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"Inform, don't alarm" - Cable TV missed Hurricane Irene by ignoring Twitter, Facebook

azdailysun :: By now, the TV image has become a cliche: a Weather Channel reporter leans into a lashing gust of wind and rain -- and does it four times an hour for hours on end. The first time it's fascinating. But more often than not, the storm dies out but the Weather Channel doesn't know when to quit. Or worse, the reporter is sent to the wrong spot, broadcasting calm weather while the real damage takes place hundreds of miles away ...

[Randy Wilson:] In other words, inform, don't alarm. And when the storm is over, dig deeply into how government responded and what still needs to be done. That's journalism. What we're getting now on cable TV is standup comedy.

Continue to read Randy Wilson, azdailysun.com

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December 08 2010

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March 22 2010

19:53

Why 'TV Everywhere' Will Fail

A few years ago, while TV networks were happily setting up Hulu as a place for people to watch shows online for free, the cable companies were fretting. If cable customers could watch shows online for free on Hulu, or through cheap subscription services such as Netflix, who was going to pay for cable service? Sure, the cable companies would still get you for Internet access, but they'd lose one part of their "triple play" package -- usually the most expensive and lucrative part.

So they dreamed up the idea of "TV Everywhere." It came mainly from the minds of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, who didn't like the notion of their cable content getting out into the wilds of the digital world. As a recent cover story on BusinessWeek magazine points out, TV Everywhere is the "Revenge of the Cable Guys" who didn't want to see their industry downsized in the same way the music industry was hit with file-sharing.

businessweek cover image.jpg

But who are the cable companies getting their revenge on? Is it the array of tech startups that want to help people cut the cord? No, the real revenge is on cable customers who were considering cutting the cord. Rather than allow them to go online to customize their TV viewing and pay only for the content and channels they want, Big Cable wanted to lock them into the old routine of paying for 500 channels while watching about eight of them. TV Everywhere is a solution for Big Cable -- not for its customers. Just look at the image that BusinessWeek chose to show cable's revenge: A customer wrapped up in a cable like a prisoner (see image at left).

While cable companies say they are not seeing widespread reductions in customer subscriptions as a result of people cutting the cord, my Guide to Cutting the Cable TV Cord story at MediaShift has been the 3rd most popular story on the site over the past 12 months (even though it was only published two months ago). I've heard from scores of people who have happily cut the cord or are considering doing so.

The cable companies believe that their method of paying for all those channels of content and then collecting huge (and rising) premiums from customers is the only way studios and content creators can be paid to produce high-quality shows. But how long will the old way be the only way? Aren't those content creation costs a bit inflated when you consider that the tools and distribution are being democratized online? Yes, online video sites have not become huge money makers for independent web productions yet. But that doesn't mean a shift isn't coming down the line.

Reasons for Failure

Here's a rundown of why I think the TV Everywhere concept -- and Comcast's beta of Fancast Xfinity TV -- are doomed to failure over the long term.

  • Taking away choice.
    While Comcast pitches Xfinity as giving users more control over content by being able to watch what they want when they want, the reality is that Comcast is locking people into their menu of offerings for cable TV. And, most importantly, they are giving people the chance to watch content on other platforms -- laptops, smartphones, etc. -- only if they keep paying their cable bills. There is still no choice for people who want to pay less for just the shows they want. The ultimate in customization comes from the Internet, where you watch what you want and aren't usually forced into bundles of content and channels.
  • Propping up old technology.
    The TV Everywhere push has absolutely nothing to do with promotion of new content platforms and everything to do with propping up the old one. The perfect analogy is newspaper publishers (the latest being Cablevision with its acquisition of Newsday) who think they can get people to pay for print newspaper subscriptions in order to get free web access to their content. The customer wants to get access to the content online, so the publisher's reaction is to say, "OK, you can have that, but you'll need to pay for this other thing that you no longer want." You can only prop up the old model for so long before someone figures out a way to make the new one work without it.
  • No plan to charge people for online-only access.
    The cable companies have no plan to give people the option to access Xfinity or other TV Everywhere services for a fee instead of forcing them to pay for cable TV. That means this is not a strategy for working out an online business model (either through advertising or paid content, or a mix of those or something new). Instead, the cable companies have one aim: Protect the old business model. Again, this is not a strategy born from innovation or smart thinking about new platforms. This is survival mode and all about protecting the old, broken way of doing business.
boxee box
  • Google TV on the horizon.
    It's true that the earlier entrants in web-TV convergence (including WebTV) were failures because the technology wasn't quite there yet. And when you consider the multiple steps required to get your TV hooked up to the Net properly, it makes sense that most people won't cut the cord to cable. But more TV sets are being built with easier web integration. And what happens if Google, Intel and Sony band together for Google TV, as rumored in the New York Times recently? And with the Boxee Box due out this year, the web-TV setup without cable gets even easier. That makes low cost alternatives enticing vs. the TV Everywhere promise that you'll be paying your cable bill forever.
  • People don't trust Big Cable.
    In survey after survey, people say they have poor customer service from cable and satellite companies. They would likely jump at the chance to get a service that gives them any kind of friendly help, or can portray itself as even slightly responsive to their needs. You rarely hear people complain about the service they get from Netflix, for instance, so the upstarts have a chance to show they can do better.
  • Not delivering on its promise.
    Worst of all for TV Everywhere is a failure to deliver on its initial promise. The promise was that you could watch all your cable shows and channels on your laptop and mobile phone. But as PC World's Mark Sullivan points out in a review, you can't get all the content you expect. "After all the hype from Comcast about the new service, I'm surprised at how little subscription-only and premium video -- especially movies -- is actually available on Fancast Xfinity TV," he wrote. That could change over time, but first impressions can make a difference with word of mouth.

I am convinced that this early trial for Xfinity and TV Everywhere is doomed to failure because they are a way to prop up a legacy media in transition. But there are ways that the cable companies could change course. They could come up with a fair payment for online access for people who don't want to pay for cable. They could offer more customization for cable, allowing people to buy just the channels they watch.

But, at the moment, the cable companies are content to sit high on the hog, charging huge sums for cable TV services that continue to defy gravity, and the recession, by going up, up, up.

-----

What do you think about Xfinity and TV Everywhere? Will they keep you happy paying for cable TV? Or have you quit cable and cut the cord? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And don't forget to vote in our poll about your satisfaction with your cable or satellite service:




What do you think about your cable or satellite TV service?polls

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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January 08 2010

17:48

Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV

From time to time, I'll give an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. I previously covered Twitter, citizen journalism, and alternative models for newspapers, among other topics. This week I look at cutting the cord to cable (or satellite) TV and watching TV content online.

Background

Anyone who gets cable TV or satellite in the U.S. has noticed a pronounced trend over the years: their monthly bill keeps going up. Sure, you can get lots of channels, plus HD channels and DVR functions, but those usually cost extra. According to research from Centris (PDF), the average digital cable bill was nearly $75 last year, and the average monthly satellite TV bill was $69.

What's causing those bills to skyrocket? A lack of competition among cable and satellite providers, and the rising costs of programming. The most recent programming dustup happened when News Corp. demanded carriage fees from Time Warner Cable, and settled before any channels were dropped. Time Warner is planning an upcoming rate hike. Like other traditional media, TV networks (both cable and broadcast) are being squeezed by lower advertising income, and think they can just keep raising the cable bills indefinitely.

Unfortunately for the cable TV industry, they've picked a bad time to raise their rates. Centris found in a separate report (PDF) that due to the economic meltdown, eight percent of U.S. households were likely to cancel their pay TV in the third quarter of '09, and nearly half of households contacted TV providers for discounts or cheaper packages.

Thanks to the rise of Netflix, Hulu and hardware like the Roku box and Apple TV, cutting the cord to cable TV doesn't mean cutting yourself off from your favorite shows and channels. While past experiments at bringing together the web and TV (such as WebTV) have failed, the recent recession has pushed people to pursue their own convergence projects that enable them to watch web content on their TV. Depending on various living room setups and viewing habits, making the changeover from cable to online TV can be complex and maddening. But you're sure to save a bundle of money.

Hardware and Services

The first thing to do when cutting the cord is list the shows you watch regularly, and your favorite TV channels. Next, do a little online research to find out whether those shows appear on the channel's streaming sites (such as NBC.com, CBS.com, etc.) or on Hulu or YouTube. Many shows on pay channels such as HBO don't appear until much later, and usually must be bought via a service such as iTunes.

In addition to what's available online, you might be surprised at the quality of over-the-air broadcast channels since the digital switch-over last year. Many newer TVs only require an antenna to get local broadcast channels, while older TVs need a converter box, which runs from $40 to $80. Plus, some of the programming includes HD content. To find out which digital channels you can get over the airwaves, input your location at the AntennaWeb site.

(Note: Broadcasters recently announced at CES that they would be offering "mobile DTV" so that people could pick up digital broadcast TV on laptops, smartphones and tablets.)

Below is a rundown of some of the more important elements to enjoying TV content via the web. You won't need to get all of them but you can mix and match those that will get you what you need. Most cable quitters find they can get about 95 percent of the TV content they used to watch on cable via the various services below.

Hardware

Roku
This is the box most cable quitters seem to like. It connects to your TV and your computer network, let's you watch Netflix streaming movies, and offers some free and pay options for additional content. It costs $79.99 for SD and $99.99 for an HD model.

AppleTV
It's basically a front-end device to iTunes, letting you download movies and music and play them through your TV. Problem: No TV tuner or DVR functionality.

Digital converter box
If you want to get the digital over-the-air stations in your area, you'll likely need an antenna for newer TVs or this box for older TVs. Cost: $40 to $80.

wdtv.jpg

WD TV
This small box connects your TV to an external hard drive, letting you play movies, TV shows, photos or music you have downloaded. The standard WD TV is about $79, while the WD TV Live that lets you watch Net content is $119.

eyeTV hybrid
It's a TV tuner for a Mac, letting you watch digital over-the-air channels on your Mac, or even on your iPhone with an extra $4.99 app. Cost: $149.95.

Game consoles
Netflix will let you play movies through your XBox 360 or PlayStation 3. There are also a wide variety of TV tuners and other devices that can turn game consoles into home entertainment systems.

Note: If you prefer simply connecting your computer directly to your TV set without any other hardware, you can do that, too. Here's a great video explaining how:

Services and Sites

Netflix
The granddaddy of the DVD-by-mail services, Netflix has also become a huge entryway for people who want to dump cable and get TV shows later when they're available on DVD. Netflix also offers unlimited streaming of some movies and TV shows, which works well with a Roku box or other Netflix-ready devices. Cost: $8.99/month for 1 DVD plus unlimited streaming, with various higher cost plans for more DVDs.

Hulu
The free U.S.-only TV show service is a joint venture between NBC Universal, Fox, and Disney. You are forced to watch commercials before and during TV shows and movies. While it has been an especially popular service for those dumping cable, there has been chatter that Hulu might charge for content at some point. Cost: Free (for now).

iTunes
Apple's poorly named digital media buying service started out selling music downloads. Then it added a podcast directory, and now sells TV shows and rents/sells movies. Downloading TV shows at $1.99 per episode can get pricey, though there are discounted "Season Passes" and some limited free TV show offers.

YouTube
The most popular video site on the web also can be accessed through various devices in order to view its content on your TV. These devices include the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and TiVo.

amazon on demand.jpg

Amazon on Demand
Trying to compete with Netflix and iTunes, Amazon offers quick downloads of various TV shows at similar prices to iTunes. They are playable on Macs or PCs, or on devices that connect your computer to your TV.

Boxee
Free software that helps you organize TV and movie content on your computer. Currently in beta, the Boxee software will soon come on a special Boxee Box from D-Link for under $200.

PlayOn
Windows software that lets you play Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. from your computer on your TV via a PlayStation 3, Wii or XBox 360. Cost: $39.99 after 14-day free trial.

BitTorrent
Popular free file-sharing software for people who trade TV show and movie files. You'll need to search your own conscience to decide whether to download copyrighted material from sites that utilize the torrent system.

Sample Setups

Here are a few sample setups of people who get TV content without subscribing to cable.

Roku + Netflix and Amazon

Who: CancelCable.com bloggers

Setup: Roku box that plays Netflix and Amazon content; digital TV converter box.

Quote: "Since we need to be more proactive and select shows from Netflix or Hulu, we read a lot more reviews and tend to sit down and watch complete movies rather than just switching around hundreds of channels."

eyetv setup.JPG

eyeTV + Mac Mini

Who: Dan Milbrath, product manager, San Francisco

Setup: eyeTV hybrid to get broadcast channels on a Mac Mini; projector for movies; Netflix.

Quote: "I'm intrigued by on-demand, online TV options like those being offered by Amazon and iTunes but I think the pricing is still a bit too steep. $1.99 for a one hour episode of 'Mad Men' is about double what I think they should charge."

AppleTV + PlayStation 3

Who: Leo Prieto, founder of online community BetaZeta.com, Santiego, Chile

Setup: AppleTV with iTunes and Boxee; PlayStation 3 playing BitTorrent content, podcasts.

Quote: "I spend less than $30 a month on content, and it's all stuff I decided to watch (and not just 'what was on' or 'what I remembered to record on my DVR'). I also have Boxee on the Apple TV installed, which lets me access lots of public and free podcasts or web shows that aren't available on Apple TV (all free and legal)."

Hulu + laptop

Who: Carla King, author and tech editor, Pt. Richmond, Calif.

Setup: Laptop watching Hulu; uses projector for some movies on Netflix or iTunes.

Quote: "The availability of content of all kinds on the Internet is a terrible distraction for me from tasks at hand and health in general. Whereas before I could cancel my magazine subscriptions and choose not to buy cable TV to keep myself on task with personal and professional goals, I find that today I need to develop my willpower to the utmost."

What's Missing

For many people, the biggest barrier to canceling cable is the loss of live sports. While MLB.com has a package of games you can stream online, and CBS has offered a popular March Madness on Demand stream, many other leagues have been slow on the uptake. Plus, there are often restrictions and blackouts with some online season pass deals. For example, the NBA League Pass Broadband does not include nationally or locally televised games. So if you're living in Boston, you won't be able to see Celtics games online if they are also on TV at the same time (whether they are home or away).

Leo Prieto.jpg

The same goes for other live events, such as awards shows. "Mainly, live TV content is impossible," said Leo Prieto, who gave up cable in 2005. "And most of that live TV content isn't available to download on iTunes later. For example, the Oscars or some sports event. In that case I have to go to BitTorrent and get the show afterwards. I would love iTunes or YouTube to offer live content."

Multimedia reporter Sean Mussenden is also living the cable-free life, and says he believes TVs will eventually come with direct Internet capabilities. He had an interesting take on how his discovery of programs changed without cable.

"When you rely on cable, the easy access to thousands of shows tends to limit your willingness to explore further," he said. "But there are far more options for informative and/or entertaining content beyond cable. Not having having cable has made me more willing to explore. For example, at the moment I'm really enjoying watching talks on Ted.com and MIT's OpenCourseWare. I don't think I'd have discovered either of them if I still had cable."

In many cases, people who have canceled cable still get to see their favorite TV shows, but often much later than those with cable. If they can deal with being a bit behind, and don't mind the tech hassle of setting up a Net-to-TV connection with gear, they're often happy to save money and watch what they want.

More Reading

If you want to read more about cutting the cable TV cord, check out these sites and stories:

CancelCable.com

Cable Freedom Is a Click Away at NY Times

You Don't Need Satellite TV When Times Get Tough at News.com

Cancel Cable and Save with Free Internet TV at Digital Trends

Ways To Watch TV Without Paying An Arm And A Leg For Cable Or Satellite at Bible Money Matters

Turn On, Tune Out, Click Here at WSJ (paid subscription required)

Cancel Cable TV by Paul Kedrosky

Cable TV's Big Worry: Taming the Web at NY Times

Who Will Win the Cable Wars? Not You. at Slate

Broadcast TV Networks Want Your Money at The Atlantic

More Fees For Broadcasters Could Hurt Cable Networks' Growth at Dow Jones

Why the Roku Netflix Player Is the First Shot of the Revolution at NY Times

Netflix Agrees To Warner's New Release Delay In Exchange For More Streaming Rights at PaidContent

*****

Have I missed any important elements to cutting the cord? Have you cut the cord and if so, what's your setup? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and I'll update my story with any gear or services I missed.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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December 02 2009

14:52
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