Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm.
People! Let’s be realistic about this cord-cutting stuff
This is Brian Roberts, CEO and Chairman of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company. And he is smiling because the efforts to topple his industry, so far, are not progressing very well.
(Well, actually, he’s probably smiling because photographer Tim Shaffer told him to. But for argument’s sake…)
Today’s latest-reported efforts toward “cord cutting”?
- A $50 “live TV stick” that you plug into the Boxee Box, which lets you watch free, over-the-air broadcast TV from CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox.
- Sony is “considering launching an Internet-based alternative to cable-TV service”, according to the Wall Street Journal.
First, I think Boxee is a cool startup and I applaud their efforts — I was one of the first to ever write about them, way back in 2008.
But I don’t know anyone who is going to cancel cable or satellite service because they can suddenly watch four broadcast channels on a set-top box they probably haven’t purchased. (The Boxee box is currently the no. 12 best-selling “digital media device” on Amazon, behind Apple TV, four Roku boxes, two Western Digital things, a Slingbox, Logitech’s Google TV box, a TiVo, and a “Hauppauge 1212 HD-PVR” video recorder.)
It might be a nice add-on for the existing Boxee Box fan base, but this is not going to cause any widespread grief to the cable companies.
Second, I am a little confused as to why anyone would suddenly take Sony seriously in this race.
The platform companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, maybe. The cable companies, yes — they own the pipes. But Sony?
Nothing about their software, services, or strategy has been interesting or compelling for about a decade. This is the company that had a 23-day service outage this year. Would that have been acceptable as a cable provider? No way! Now they are suddenly, as the WSJ writes, “posing the latest threat to the cable and satellite operators that dominate pay TV”? I highly doubt it.
And you only have to read to the bottom of the article to see why. “[O]ne person familiar with the talks said that Sony doesn’t want to recreate the same bundles cable TV offers and might start with smaller niche channels that are having trouble getting fees from cable operators.” That might also be a nice add-on for some people, but how is that going to replace cable?
Do I think that the Internet represents a significant, long-term threat to the cable TV industry? Sure. But it’s going to take a bigger effort than the stuff being tossed around today.
I cut the cord myself in 2008, becoming a one-man “Hulu Household.” It was, uh, okay. Two years later, when I had a little more money to spend and had moved in with my then-girlfriend/now-wife, I went back to Time Warner Cable and got my cable box back. And now, almost another two years later, I’m still loving it. (Yes, many things suck about the cable experience. That’s another post. But the access to great TV content is excellent, if you actually want to watch it.)
Eventually, the forced scarcity around cable TV may start to crumble, thanks to the efforts of well-funded, hungry, software-savvy companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook. (And even then, the cable companies will probably play some role, as the bandwidth providers.) But it’s hard to see the Boxee dongle and Sony’s theoretical web TV subscriptions causing any real damage.