internet video viewing such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu are individual streams. On demand television viewing and DVR playback are programs streamed to one device. All of these streams are being played back from a hard drive somewhere.

It’s very easy to pause these streams – you can do it with your remote control or a key on your computer. The originator of the streams can pause them as well – in order to insert a commercial for example.

So what’s the point of all this interrupting and inserting? Extreme target-ability. Cable companies know the address where every stream ends up. Other databases know who lives in the house. If you really want it to get scary, consider that the Xbox Kinnect system, or something like it, can probably figure out which family member is watching.

But we don’t need to go to 1984 to get a system that would massively improve the targeting of television while protecting privacy. And there are lots of compelling ways such a system could incentivize viewers to voluntarily share information, much the way Web sites do.

The value of an individual commercial slot would grow enormously. Now, instead of a place to put one commercial, it would be a place where dozens of ads could run in different households and geographies. It’s an answer to how to reduce the number of commercials necessary to support quality programming.

The difference between Internet delivered television and cable delivered programming would be erased – essentially the same system could serve both. Live programming, like sports, could be delivered as a targeted stream just like any other content.

In fact, I expect that the percentage of programming viewed as a stream will steadily increase until it eclipses appointment TV. Then cable companies will be retiring cable networks, further expanding the bandwidth available for streaming.

Post #3 – TV Advertising

TV advertising is an industry that needed reinventing even before the Internet came along. To be more precise, media buying is the part of the advertising industry that desperately requires a makeover.

For the most part, media is a blunt instrument as a way to advertise. Buyers are offered baskets of viewers based on survey estimates that give them demographics and geography and not much else. Plus the commercials, especially in spot TV, often don’t run where they were originally promised.

One TV rep firm president once told me “our job is to sell television vaguely” and that his business was “creating discrepancies and cleaning them up”. Discrepancies are ads that didn’t run as scheduled and need to be rescheduled.It’s as if you were booking a trip and found out that instead of going from New York to LA, you went to Chicago twice. And you didn’t find out until after the trip was over.

This is the Six Million Dollar Man – we have the technology – we could fix him. But will we? Most TV viewing is done through cable boxes that at least know where they live. More importantly, TV is steadily shifting over to be an on-demand medium, either through actual on-demand streaming or via a DVR.

If the cable companies agreed to take on the role of Double Click for television, helping their content partners insert commercials in real time based on real criteria, the process of TV buying could become far more efficient and generate more money for the media with fewer commercials. Commercial clutter is choking free TV.

Will this ever happen? Hard to say, but NBC being bought by Comcast could be a step in the right direction.