The news of the deal struck between Comcast and GE to sell 51% interest in NBC/Universal to Comcast leads me to think the NBC television network may be the first of the national broadcast networks to decommission itself.
Of course, this is speculation on my part–I don’t have inside knowledge. Logic tells me, faced with broadcast advertising revenue shrinkage continuing at its current precipitous pace, it will not take long for the Comcast quant guys’ internal five-year forecasts for national ad revenue from the broadcast network and local ad revenue from the owned-and-operated stations to be so far underwater that there will no longer be a business there.
There is certainly no shame in operating as a cable/online service. ESPN, CNN, and dozens of other national cable services operate as profitable businesses. There’s no reason to think NBC could not do the same. The broadcast network might morph into multiple cable services (with guaranteed carriage on the Comcast systems and likely carriage on other MSO systems too). It would be interesting to consider what that service lineup might look like in a year or two.
However, at some point all the cable services will be faced with yet another transitioning to a hybrid distribution model where online delivery supports the majority of the service’s viewers. Before that time, Comcast will need to have figured out how to continue extracting user subscription dollars or replace subscriptions with other direct payment solutions from the folks who don’t have a Comcast cable box. Comcast’s win in buying control of NBCU is that it will have to spend less of its subscriber revenue in content acquisition (getting Bravo content wholesale instead of retail, as an example). That will be a boost to bottom-line results for a time. But the time is coming when viewers equipped with high-speed Internet service and more capable devices for finding and playing video content will be reluctant to continue their cable TV service. Comcast had better know how to retain those TV sub revenues through another compelling value proposition.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but he probably won’t be lugging a great big flat-screen TV with built-in Internet connectivity in his sleigh this year. Oh, you might get that nice 32″ Sony you’ve been eyeing at Best Buy, but if you want to stream Netflix movies on it, you’ll still need some other device. Not that there aren’t any Internet-enabled TVs on the market yet, it’s just that we’re still way in the early part of the growth curve for them. Why? Well, James McQuivey of Forrester Research had it right on NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday: Not a lot of features yet. Too expensive. The interface isn’t there yet. These early Internet-ready TVs are placeholders for the vendors while they figure out what features will drive sales, what price points will drive sales, and how to create interfaces that create a “lean-back” web surfing experience using a TV remote. Stay tuned. Maybe by Christmas 2010.
I really like TV because I like stories, so here’s one for you. As a boy, I imagined someday there would be a magic tray, with a pillow on the back, that would sit on my lap and let me see every movie ever made, all the TV shows I liked, and let me see and talk to my friends sitting in their houses with their magic trays. I hadn’t thought about that childhood fantasy until a little while ago, when I was wondering what kind of blog I’d like to write. I decided since that fantasy has essentially become reality, it would be great to write about the world inside and around that magic tray.
Who is this for? It’s for me, to share what I know about technology trends from 25 years as a tech industry analyst. I get to explain things that at first might seem complex so they’re easier to understand (something I’m usually pretty good at). I get to express my opinion about what’s great and what stinks about the Internet TV experience (believe me, there’s smelly stuff out there). If I’m lucky, I’ll hear from readers saying what they think about the Internet TV experience (and I’m guessing I’ll learn more from my readers than the other way round).
Most Internet TV sites and blogs serve the industry itself, the program producers, distributors, platform and network and hardware vendors, the marketers pitching online TV products and services, the advertisers trying to buy “eyeballs” (gross…), and the analysts and investors trying to figure out how to make Internet TV into a big business. These folks will get something out of the things I’ll write about, especially if they’re interested in knowing what the viewers, the audience, their customers, think about what they’re offering.
But it’s mostly for viewers, whether savvy Internet navigators (millions of you) or someone just discovering Internet TV (hundreds of millions, maybe billions worldwide). Maybe you’ve seen some web video on YouTube, Hulu, or some other site. You want to find what else is out there. You may be asking, what should I try? Where do I look for interesting things to watch? Should I cut the cord on my cable or satellite TV service and find all my own TV entertainment? Isn’t there some service I can subscribe to? Does it cost money? Does it have ads? Can I watch it on my regular TV? Do any of my friends watch the things I watch? Do they talk about it, and what do they say? Is all this stuff too hard for me to figure out? Will Santa bring me an Internet TV for Christmas?
The only thing I’m sure about is the Santa thing (sorry, he’s not coming with an ITV this year). The rest, well, it can be confusing, but most cool tech stuff is a little overwhelming at first. Here you’ll get some no-jargon descriptions of what the heck Internet TV is, how to view it, how to find things you want to watch, how to enjoy online TV whether you have a low-end or high-end viewing setup, and some guidance on the latest things that’ll help you have a great online TV experience. I’ll talk about how viewers are leading the industry to where it’s going in the future, and maybe spank a vendor or two for not doing a good job following your lead. And if you have a friend or relative who can’t figure out this Internet TV thing for themselves, send them here–maybe we can help get them up the learning curve.
I’ll really need your help–your comments are going to make or break me, because I can only read a few sites and talk to a few people in a day. I need you to speak up on your own, to say what you like and don’t like about the vendors you deal with, the choices you have for finding and watching online TV, and the devices and apps you use to do it. Your questions will help shape what I look at and talk about here. Your problems and complaints will help sharpen the focus on what should happen to make Internet TV evolve faster and truer to your needs. I can’t address everything readers ask about, and with luck there will be too many comments to answer them all directly, but your voice is really important here. I ask you to provide a name and email to post comments, to keep the spam count as low as possible.
I post on Twitter, so follow me there to get alerted to my latest posts here. If you want to tell me something privately, email me paulzagaeski at mac.com.