Thank goodness someone explained to everyone why tweeting how much you’d pay for HBO Go is a useless exercise:
Think about it: Every time someone signs up for cable or satellite service, one of the inevitable perks is a free six- or 12-month subscription to HBO. And those free subscriptions are rarely, if ever, cancelled once the trial period ends.
What would happen if HBO no longer had the pay TV industry’s marketing team propping it up all the time? The results would be disastrous, and there’s no way that HBO could make up in online volume the number of subscribers it would lose from cable. Which is why, even though some users would actually pay more for access to HBO GO without all the other cable channels, you won’t see it show up as a standalone service anytime soon.
What’s more, I find the whole attitude that HBO must be stupid to not offer this to be the most obnoxious part. Are we really to believe that no one inside HBO has considered this? There are a lot of complexities to any market and the reason a company isn’t doing something that seems obvious is hardly ever because they haven’t thought of it. Or, if you don’t believe me, listen to what Dan Frommer has to say.
And actually, whenever I read anything about this topic I think back to this piece from 2007 by Joe Nocera about a la carte cable.
Just in case you’re on the lookout for a new show to watch I highly recommend Showtime’s Homeland. Both Daily Beast and New Yorkerhave written good little writeups, the latter describing it like this:
But what I love most about “Homeland” is the way it acts as an apology for “24.” The show was created by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, former writers for that series. (Gordon created the plot arcs for Seasons 3 and 4, and he was the showrunner from 2006 to 2009.) Their previous hit was popular for good reason: it was a well-made fun machine, a sleek right-wing dreamscape with just enough moral ambiguity to elevate it above a Road Runner cartoon. Unfortunately, “24” was also a carrier for some terrible ideas, among them the notion that torture is the best and only way to get information; that Muslim faith and terrorist aims overlap by definition; and, most of all, that invulnerability is the mark of heroism. Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer was tortured again and again, but he always bounced up, jack-in-the-box style, to waterboard on. Characters surrounding Bauer did occasionally argue with the show’s premises. But most of them were A.C.L.U. types who wouldn’t know a ticking time bomb if it kicked them in the face.
Shiv Singh, head of digital at Pepsi, makes some points I agree with (and a few I don’t) in his thoughts about the future relationship between TV and the web. One I’m with him on is this: “When TV ads become teasers for digital experiences, the ROI on the investment will improve significantly as the digital experience will stretch out the brand experiences beyond the 30 second clip.. The ROI won’t be measured by the impact that the TV ad has when it’s aired but also by its residual influence on engagement in other mediums in the weeks that follow the airing.” I think this is going to spell a big change for the agency landscape and spell the first real opportunity for digital shops to bite off a larger piece of the advertising pie.
Also reminds me of something one of my favorite internet thinkers, Duncan Watts, wrote a few years ago about how brands could use “viral”:
Imagine, for example, that an advertising firm makes a standard ad buy on the Web, or directs TV viewers to a Web site, or uses an e-mail list to contact potential consumers directly. Regardless of the method used, the campaign will yield some large number, N, of conversions—people who are sufficiently interested to click on the Web ad or embedded link. Traditionally, that’s all it would be expected to achieve, but imagine now that these N viewers can also share the ad easily with anyone else. In other words, what would previously have been the entire audience for the message also becomes the big seed for a viral campaign in which the newly added people can forward the message to their friends, who may forward it to their friends in turn, and so on.
Thought Watts is a lot more academic, the point is the same and the science is simple: If you have a big enough seed, your odds of seeing something catch fire is higher.
There’s been some acceptance that Apple would get into the TV market for the last five years and the fires were only fanned with a quote from the new Steve Jobs biography about how he had “cracked” the problem. John Gruber and Jason Kottke think the Jobsian solution looks like apps, not channels:
Letting each TV network do their own app allows them the flexibility that writing software provides. News networks can combine their written and video news into an integrated layout. Networks with contractual obligations to cable operators, like HBO and ESPN, can write code that requires users to log in to verify their status as an eligible subscriber.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been singing the praises of the Watch ESPN app to anyone who will listen. With your cable credentials (well mine at least), you’re able to sign in and watch ESPN, ESPN2 and a whole bunch of other content that didn’t make it to a numbered channel. It’s a great and somewhat peculiar experience. After just a few minutes of watching SportsCenter you notice two big things. First, there are no commercials, they just say “commercial break” and show nothing. Second, there is no MLB content. When they went to baseball highlights (a big SportsCenter topic over the last few weeks), the screen went blank again just like it did during a commercia (sometimes it just showed the score or got blurry). I’m assuming because of MLB.com, Major League Baseball controls the exclusive internet streaming rights. It’s not a dealbreaker for me, as I’m a football/NASCAR man, but it does speak to the complications of the television industry, which Dan Frommer wraps up nicely in a response to Gruber’s post:
For the networks, not pissing off the cable guys means staying away from putting too much digital video on TV sets, especially for free. iPhone and iPad apps aren’t as bad. And yes, the geeks among us have been plugging their laptops into their TVs for years. But putting stuff on a TV set in a way that’s easy for normal people to access — and in a way that competes with traditional TV — is still a no-no for most networks. Especially the ones that are more dependent on affiliate fees, or hope to make the argument for higher affiliate fees in the future.This is one reason that TV networks have blocked Google TV from accessing their content. And why many iPad video apps don’t let you beam the video to your Apple TV via AirPlay.
I really like it when people lay out the realities of a business for the world. Often we hear about how broken the television industry is, but if you’re a cable company things are pretty peachy. Sure you are fighting against putting too much content on the web and pissing off the digirati by blocking your content from Google TV, but you don’t care much because you get paid truckloads of money for absolutely nothing. How many other businesses are there on the planet where you get paid regardless of whether someone has any interest in ever interacting with your product. Sure this will change, and no company has done a better job over the past 15 years at pushing industries with seemingly unbreakable business models into a new way of thinking (music and mobile), but television will be especially tough because of both the economics and Apple’s past success. Or, as Frommer puts it:
The people running TV networks are not dummies. They may be slow to adopt new technology, but they’re not stupid. They saw what “working with Apple” did to the music industry. And they are set on making sure that if Internet distribution and new technologies eventually redraw the entire TV distribution chain, it happens on their terms and on their schedule.
Okay, enough writing about Apple. Back to regularly scheduled internettery.