If you read nothing else, check out today’s article in Wired about the origins of Net Neutrality, written by the guy who coined the term, Tim Wu. The concept that bridges, railroads, and other common carriers shouldn’t discriminate based on traffic type goes back hundreds of years, and the telecommunication version goes back to the early 1970s. Wu also offers a bit of hope from the court system. “The Supreme Court requires that an agency demonstrate its action was not ‘arbitrary’ or ‘capricious’; it must ‘examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.'” he wrote. “And when it changes course dramatically, as the FCC has, the agency must explain why it ‘now reject[s] the considerations that led it to adopt that initial policy.’”
Joel Espelien of TDG Research wrote that despites its denials, Amazon is prepping a skinny bundle of pay-TV channels to launch in the first half of 2018 as an Amazon Prime benefit. As he pointed out, for folks who subscribe to Prime mainly for the free shipping, everything else is gravy; it “feels like it’s free.” Amazon doesn’t need to make money on TV in the short term, and getting customers hooked on a “free” set of channels might be a great opportunity to upsell them on some premiums.
And Parks Associates released a report on Smart TVs and The User Experience, as reported on today by Broadband TV News and others. It said that viewers want easy navigation and discovery in their TV interfaces. I’d add that curation underpins that discovery component, and that ease of use is paramount. When Roku first came out, I wondered why anyone would choose it over a connected, dedicated Windows PC, which could access everything the Roku could and then some. Now I know better.
Last week, David Garrick at The San Diego Union-Tribune pointed out an impartial perspective on the decline of cable TV subscriptions. Cities have reported decreases in their franchise fees, which are typically set at a fixed percentage of cable systems’ revenues. For example, the city of San Diego has seen cable franchise fees drop 12.2 percent over the past two years, an annual loss of over $2 million.
Some cities have contemplated adding a tax on internet-delivered pay-TV, but Garrick couldn’t find any that had implemented it. Do cities get a franchise fee from internet service providers? It seems to me that would fix the problem.
Coming at it from another direction is my favorite pundit, Shelly Palmer. He wrote yesterday that TV has a problem coming from the other direction – its advertisers. Network ad sales groups are trying to whip up data-driven metrics to repackage their shows to attract ad buyers in ways the Nielsen ratings don’t. “Of course, the pressure on TV ad sales is not Nielsen’s fault,” Palmer wrote. “The blame can be placed squarely on changes in consumer behavior.”
Put another way, companies that buy ads don’t really want ads, they want results, either sales or an increase in brand awareness. The truly data-driven future is when these companies can track each outcome and pay the TV intermediary accordingly.
As always, Palmer sticks the dismount. “TV, the art form, is in its platinum age. But the
future present of video packaging and distribution is on-demand and digital. TV the platform simply cannot survive under its current business model. It must evolve.” I would add that the natural benefits of free broadcast TV (ubiquity, attractive price, one-to-many bandwidth usage) should keep it in the mix in the decades to come, although its evolved form has yet to be unveiled.
When Dish (probably) caved in late Thursday and signed a retransmission consent deal with CBS, that was as unexpected as a turkey sandwich on the day after Thanksgiving. It was never a matter of whether the two sides (mostly Dish) would give in, it was when.
So I was a little surprised to get settled in on Cyber Monday and see pundits still picking at the bones of this non-story. Daniel Frankel of FierceCable and Jon Lafayette of Multichannel News both noticed the same thing: CBS and its networks were still missing from Dish’s Sling TV despite the new contract. It might be a coastal bias, but they just don’t get it.
Despite occasional brave noises, Sling TV doesn’t carry any English-language affiliates in most of its subscribers’ markets. As Frankel himself wrote in January, “Sling TV has pointedly noted that its service is not a replacement for traditional pay-TV.” Exactly! By keeping its price very low, Sling has become the supplement for some otherwise-OTA cord-cutters. If they want a local station, they’ll pick it up over-the-air for free. If they want to watch the latest South Park, which they can’t pick up with their antennas, they’ll flip over to Comedy Central on Sling. In that context, it makes no sense for Sling to pay for CBS or any other OTA network.
On the other hand, Frankel ended his latest Sling story by writing, “Dish is expected to include Sling TV rights in its next program licensing agreement with CBS Corp.” So if those networks weren’t bundled with the CBS retransmission deal, those would be candidates for Sling to pick up. I could easily see CBS Sports added to Sling’s Sports Extra add-on, and Pop and Smithsonian could work in Comedy or Lifestyle. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Sure enough CBS blacked out Dish customers Monday night. Dish responded with a press release that talked about over-the-air antennas. “In recent weeks, thousands of eligible DISH customers in CBS markets have made the switch to OTA … Customers with qualifying equipment, programming, and location can choose to receive local channels free over the air and save $10 per month on their bill.” And here’s another reason, if true, for me to dislike CBS’s tactics: “In addition to asking for significant price increases for local channels, CBS is attempting to ‘force bundle’ unrelated and low-performing cable channels (CBS Sports Network, Pop and Smithsonian Channel) at a premium.” I have always thought that retrans talks for OTA stations, which are designed to serve the public airwaves, needs to be separate from pay-TV channels.
Last week, I wrote that BTV Phoenix was soliciting feedback for dropping its Katz diginets (Bounce, Escape, and Grit). It’s not asking for feedback any more. Those channels had been grayed out, with an invitation for viewers to profess their enthusiasm for them, but now they’re simply not present, just as happened with those networks on BTV Bay Area. Jeff Baumgartner at Multichannel News got a response from Didja, the BTVs’ parent, that it believed “the situation is temporary, and remains hopeful that they will be restored to its lineups.”
And on Tuesday, Dec. 5, Public Knowledge will host Net Neutrality & Competition: The Final Days of Internet Freedom at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. With the FCC likely to strike down Net Neutrality protections, AT&T looking to merge with Time Warner, and Sinclair trying to gobble up the Tribune stations, “Public Knowledge is coming to California to discuss these important political shifts with engaged individuals, and to build new connections with individuals who want to learn more about standing up for an open internet.” Sound like fun, in a depressing kind of way.
As I was watching the Broncos lose at home again yesterday afternoon, there was an occasional crawl at the top of the screen telling the world that Dish customers should call Dish and complain that they might lose CBS. Or something like that – the game was hard to watch. I rolled my eyes inwardly and thought, here we go again.
The first CBS-Dish fight from over 10 years ago was the impetus for me to install a good Yagi-style over-the-air antenna on the roof. Not only did that let me bypass that dispute, it opened up the world of digital subchannels. I’ve since upgraded to a less pointy version with even better reception, but that’s only part of the reason I just don’t care this time.
When Dish sent out its nigh-annual rate increase around the beginning of this year, for the first time it broke out Broadcast TV as its own $10 charge. “Cool!” I thought, and called in to get the satellite-delivered locals turned off. That wasn’t how it worked; with my typical package of channels, that separate broadcast component was still mandatory.
Which was why I was surprised to get a postcard from Dish a couple of months ago offering to save me that $10/month if I picked up locals via an OTA antenna. They even offered to send out an installer. I called again, and this time the satellite-delivered locals went away and $10 stayed in my pocket. I no longer have PrimeTime Anytime, and my Hopper doesn’t record OTA all that well, but I’ve got a Tablo in place for my OTA DVR. I’m saving money and getting the pleasure of thumbing my nose at CBS’s tactics.
That’s the part that bugs me most. CBS already has enormous leverage in retransmission consent talks, and for the network to bug all viewers just to reach some Dish customers to increase that leverage, I think that’s a jerk move. As long as its stations continue to have an obligation to freely serve the public airwaves, then that’s how I’ll watch my CBS.