Tag Archives: Cable television

Charging Facebook

I’m a believer in things repeating themselves in business, even if they take slightly altered forms or use up to date technology.  It’s an offshoot of my mantra about not confusing the business with the tools, I guess.  In any event, I got to thinking about a tidbit I picked up while going through my news feeds the other day.  It turns out according to SimpleReach, a distribution analytics company, referral traffic to the top 30 Facebook publishers  plunged 32 percent from January to October. Among the top 10, the drop was 42.7 percent.  The drop was confirmed by other analytics sources as well.  This, of course, got me thinking about cable operators and television networks.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like a cable system, a social network is a big, empty pipe.  It creates a method for distribution and little else.  All of the innovation at a social network is focused on improving that distribution and not on the content.  Back when the web started, publishers plugged right into the web and promoted like crazy to get “viewership.”  What Facebook and other social networks (read that as gatekeepers) have done is to take over much of the traffic creation.  This is exactly what happened when the world shifted from over the air broadcasting to cable, but there as a big difference.

In two words: affiliate fees.  This is compensation paid by the operators to the program providers.  It can run from pennies per home to $7+.  That’s per home, per month.  It’s a pretty strong reason why most “TV” content is only available with the blessing of a cable carrier (TV Everywhere).  Why would the publishers (content providers, a.k.a. TV nets) want to disrupt that business model, especially when the can supplement those dollars with ad revenues?

Back to Facebook.  Publishers spent several years building content islands on Facebook, only to have Facebook revamp their algorithm and sent less traffic.  The problem is this:

With social media driving over 30 percent of all traffic to publisher websites and Facebook delivering 75 percent of that social traffic, no publisher, from BuzzFeed to The New York Times Company, can afford to skip using Facebook as a means to promote its content.That gives increasing leverage to Facebook, which is able to greatly influence the prominence and visibility of publishers’ articles in the News Feed of its users.

So here is a prediction, one that might not happen for a couple of years, but one that I think, based on the history of cable TV, will occur eventually.  Content providers are going to charge Facebook.  I’m not talking about sharing ad revenues; I mean the digital equivalent of affiliate fees.  Someone will bite the bullet – a big guy like the Times or HuffPo or maybe BuzzFeed – and tell Facebook to pay up.  Maybe they will take technical measures to prevent their content from being shared there but they won’t publish it themselves.  One publisher gone is not a big deal.  Many publishers gone means an empty pipe, and that means fewer users and fewer ads sold for Facebook.

What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

Pro Choice

I never had cable TV until I moved into New York City after college.  You needed the cable there because the big buildings interfered with the over-the-air signal.  Suddenly, a new world opened up, as I had access to several more channels, including HBO.

Cable tv

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had more choice, and I was all for it.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one either. Cable television contributed to the substantial drop in the broadcast network viewing from 1983 to 1994 when weekly broadcast audience shares dropped from 69 to 52 while basic cable networks’ shares rose from 9 to 26 during the same period according to A. C. Nielsen.  What had been a 6 or 7 channel universe now had almost 40!  100 channels was a dream for down the road and today’s world over several hundred channels seemed impossible.  But of course, as The Boss reminds us, there were 57 channels and nothing on.

Fast forward to today.  Our T/V (television/video) choices are unlimited.  The only real choice we need to make is who is going to do the programming – us or the channel’s programming department.  When we do it, we can watch what we want when we choose to do so.  We can binge on an entire season over a day and we probably won’t have to be interrupted by nearly as much advertising.  Allowing the channel to program our viewing means that those of us who don’t choose to make a decision about programming need not.  We can watch T/V as it traditionally was done – passively.

This changed environment has led to cord-cutters and cord-nevers.  After all, when 75% of people just want a “light” package of channels, paying more for the hundred the cable company chooses to carry seems silly.  As eMarketer predicts:

In 2015, there will be 4.9 million US households that once paid for TV services but no longer do, a jump of 10.9% over last year. And that growth will accelerate in the coming years, with the number of cord-cutting households jumping another 12.5% in 2016. In fact, by the end of next year, the number of US households subscribing to cable and satellite will drop below 100 million…Also noteworthy, the share of viewers who have never subscribed to cable or satellite (“cord-nevers”) is growing as well. This year, the percentage of US adults who have never subscribed to cable or satellite TV will reach 12.9%. That share will grow to 13.8% by 2016.

I have no doubt the cable providers will innovate – allowing you to upgrade your TV, for example, as the wireless carriers do your phone, bundling in streaming music, or changing their business emphasis entirely to being broadband providers (BYO Programming!).  But it’s going to be an interesting transition in the pro-choice video world.  You agree?

 

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Batman In Half The Time

It’s Monday, and one of my little treats on Monday evenings, prior to football, is watching Gotham.  It’s a prequel to the Batman story with which most of us are familiar.  As a subscriber to the philosophy that one should always be Batman, it’s must-see TV for me.  Unfortunately, last Monday, I was engaged in a client phone call and couldn’t watch the show.  In an on-demand world, that’s really not a big deal.  In addition to the on-demand service my cable provider offers, I am a Hulu subscriber.  Catching up on the missed episode happened the next night, and while I was watching it a little light went on. I’d like to share my thought with you and see what you think.

My former colleagues in television bemoan the shift of viewing to streaming sources.  They think it has to do with convenience or maybe with some cord cutting.  That may be true, but as I was watching Gotham, this is what dawned on me:

Gotham on Fox – 60 minutes. Gotham on Hulu – 33 minutes.

We wonder why people are watching alternative sources?  Its’s the same reason people use ad blockers.  It’s a faster, less cluttered experience.  The thing that drew us to whatever we are doing is constantly being interrupted. Ads are not why we watch.  They’re our part in the attention/value exchange.  Unfortunately, that equation has become unreasonably weighted to broadcast and cable television providers, who are making excessive demands for our attention.  If I can get my Batman fix in half the time, the few bucks a month that it costs is well worth it.

Having been a publisher as well as involved in broadcast programming, I understand the pressures for monetization.  The problem now, however, is that the uniqueness of nearly every channel has been stripped away.  The content that made a channel unique is everywhere, and in general,  consumers will access that content with as few distractions as possible.  Annoyed consumers will seek out channels that are less annoying.

It’s not just TV.  If site A offers me news or scores or stats with a healthy dose of auto-start video, pop-ups, and full-screen takeovers, I can assure you that I’ll find a site that offers that content in a less-monetized environment.   If I can enjoy one of my guilty pleasures in half the time, why wouldn’t I?  Hulu and Fox both show ads, both show promotional spots, and both show the same program.  Fox, obviously, chose to show a lot more non-program material.  That may have paid their bills in the near term, but in the future, I’ll be watching on Hulu, so I guess it ultimately was a bad choice.

Why are people moving to other channels?  Do you really need to ask?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Never Never Land

I paid my cable TV bill the other day.  It’s a lot of money each month but the fact that the amount also covers my high-speed internet access and office phone mitigates the expenditure, I guess.  I know my kids don’t see it the same way, and from a lot of the numbers that researchers are reporting, neither do their peers. 

Consumers are shutting off their cable and satellite TV connections in droves.  Nearly half a million subscribers did so in the second quarter, according to the folks at  Leichtman Research Group Inc.  The cable guys will tell you that it’s really a drop in the bucket and they’re right.  49 million folks still have those cable connections and another 34 million have satellite dishes.  So what’s the big to-do?  Those drops have the potential to run into a flood if you look inside the numbers and at how people are watching as well.

Take a look at some information put forward by the Forrester folks in their recent study of cord-nevers.  As explained by this piece in Digital Trends:

Based on a recent survey of 32,000 adults conducted by data analysis firm Forrester Research, roughly 18 percent of Americans have never actually subscribed to premium TV service through a cable or satellite company. While the majority of those respondents were at least age 32 and over, about seven percent of ‘cord-never’ Americans are between the ages of 18 and 31; a prime marketing demographic for advertisers.

Furthermore, the growth rate of cord-nevers suggests that roughly 50 percent of Americans under the age of 32 will have never subscribed to a premium TV service by the time we reach 2025. That’s a massive segment of the population that will be turning to digital delivery services rather than calling up their local cable company for a stack of set-top boxes and a hefty monthly bill.

I’ve stated before that I believe the TV distributors we have will trade the program pipes they have today for internet pipes tomorrow.  Rather than spending money paying fees to the program distributors, they’d be far better served spending the money to upgrade their pipes and building better connections to move video to their subscribers.  While today’s college kids (and tomorrow’s consumers) don’t know a world without high-speed internet access, as cord-nevers they won’t miss the cable subscription.  They might also just be the customers today’s marketers think have gone missing unless they rethink their use of traditional TV.

Cable and satellite subscriptions aren’t going away any time soon, but the one size fits all bundle of program services is.  It will have to in order to retain the consumers who now program their own viewing.  With a minority of viewing to entertainment programs happening live, the operative word will be choice and control.  Consumers expect that along with their monthly bill, and it will be interesting to see if the cable and satellite guys are listening.

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Willie Sutton And TV

Let’s start this week with a little history lesson. You probably haven’t heard of Willie Sutton. According to Wikipedia, William Francis “Willie” Sutton, Jr. (June 30, 1901 – November 2, 1980) was a prolific American bank robber. During his forty-year criminal career he stole an estimated $2 million, and eventually spent more than half of his adult life in prison.

English: Willie Sutton (1901-1980) Source http...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a famous quote attributed to Sutton (he swore he never said it) who reputedly replied to a reporter’s inquiry as to why he robbed banks by saying “because that’s where the money is.” I’ve always remembered that because it’s a great way to stay focused when shiny new business options emerge.

One shiny new option these days is the plethora of Over The Top video services. You have probably heard about the one forthcoming from Apple, and HBO, CBS, Sony and others are already in the marketplace. The short version of why these things exist is so one can cut the cable cord, freeing oneself from the “bundle” of unwanted but paid for TV networks. If I’m a cable TV provider – most of whom are also internet service providers – I’d welcome these services with open arms and some of them are. Cablevision, for one, is offering the new HBO Now online service to its internet customers, even though the service could persuade more people to drop their cable TV packages.

Keeping the Sutton Rule in mind, where the money lies is in providing high-speed bandwidth at a reasonable price.  It costs the ISP pennies per gigabyte.  Charging a customer $50 a month for something that costs you maybe a tenth of that is a pretty good business.  Compare it with providing cable TV where you’re charging a little more but your margins are much smaller due to having to pay most of the networks you provide a monthly fee per customer.  You still pay ESPN $8 a month for each of those grandmas with cable who never tune it in.

I’m assuming for a moment that the customer service and install/repair costs are a wash.  You’re going to have those techs and phone banks no matter which service you support.  The real question in my mind is when will some cable company get out of the TV business and go ISP only.  Will that kill the content providers?  Nope.  One could argue they will come out ahead too since many of them receive far less on a per user basis from the cable guys than they might charge direct to the consumer albeit to a smaller but more engaged base.

The interesting times keep coming, don’t they?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On

A New Dark Age?

Are you watching less TV than you used to? If the answer to that is “yes” then you’re not alone. Oh sure, you’re probably spending a lot more time in front of a screen, but when I ask that question I’m asking about cable network programming delivered live or watched via DVR within 3 days. That measurement, by the way, is known in the business as C3 ratings and there is not a lot of good news. Michael Nathanson, a senior analyst with MoffettNathanson LLC issued an analysis of recent data and this lede from the International Business Times sums it up nicely:

The biggest American horror story on cable last year, didn’t come from FX — it came from Nielsen. Ratings across national cable television networks tumbled 9 percent in 2014, triple the decline seen in 2013 and more than quadruple the 2 percent decline seen in 2012. To call it a crisis would be an understatement. If the trend continues, TV could be heading for a new dark ages.

Why the dark ages analogy?  You’re seeing it in the news.  Cable operators pay these networks a lot of money each month (OK, you’re right – WE pay…) but if no one is watching maybe losing those networks from their systems isn’t a big deal.  That sort of explains the stories you read about networks going dark on some systems (as I’m writing this Verizon just turned off the Weather Channel and Dish turned off Fox News for a few weeks)over what those fees might be.  Without a hue and cry from consumers who appear to be moving on to alternatives, the networks have no leverage.

While some in the industry are complaining yet again about faulty measurement methods, the reality is that people are shifting their viewing habits away from live, linear programing.  Even sports, which is supposed to be immune to this, suffered a 5% decline. You’re probably aware that HBO, NBC and CBS are launching their own streaming services. That sort of move might hasten the demise of business model that has fed TV networks with licensing fees as the cable and satellite distributors focus more on their broadband ISP businesses and less on TV.  After all, if they can distribute the programming services for free via their internet side, why pay?

Hopefully this is good news for those of us who pay for this stuff.  What do you think?

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Filed under Reality checks, What's Going On

Is TV Terminal?

I spent 23 years of my professional life working for TV companies.  I miss them sometimes.  Then again, when I come across some of the information I’ve been seeing over the last couple of days, I wonder if there will be anything left to miss in a few years.  The business model I learned and practiced in my youth is rapidly becoming unworkable and the media landscape that’s emerging calls into question the viability of the entire system.  Let me explain.

Let’s begin with the basic premise.  The TV business is about aggregating eyeballs to sell to advertisers.  Yes I realize that extracting (some might say extorting) payments from cable operators has become almost as important a part of the business as the old ad model, but once the audiences disappear those payments might be jeopardized.  After all, if you pull your signal from a distributor and no one cares, where is your leverage?  The bundled model in which consumers pay for networks they receive whether or not they watch them has been a bit of a safety net for many outlets.  If the system “unbundles”, what happens?

That’s why a few bits of information paint a grim picture for my business alma maters.  This from GigaOm:

TV viewers are abandoning traditional broadcast and cable networks for online streaming services, and new devices in their living rooms are making it easier for them to cut the cord. That’s the gist of two new studies from Nielsen and GfK.

Or the Wall Street Journal:

Viewership of traditional television dropped nearly 4% last quarter, as online video streaming jumped 60%, according to a new report from Nielsen, crystallizing a trend for TV-channel owners amid ratings declines.

What effect does that have?  Business Insider says:

Data from The Standard Media Index — which claims to pull 80% of US advertising agency spend from the booking systems of five of the six global media global media holding groups, as well as some  independent agencies — shows that television ad spending showed a “considerable drop” in October, and was down 9% on the same period last year.

Streaming video viewing was about 4.8% of the time spent on traditional TV.  A year later it’s almost 8%.  Still small, but Nielsen doesn’t measure Netflix viewing (which is by far the greatest source) on anything but PC’s.  Quite a bit is viewed via tablets and over-the-top devices so this number is understated.

Is network and cable TV at the end-times?  No, but it’s not unthinkable anymore that those times could come.  CBS has launched a stand-alone streaming service, as has HBO.  One can’t help but wonder what happens when ISP’s, many of whom own traditional networks, stop (allegedly) throttling services like Netflix or eliminate usage caps.  Add the dawn of the “ala carte” era in cable packages and suddenly the TV world looks very different.

Thoughts?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud