Post #16 – Why would anyone buy Hulu? Why would the networks sell it?

What in the world are these companies thinking? Why would anyone try to buy a company with no real assets of its own? Why would anyone sell a distribution scheme that’s almost as good as owning a cable system?

Hulu is not worth much without a continuing stream of first run network programming. Period. They’ve done a nice job with the interface but so what? It’s an interface. Unless you’re prepared to spend hundreds of millions in program development or licensing fees, forget it. And even then it’s not a slam dunk without all the promotion the networks give shows and their habitual (if declining) viewership.

It’s impossible to believe that the networks will guarantee that the same programming will be available to Hulu and at a reasonable price in the future. Bidding will push it up – Netflix, Apple, Xbox, who knows? Or the networks could go back to streaming shows on their own sites (not a good choice).

This is a case of wishful thinking at best.

The networks don’t play well together but tough – they need a joint distribution platform like Hulu, which is why they created it in the first place. Viewers prefer to go to one location to see their network shows, just like they do with cable. Hulu fights piracy and decreases losses to fragmentation, if the networks wise up and begin selling ad inventory on Hulu themselves. The need to start using Hulu more intelligently, not fight over it or reap unwise short-term profits.

Walk away everybody.

PS – I guess I’m not the only one who feels this way. I think $2 billion in additional cost is optimistic.
Why would anyone want to own Hulu – The Street.com

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 #13 : www.handybook.com is exactly the kind of thing that newspapers should be doing. Why aren’t they?

While newspapers continue to bemoan their fate, innovative start-ups like www.handybook.com are doing the things that local media should be doing. It’s a site that helps you find and book a local handyman, cleaner, plumber, etc.

It’s backed by Highland Capital Partners and General Catalyst, two VCs that generally know what they’re doing. But imagine if, in case of Boston, this was being promoted as a Boston Globe service?

Not only would it be known more widely and more quickly, the security of having the Globe behind it would enhance its attractiveness to sellers and buyers alike. One of the concerns about a service like this would be the trustworthiness of people you have come to your home. Handybook checks them out, but the Globe brand would be a huge asset, not to mention the promotion it could offer “for free”.

This is the sort of system (along with jobs, cars and real estate) that the defunct New Century Network should have created for its member newspapers. Instead you see newspapers forced to share revenues with www.Monster.com and www.cars.com.

One can only hope that perhaps newspapers will begin to acquire services like these, which I’m sure would make Handybook’s partners happy.

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.