Monday, December 07, 2009

train a comin'

There’s some talk about the intertubes that the purchase of NBC by Comcast may spell the end of, which is a joint venture between ABC and NBC, at least as we know it. Maybe it evaporates into the ether or maybe they start to charge for me to watch TV shows on-line. I’d have a problem if it completely disappeared because we use it quite a bit, but I don’t, on very general terms, have an issue with a process that asks me to pay for what I watch. The ‘very general part’ is an assumption that since I’m not paying for broadcast TV now I wouldn’t want to have to pay for those shows in the future. What’s most interesting about this oncoming change is that it’s one more example of an industry that relies on technology but either doesn’t understand it, or simply refuses to see the future.

Here’s what we know will happen in the next few years: television will available on-line for a nominal (or free) cost. Television will be in homes via either cable, satellite, and/or broadband streaming over the internet. People will not be watching TV at set times every night in order to watch their favorite TV shows – it will all be on-demand, all the time. TV that is steamed via broadband will be available in quality that allows us to watch it on the actual TVs in our houses. My point is this: do you believe that any of those things won’t happen? Not a chance. In my mind, as I’ve pointed out in endless conversations, is that we know where we will be in three years’ time – and we have actual events to back this up (music, newspapers, books) – so why do the ‘leaders of industry’ refuse to either learn or lead? If I were to say to you that in three years time the stock market will be down 45% and bonds will be up 15% from where they are now, what would you do? I know that seems a simplistic point-of-view but it’s perfectly valid. Within that example, what the TV industry is doing right now is trying to buy a bunch of stocks under some misguided illusion that they can will them higher. What they are doing in the real world is trying to sort a way to maximize profits while continuing to operate using decades-old rules and restrictions as a prop.

My favorite example of this methodology is the easiest, and earliest, story: music. If you really rack your brain and think back two decades you’ll remember the historical timeline: the move from LPs to 8-tracks to cassettes to CD (and the horrible digital disc) to on-line delivery. There was never a point, particularly once we’d digitized the process where any one thought that time would stand still. During CD adolescence there was the gnashing of teeth and limitations on ‘recordable’ blank discs; you couldn’t buy a machine that would record. Even though we knew that recordable data sources were going to happen the fight went on and on. Then we had internet distribution and the industry simply dug in its heels, prosecuted people, yelled and screamed about profits, and then, effectively, went under. What they wanted to do was limit access, maximize profits, and fuck the customer. What a forward thinking company, Apple, did was figure out a way to simply be a conduit for the goods, at a reasonable price, and reap the rewards. iTunes does nothing but take the money, move the music, and kill on the bottom line. Why? They actually thought ahead and figured that you can be a part of the revolution or you can sit on your ass and cry. Good riddance EMI, Atlantic, Sony Music, et al – enjoy your days a non-entities.

If, for now, we set aside newspapers and magazines, book publishing is the next to fall. Not because the written (or electronic) work isn’t viable anymore but because the group of smarty-pants refuse to see the future. We may think that they see it with the Kindle and Nook but both of those products are delivery products, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, respectively, that are stomping the life from the publishers, and rightly so. What the publishers are trying to do is continue to charge $20-$24 for a new book that costs nothing to publish or deliver; they have no idea that we once again know the end result of the dream and it’s not in buying stocks…again. The publishers will continue to battle this until the last breath leaves their collective body and, in the end, they will also be irrelevant. They have a chance to continue as a business but the model has to change – the tipping point is here.

TV, both delivery and content, is clearly on the same path. I’ll look into my crystal ball and say, with certainty, where the content will be in the end. I will also say that I know what the delivery and content holders will try to do over the next few years. I will also say, with certainty, I know the final result.

What’s funny about all of this is that that I’m not averse to paying for music, books, or TV. I’ve paid for every song in my vast collection, I’ll buy books for a reasonable price, and I’d pay for ala carte TV. The funny thing is that they tried to not allow it for music, they are doing the same for books, and TV is only following suit.

Smartest guys in the room; that’s funny every time I hear it.

What now, bitches?


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