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Cable Technology Feature Article

July 20, 2013

Cable Spotlight Week in Review

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

This week, the cable and video industry saw milestones, innovation and several challenges to existing business models—in fact it’s been a banner week for the latter.

But first, some traditional model news. The murder trial of George Zimmerman has drawn the nation into an ongoing debate about race and self-defense laws, and it’s no wonder that the announcement of the verdict attracted an audience of more than 10 million viewers to cable news networks. In a massive jump from the average 1.6 million viewers that watched the same four cable news channels the Saturday night before, FOX News, CNN, HLM and MSNBC saw a big windfall in ratings around the reading of the verdict. CNN did the best in prime demographics, but FOX took the crown for overall viewership.

Ratings and demos are important if you’re in the advertising game, but apparently Apple would like to turn that model on its ear. The Cupertino giant is reportedly mulling a premium TV play that would offer consumers the ability to pay a subscription in order to skip over ads; Apple would then compensate TV networks and cable/IPTV (News - Alert)/satellite for the lost revenue. Apple continues to approach pay-TV distributors to strike a deal for the companies to use an Apple-branded set-top box and user interface for delivering television—one feature of which would be ad-skipping. Of course, the last thing a cable MSO wants to do is relinquish the branding aspects afforded by the customer’s user interface, meaning that Apple’s quest to get into the big-boy STB business—reported since last fall—has been less than smooth.

Google (News - Alert) is interested in getting cable-y too, with a plan to create a subscription-based “online cable” service that would stream traditional linear TV programming. The search king is looking to replicate a standard cable or satellite package, with the only real difference being that it would be delivered online and via mobile apps rather than via a standard set-top box. Google envisions users being able to flip through a programming guide and linear channels the same way that they do now, along with having access to on-demand content. It’s unclear what, if any, differentiator Google is planning to bring to the table to woo cable subscribers away from the Comcasts and Time Warners of the world however…

Not to be outdone, Microsoft (News - Alert) has been talking with cable operators about ways an Xbox can be used in conjunction with a cable TV service to deliver streaming content. The difference this time around is the perception of market conditions. It notably encountered that wall when it proposed to supply advanced decoders to the U.S. cable industry back in the 1980s, but cable operators at the time clearly had no intention of allowing Microsoft to gain control of the business. Decoders were at that time seen as strategic elements of that control, and cable was a virtual monopoly service. Satellite TV had not yet begun to disrupt cable dominance and telcos had not yet entered the business either. There was no Netflix, no digital video recorder and no World Wide Web. Will it fare better this time around, now that we have a hyperconnected, all-digital, video-everywhere world?

Speaking of new competition, many are wondering what will be the next move for DISH Network, now that AT&T has agreed to buy Leap Wireless (News - Alert) (News - Alert) for $1.19 billion. DISH has been on a mission to find a partner with sufficient spectrum holdings to shore up the launch of a nationwide, mobile TV-focused 4G service. But after a brutal bidding war, it was beaten out by Sprint (News - Alert) in a quest to acquire Clearwire, and it was also beaten out in a play for Sprint itself by Japanese powerhouse SoftBank. Plan C? DISH was rumored to have been in talks to merge with AT&T. Now though, is T-Mobile a more likely tie-up candidate?

In research news, a new study by NPD DisplaySearch suggests that there is still very little interest in “interactive TV” but lots of interest in watching TV content on smartphones and tablets. The study also confirms that multitasking is nearly universal. Some 88 percent of tablet owners and 82 percent of smartphone owners in 15 countries surveyed use their devices at least some of the time while they watch TV. And, in addition to multitasking, 85 percent of tablet owners and 65 percent of smartphone owners view online video content on their mobile devices instead of on their TVs at least some of the time.

And finally, a cool low-cost iPhone and iPad app has made it to market that speaks to the rise of crowdsourcing and the idea that anyone can be a journalist in the era of smartphone cameras. When it comes to digital era news reporting, increasingly the eye-on-the-street view of the action as events unfold has become an important part of the mix. From the importance of Twitter in understanding the Arab Spring to the pervasiveness of crowdsourced reviews of concerts, the eye of the participant is becoming a mainstream source of information. Livewire Digital is porting the concept into a mainstream broadcast environment with the launch of NetCaster, an app that can be used by groups of untrained personnel to send in real-time photos, sequences of stills and video directly to a producer or a command center. The company sees it as being ideal for broadcasters, event organizers, emergency services, the military and nongovernmental organizations that can use the application for breaking news coverage, sporting events, documenting expeditions and for situation awareness.

There have been lots of interesting developments this week from companies looking to test the boundaries of what we consider to be traditional TV and broadcast models. Are we on the cusp of a brave new world of viewing models and consumer choice?

We’ll leave you to mull that. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

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