Category Archives: Television

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 #11: The CBS “CBSlocal” strategy is an incredibly dumb move

As I look at the efforts by traditional media to incorporate online, the move by CBS in forcing its local stations to adopt “” as their identity is nothing short of mind boggling.

CBS stations around the country have some of the strongest local news and program brands that exist. WBZ and WBZ-TV here in Boston, KYW & KYW-TV in Philly, WBBM & WBBM-TV, Chicago are incredibly powerful local brands and there are many others, both radio and TV.

These are brands which can be vastly helpful in attracting local audiences to their online services. And, by and large, they’re throwing all that brand power away for no reason.
What possibly could be the thinking here?

It’s particularly stupid here in Boston to adopt a brand that, frankly, screams “New York” and certainly doesn’t say “local”. Remember the popular Boston T-shirt? “I’m for Boston and any other team that beats New York”?

And let’s not even spend time considering their tagline describing the Web site: “life just got easier”. WTF does that mean to anyone?

I’m a huge believer in the power of local media to use their local identity to weather the transition to a digital world. I can’t think of a single reason for this CBS blunder except that it makes some corporate Webmaster’s life a little easier.

CBS should bite the bullet and return their local identify to one that is truly local. WBZ is local. CBSlocal is in New York.

Post #9 – We need to reinvent media or the future will be a growing pile of crap.

We wished for a 500+ channel world and we got it, which has led to the popular saying, “500 channels and nothing to watch”. We wanted “always-on”, updated Internet news and got it – along with declining newspapers and Twitter news. And so forth.

The decks are stacked against high quality content in multiple ways that need to be addressed as we reinvent media. Television needs the most work. When a car advertiser buys the cherished 25-54 year old demographic, they’re getting people who will never make a purchase decision, along with those who will buy one someday and a few who will buy tomorrow. There’s a lot of waste – which is one reason there are a lot of commercials.

The onerous commercial load on ad-supported television by itself is enough to turn high quality programming into a low quality experience. Who wants to sit through 9 ads? Not the people with DVRs for one.

So fixing TV – which requires the cooperation of all the parties – is a priority for a quality future. Internet companies have made some targeting progress, but really, who cares? Banners are the direct mail equivalent and will never be a big driver of the economic support needed.

And, judging by my own viewing, no one outside of Hulu has addressed commercial issues for online video. Most sites make you sit through the same 30 second spot over and over as a preroll. Hulu does a good job with its commercials.

As I’ve referenced in earlier posts, turning most video into individual streams is the key to carving up commercial breaks to produce the most revenue from the least possible number of ads. And that’s going to require a lot of reinvention.