It's getting complicated out there. Each hour (or minute) brings a harbinger of change, more change and damn few answers. I keep hearing, in the back of my mind, Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield with "Something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear."
Indeed, everything about the old world of media, from program inception to consumption, is changing. In the "olden days" (aka pre-digital) programming came to us via over-the broadcast or cable. But then came the internet a multi-directional infrastructure game changer which launched a deadly assault on cable's fault line. For years, the industry kept raising rates using the justification of new but often lost in the shuffle networks. The industry did this, and continued to do it, simply "because it could." Thus cable, which at one time had neighborhood residents chasing install vans down the street in order to watch HBO, pissed off its customers until it finally reached a point where nobody except cable operators said anything nice about the industry.
As the wholesaled, that is the cable bundle packed by the operator, started shifting to the retail model for streaming services, the streamers packaged the internet-delivered and off-premises storage of a group of titles that could be accessed and watched at any time -- connected through the updated gatekeeper (the set-top box re-envisioned) of a Roku, Amazon or Apple TV packager.
As what at first what looked like a challenge as the packager, led by Netflix and followed by a hoard of copycats, skipped dealing with the operators, it still had to ride the cables, or fiber, to the customer. And the cable industry finds itself on both the wholesale and retail world at the same time.
In many ways, the cable industry (and I now include Viacom/CBS and AT&T's WarnerMedia and even T-Mobile plus any other 5G or wireless system as a part of it) has done very well with this conundrum.
As the model shifted from the cable bundle to the a la carte streaming packager, the business model found itself coping with the conundrum of having both wholesale and retail packages on the same internet. And don't count out over-the-air broadcasters moving to ATSC 3.0 with multiple streams. There's a lot for operators to cope with.
Meanwhile, some internet entrepreneurs (FAANG is now MAANG) built the strongest advertising sales behemoths that have managed to re-make the entire ecosystem of how and why ads get consumed … without paying for the underlying infrastructure that delivers the ads.
Kind of like making a product and not paying for distribution.
Meanwhile, I wonder what we're going to call the broader collection of individuals and companies that populate the broader marketplace? We've got writers, producers, actors, packagers, networks, cable operators and telcos that really function the same as cable operators, viewing devices (TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones as well as theaters, advertisers, printers, digitizers, etc. ad infinitum) … so think about it.
Let's review what's happened in the past few weeks: President Biden finally nominated current Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as Chairwoman of the Federal Confusion Commission just as she was running out of time to serve thanks to that New Year's Day deadline. Biden also nominated Gigi Sohn, sort of the ghost of former Chairman Tom Wheeler, who served him as chief aid and has long been a network neutrality proponent, to the empty commission seat which will give Democrats control of the FCC … if they get vetted by the Senate. Alan Davidson was nominated to run the NTIA.
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