tv

Streaming TV is heating-up. We’re expecting a new Apple TV box to be announced in April, Amazon looks set to launch its own box in March and Google is reputed to be not far behind with a Nexus-branded box.

So-called cord-cutting – people who give up their cable TV subscriptions in favor of streaming content over the web – is growing in popularity. Mobile TV viewing on tablets is increasingly common.

All of which makes me wonder whether we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of live TV … ? 

I should perhaps declare a personal bias here: I haven’t owned a television for years. Divvying up the property during a divorce, my ex-wife kept the TV set and buying a new one got added somewhere down towards the bottom of my to-do list. Some two years later, I still hadn’t gotten around to it and realised I hadn’t missed it.

It’s not that I don’t watch TV shows. But Netflix and BBC iPlayer give me all the TV I needed, viewing on my MacBook Pro or iPad when it’s just me, and hooking the Mac up to my Apple Thunderbolt Display when I have company.

What began as the somewhat eccentric behaviour of someone who was never much of a TV junkie in the first place seems to be becoming increasingly mainstream. More and more people turn first to VOD services like iTunes, Netflix and Hulu, with live television as a more occasional habit.

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Most people are not ready to give up their TV sets altogether, of course. Indeed, the trend is to ever bigger screens. There’s no small amount of irony in the fact that TV manufacturers are increasingly pushing 55- and 65-inch screens at the very same people who also watch TV shows on their iPads and even iPhones. But that’s kind of the point: people should be able to choose not just what they watch, but where, when & how they watch it.

I also don’t think most are yet willing to give up their TV tuners. Some TV will always be watched live, even if it’s just news and sports. There are also those primetime shows people love to talk about with friends and co-workers the next morning, where if you didn’t watch it live – or at least, later the same evening – you’re left out of the water-cooler conversation.

Indeed, it’s rumored that the new Apple TV box will contain a TV tuner precisely because there is still a role for live TV. But I think that role will be an increasingly small one, with video-on-demand becoming the default option. And live TV doesn’t have to mean delivery via a TV antenna or cable service, of course.

The change I’m suggesting won’t happen overnight. There are three obvious hurdles to overcome.

First, habit and inertia. For the non-tech mass-market, there is comfort and familiarity in continuing to receive their favorite programs from their favorite channels, even if they do record them for later viewing. But that’s no different to any other tech change: the early adopters lead the way, and the mass market follows.

fiber

Second, bandwidth. There are also still those whose broadband connections are not yet fast enough to support reliable streaming of HD content – and that’s before we even get started on 4K content. But that’s a problem that will be solved. Google, for example, has big plans for its gigabit Google Fiber service.

Third, and possibly the most challenging of all, the established TV networks. They are both powerful and conservative. Back before time-shifted viewing was common, they dictated what people watched when. These days, they tell us what devices we can use to watch their shows.

But the balance of power is starting to shift, as consumers vote with their wallets. Netflix has demonstrated with House of Cards that you don’t need to be a TV network to have a massively successful TV show. We’ve seen iPad apps appear for offline viewing, albeit mostly only as part of a traditional home-based cable package. But the march is underway.

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Which is why I think increasing competition in the TV box field is good news even for die-hard Apple fans. Because it’s that competition that creates the marketing campaigns that introduce the technology to mass-market consumers.

Right now, the big TV networks aren’t too worried about what a bunch of tech-heads are doing. But when streaming TV boxes go mainstream, and start making their way into the average Joe’s living room, that’s the point at which streaming TV becomes so popular that even the big TV networks won’t be able to resist.

Right now, consumers commonly fork over $100+ a month for a whole bunch of content they don’t want, just to get the bits they do. The more popular streaming content becomes, the greater the pressure on the networks to offer us the freedom to pick and choose the content we actually want, in the formats we want it, paying only for that.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the networks will lose out. For every customer paying $120 a month for a particular package, there are probably a dozen more who would pay $10 a month for the shows they want. Let people watch what they want how they want and the dollars will follow.

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32 Responses to “Opinion: Will the spring launch of Amazon/Nexus/Apple TV signal the beginning of the end of live, broadcast TV?”

  1. RP says:

    other than a couple of older people I know who are also scared of texting and smart phones, i don’t know of anyone who watches live TV other than at a sports bar to catch a game.
    TV as we know it is done. TV networks as we know them is done.

    Like

    • lagax says:

      USA? Here In Germany I barily know Anyone not having a TV and watching channels everyday. And I think that’s so for the rest of Europe, too. For the whole world, this will take longer, but this also, once again, shows how far ahead the USA is!

      Ben, a question:
      As you live in Britain, are you experiencing what I do in Germany or what RP did in the USA(I expect it’s USA)?

      Like

  2. rettun1 says:

    If live tv is in fact a dying breed, would Apple make an effort to support it in their next ATV? If they bring on a new feature, I’d think they’d like the tech to be in its ascendency. But I think they would, since people clearly like it, and there’s a LOT of money invested in live tv. Those beneficiaries aren’t letting a couple tech companies dismantle our nations new pastime: television.

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    • RP says:

      It will still be a great pastime, just on demand, when a user wants it, not on a time dictated by anyone. That is why people love their DVR’s, Once you own a internet connected television, you will never go back.

      Like

  3. We are quite a far way off from end of live broadcating but this is a good start. The biggest problem which is number 3 on your list is the TV networks/cable companies. They have many tricks up their sleeves to try and force users to stick with the current cable subscription model. An example is that one of the local companies to me offers a TV,Internet,Phone bundle. It is running through Fiber and has blazing fast speeds but the good price offered is only if you get and stick with the full bundle. This is one weapon they can use because cutting the cable means an internet connection is necessary. If they make the internet packages way more expensive without the cable subscription they force user’s hands. I think they will fight tooth and nail stupidly because it is inevitable that things will change. Perhaps if they were open to the change then they would make even more money instead of trying to provide the least amount of effort for the money they make. Many people use DVR to record their shows. The users can login to the DVR in some cases and setup, cancel, etc. recordings. So why can’t I login from my smartphone/tablet and watch the shows stored on the DVR? As a new father I have no time to watch TV so my DVR fills up. I do have time while I’m on the train to work, during my lunch hour, etc. This little piece of convenience could add a little time to their lifespan but for whatever their reasons they are afraid of any change at all. The Apple TV could be great for fringe channels but instead you have to buy the bundle with your cable provider to get access. It’s all so crazy and that is why it will eventually change because all that’s really necessary is for someone to make it easy enough that anyone can do it. Like Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa, etc. that is what they did. They took something that tech minded people knew how to use and they made it so easy that the general public could use it. The same thing will eventually happen, people know how to use Torrents to get the shows they want but it’s still not an easy enough process that regular people can do easily. When that does happen then the network and cable companies will be forced to change.

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    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Yes, my cable company did the same thing – for a while I was actually paying slightly more for not having TV service with my Internet than I would have done with it. I almost got as far as switching to a TV package despite not having a telly before they changed the deal.

      The networks and cable/satellite operators are just afraid of change because they prefer certainty to uncertainty, but the market is changing and they’ll be forced to adapt, even if they kick and scream along the way …

      Like

      • True, but believe it or not, cable companies are getting the run around too. Take a look at the Viacom vs. Cablevision lawsuit that’s going on. Viacom is forcing Cablevision to bundle extra channels that they don’t want in order to get the ones they they do to resell to subscribers. It’s the exact same argument that consumers have. You want MTV or Nickelodeon? You’ve got to take all of the sub-B.S. channels that no one watches either, but the production studios keep kicking out because they’re advertising revenue generators. The case is being kept hush-hush from the media, but we’ll see what happens.

        Thank you though so very much for pointing out the social aspect of television watching when it comes to water cooler chat. I’ve said this myself so many times. The only reason to keep up with current shows has simply been to maintain that social aspect with others. The wife and I ended up being cable cutters too. I used to work for the cable company in another state, and I can tell you honestly that I have no animosity at all. I prefer cable internet over DSL or UVers/Prsm/FiOS/etc. for it’s speeds and reliability (though that last one greatly depends upon your local cable plant and how well it’s maintained). But when it comes to television, hands down we’ve enjoyed the switch. In fact, we actually watch more TV, and we watch it together more often. All of that is due to content. Both in what content we choose to watch on demand from our AppleTV, and what content is available OTA. I don’t mind watching older movies when they’re something we like, and the selection of films seems to be better. Granted of course that’s just personal taste, sure. But having more control over the content has meant that we watch far more TV together now. No, we might not be at our jobs talking with coworkers on what happened on what hot new show last night, but we are spending more time together on the couch and talking to each other about what we’re watching together. Which is nice because now we communicate more.

        The bundling of cable services certainly makes the internet speeds cheaper, yes. But while the ala carte price for high speed internet increased, our monthly bill dropped by over $130 by dumping TV & Phone service together.

        The best thing though has been how much clearer the OTA digital picture is than what we were paying for from Comcast. A station broadcasts their signal via whatever bandwidth they’ve been allocated. Cable companies though keep piling on channels, so they start compressing the video signal so that it can co-habitate with those other channels that need bandwidth space too. The result ends up being a dull picture, and more/larger artifacts from action shots. Connect a good quality antenna to an HD set, and be amazed at what the difference is.

        The saddest thing too about the cable companies, especially Comcast is how delusional they are. Comcast does this whole “advisor panel” survey they send out. If you’re a subscriber to their digital TV service, they’ll ask you all sorts of questions. Most of them almost skewed to give good answers. But if you’re not a TV subscriber, they just halt the questions and say that you’re no longer apart of their demographic. Which is a huge loss for them. Example: Comcast now encrypts all video, so you need a box rental no matter what. $20 a month for service, $9 to rent an analog box. If you want HD service, you have to get an HD box for $14 a month, and then subscribe to a digital video tier that starts around $30 or so. So we’re back up to these expensive prices. If Comcast would offer me HD TV for $20 a month and simply kept the digital TV unencrypted, or have spent say $300 on truck rolls for those who don’t want TV service ($150 each trip to install and eventually remove a $30 filter to block TV signals by allow data, aka a “Trap”), they could have saved about $500 per subscriber for the cost of a Set Top Box that they have to have a subscriber for 3 years to recoup the price of. If I could have gotten HD TV for $20 a month to get the same channels I do now, I would have done it, and skipped buying the antenna. It wouldn’t have made as much financial sense as buying an antenna would have, but it would have been more convenient for me. Instead Comcast is out $20 a month in raw revenue from me, whatever costs they have sitting on warehouse equipment that I’ve not picked up, and more untold advertising revenue for commercial airtime that they could have sold to target me. Now I’m not saying that I have all the answers. But asking people who are cord cutters why we’ve done what we have, and what might have won us back would have been a good proactive move for future marketing and long-term viability.

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      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        A really interesting read – thanks very much for posting.

        Like

  4. rtdunham says:

    Yes, it will.

    Like

  5. Mark Eissler says:

    Opinions like this are silly and it’s weird that they keep on popping up in the media. But the pattern is predominantly that millennials, living in urbanized environments, with access to fast and cheap broadband are the ones promoting these ideas. Move to anywhere outside of a largish city, where broadband is still mostly non-existent, and you’ll quickly see why so many people still insist on getting TV the “old” way.

    With that said, I’ve been a cord cutter for years. Getting by with as little as 1.5Mbps service (DSL) in one of those rural areas just outside of Seattle. The first thing you notice, however, is that Netflix actually sucks and isn’t getting better (there just isn’t that much super awesome content being streamed through them). If it wasn’t for original content like House of Cards, and the DVD subscription which still is needed to get a lot of “good” content, I’m not sure we’d need Netflix at all. Seems that Hulu Plus is where we spend most of our time these days. For movies its Vudu, CinemaNow, and Amazon. I’m probably the last person in the world that will actually pay $0.99 to $1.99 per episode of series television…that has to change to get serious cord happening on a roll. As it stands, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between paying a cable company $50/mth vs a gaggle of streaming subscriptions for the same.

    And. If you care about sports at all, then at least in the U.S. you are going to need either a cable/satellite subscription or an HDTV antenna. The Olympics are not available streamed through any of the streaming services without an existing cable subscription. What’s taking Aereo so long to get to the West Coast???

    And. If you care about news programming at all, then you will also need one of those other methods to access it. Again, no one streams entire news programs. No one. And who the F wants to get their news as a bunch of unorganized clips?

    It’s the latter two problems that finally led me to grab a Mohu Leaf antenna off of Amazon so I could start to pull in HDTV over-the-air. Something that rural folks also can’t do because they’re just too far from HDTV transmission towers. But…just because you live in a city doesn’t mean you can benefit from an HDTV antenna. In Manhattan and San Francisco, for instance, a lot of those signals can be blocked by terrain and/or tall buildings.

    BTW, cord cutting doesn’t mean you stream a lot of programming but also have that Comcast cable service on top of the pure data connectivity. Cord cutting means all you have is a data connection and possibly an HDTV antenna. Last time I checked, cable companies continue to include basic channels with their data service. Perhaps if they start filtering out the basic channels then we’ll really see who is a bonafide cord cutter.

    Broadcast television will be here for quite some time.

    Like

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      “Second, bandwidth. There are also still those whose broadband connections are not yet fast enough to support reliable streaming of HD content – and that’s before we even get started on 4K content. But that’s a problem that will be solved. Google, for example, has big plans for its gigabit Google Fiber service.”

      As for House of Cards, clearly Netflix made money from the first series or it wouldn’t have made the second. The old models made money; the new models will too.

      News is where I think live TV will always exist, though that’s already available online, so again, once the bandwidth problem is solved, I don’t see that as an argument for antenna/satellite/cable.

      Conventional TV will be around for a while, I agree, but I think a lot of people are going to make the shift starting this year.

      Like

    • G4Dualie says:

      Millennials believe MTV was invented right after the television set. ;-)

      Like

  6. G4Dualie says:

    I don’t know anyone who doesn’t own a television and the thought of having to leave the house just to watch TV is absurd. From where I sit, the television set is only going to get more interesting.

    I pay the 120 each month for cable and use the DVR for time shifting. I also subscribe to Hulu+ for network and cable programming. Am I wasting my money? You bet I am, when you consider I only watch a couple of hours of TV each day and from just a couple of channels.

    But, live television is not done, not in my lifetime and I will continue to enjoy the sports, local national news and programming from the comfort of my living room.

    Like

    • RP says:

      we are not talking about television sets perse, but the television broadcasting. of course most televisions connect to the web. Netflix is the future.

      Like

      • Except Netflix really isn’t the future, at least not how people want it to be, until it solves a host of issues for content creators and distributors that are already solved in the cable industry.

        Like

      • G4Dualie says:

        The intersection of the TV tuner & Computer is in my rear view mirror. I’m on Computer road and the entrance to the Ala Carte Highway is already in view.

        It’s the iTunes Store. Their aggregation model is years ahead of the competition. Of course that will change with Amazon and Google jumping in to compete with iTS but I believe Apple will once again leap ahead with a new delivery process.

        I see Apple Satellites in our future; taking he concept of the “walled garden” to a higher level to offer content providers a means to safeguard their products and Apple the ability to stream data to all points on the compass.

        Netflix, is a derivation of the cable company model without tiered access for premium content and is dependent on the carriers and cable giants for delivery.

        For this reason, Netflix won’t last. But as they introduce more and more original content they become an even greater target for a company who wants to get in quickly and spin the marketing to dovetail with their own products. Microsoft comes to mind. What’s to stop one of Comcast’s competitors from scarfing up Netflix? No one, especially the FCC.

        The days of buying and preparing a live chicken just for some wings, or a whole pizza just for a slice is over and done and so is cable bundling.

        Like

  7. smillr58 says:

    I sure hope so…

    Like

  8. #3 is a lot bigger than you make it out to be.

    Simply put the profit from network TV is huge compared to all forms of streaming and the entire system allows the risk of creating TV shows to happen. Would Netflix be worth a monthly sub if all they had was House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Lilyhammer, Hemlock Grove and Arrested Development? Or would you subscribe for a month, watch the shows you want and then unsubscribe? The simple fact is that online streaming does not solve the risk factor of making TV shows while cable does.

    Affiliate fees and commercials guard against losing millions of dollars if a TV show fails. Did House of Cards make more people subscribe to Netflix than what would have happened naturally and if it did is it enough people to cover the 100 million dollar budget the show has? Cable TV subscriptions would have to be drastically lower than what it is today before networks start looking at alternatives.

    Like

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      House of Cards clearly made money for Netflix: it made a second series.

      Like

      • There is no reason or proof to believe this at all. Netflix is in the “Loss Leader” portion of media creation. Netflix would be Very happy to have lost every penny they spent on House of Cards As Long As there is a huge buzz about it, which they have. This buzz will lead to new subscribers, Netflix will raise the prices and start advertisements, which leads to actually making money, which leads to more production.

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  9. It is time for cable cutting to happen. The biggest issue out there are the stupid cable companies who do not want to give up a good thing. I want to choose what I want to watch when I want to watch it. Since I don’t have cable, I am unable to watch the current season of Game of Thrones. I have to wait a year for it to come out next year on DVD or through iTunes. I think companies like HBO are starting to get it. I would probably pay more for an ala carte line up of shows, than with a monthly cable contract, but I would be a happier customer in getting the content I want. Business disruption is happening and people are afraid to leave the comfort of their security blankets. I get it. This will happen though and I am grateful for companies like Apple, Amazaon and Google pushing forward on pushing technology to the limits.

    Like

  10. Having read all of the comments, everyone is missing the point. Content is king, always has been, always will be. So you have to ask who makes the content and how are they going to protect their revenue stream. The who is many, and I mean many, and they are all terrified of protecting their content (as they should be). So what is the easiest path for them? Buy someone, or multiple someones. It would be dead simple for Apple or Google to buy one or more sources for content (think: AMC, HBO, Showtime). They will not buy Netflix or Hulu or any other streaming service. Why? They don’t have the Content; they just pump it over the Internet in a somewhat interesting fashion (nothing complicated just big).

    Apple buys: AMC, HBO and Showtime all at once; easy for them to do, they have more than enough cash. So they what happens? They notify all of the delivery companies of these companies content (cable and satellite) that they will not be renewing their contracts and that the Content of all of the shows will be exclusively Apple’s after their contracts expire. This is the same with Google.

    The other way this could go is that the cable companies buy the content providers, after that same scenario as Apple.

    Why has this not happen yet? Not a big enough threat. I know the types of finance people that run these type of companies. They run the numbers constantly and predict 3, 6, 12 months out what the numbers will be. As soon as the threat becomes too large they Will buy the content providers.

    So make NO mistake you, are the consumer, Will be buying content forever. You may get it from somewhere else, you may play it on a different device but until YOU start making content to bring to the world you will be paying for it.

    Like

  11. Tallest Skil says:

    The only thing that stands between Apple and the destruction and reinventing of television itself is the telecom stranglehold on government regulation.

    They don’t compete. Period. They collude.

    We’re capped to 250 gigabytes a month. 1 megabyte per second costs $30.

    Until those two things change, television CAN’T die.

    But it should.

    Like

  12. I recently dropped cable TV. We have only “high speed” internet, which they claim is UP TO 30 Mbps! Any time I check it I’m lucky if I have 10.
    Having recently purchased a HD antenna! I can see some OTA channels, problem is that it has its good days and bad. I live only 8 miles from New York City, I’m situated up high and I still get crappy reception at times. I recently tried Aereo which I stream from my ipad to my apple TV. This works well and $8 a month is better the $157 we used to pay. I also have Netflix plus 1 CD per month. I do miss seeing my KNICKS though. :'(
    Time Warner should have a subscription for HBO through the Apple TV app this way people can still watch Boxing, movies and shows like True Blood. Someone needs to put together some sort of sports app to watch live events too.
    I can’t wait to see what Apple is coming out with. I hope it saves us all.

    Like

  13. limboaz says:

    Expect the cable companies to put more and more popular content behind the “bundle wall”, especially sports. This strategy will fail in the long but they will try it anyway.

    Like

  14. I do not have a television.
    As broadcasters evolve (as above article) to give targeted packages, I probably will do.
    I think broadcast television will live long.
    It brings a sense of community so, while it might not be as it is now, it will still be around.

    Like

  15. Can’t cut the cord when your TV content provider is also the only cable provider in town.

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  16. Jason Piebes says:

    A couple things here… First, the cable/sat companies are not dummies. All of these changes to the way our entertainment is delivered will happen at the speed of contract expirations and not a moment sooner. At the same time those contracts open up, the cable/sat companies also have the opportunity to update their delivery models. Does anyone seriously think they won’t adopt different pricing plans? On-demand only. Per channel subscriptions. All of it is no-brainer kind of stuff.

    So the second bit, I think there will be a huge collapse in the entertainment biz when these new types of delivery models happen. Part of why TV ‘works’ is the constant live streaming. The TV is an entertainment device that we merely need to flick a remote button for in order to be entertained. Surfing stations is entertaining in itself. The decision making process is being helped along by having static stations to pick from. If that goes away, I think televisions go away. This may sound un-hip, but I really don’t like going to netflix to find a movie or show to watch. I love it when I already know what I want, but surfing their content and trying to pick something is excruciating. So now add a bunch of buttons, or ‘channels’, like netflix to an Apple TV box and the whole experience of being entertained becomes excruciating unless you know exactly what you want and where to find it.

    With that said, I don’t think the change will happen all that fast. I think people like to be entertained the way a cable box does it today. It’s a streaming buffet delivered to your brain. The Apple TV method is more like having to tell the chef what you want and how to make it every time you want to eat.

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  17. With Net Neutrality being all but dead? No.

    Like