Federal Communications Commission official Steven Waldman was on a roll with his Digital Media Summit panel at the Westin Times Square hotel's atrium last week. With business strategies a hot topic at this Internet Week NY get-together, Waldman asked Huffington Post chief executive officer Eric Hippeau and Weather Channel chief executive officer Mike Kelly. "Cutting the cord...how do you deal with that?"
Waldman is the second panel moderator I've witnessed in the last month bringing up the issue of cord-cutting, AKA subscribers to multichannel service providers disconnecting their service for other ways to watch TV, as in the Internet, over-the-top providers such as Roku and Boxee, or Steve Jobs' Apple TV "hobby." His quote, not mine. Here's the quibble: Waldman and the other moderator put forward cord-cutting as if it was the great American thing to do. No doubt about it, and millions are reaching for their knives or scissors right now. Except for one thing. It's not happening. Not anywhere--ANYWHERE--as big time as the context of their presentations suggest.
Maybe if these two moderators had checked the latest round of quarterly financial reports from Comcast, Time Warner Cable and the other publicity-held cable operators, or from DirecTV and Dish Network, or from Verizon and AT&T, or from over builders like Knology, beforehand, they would have reconsidered that context. Every reporting company, in that latest round covering activity the first three months of 2010, increased their digital basic or satellite sub count. And three cable operators--Cablevision Systems, Insight Communications and Mediacomm--increased their universe of basic subscribers by at least 3,000. Does that sound like a big cord-cutting wave in progress? Sounds no to me.
When experts first brought up the subject of cord-cutting last year, the rationale given was economic. The deep recession was going to drive this movement big time, as in combining cord-cuts with cost-cuts. Now that we're out of the deep, the rationale has moved from economic to demographic. Two particular demographics--teens and millennials--will lead the cord-cutting party, because they supposedly don't watch as much TV on their TVs as they used to. Guess what? Some organizations have released stats suggesting TV viewing among those groups are up over last year--on the TV set.
What argument is next?
Before things go there, and people like Waldman jump in and partake in another Paul Revere ride, let's take some deep breaths. Then let's go quiet for a while. Let's stop forecasting a trend that is yet to be a trend. Let's see the next quarter or two from these multichannel service distributors and see if the basic/digital basic customer increases continue or not. Remember, economic forecasters don't call a recession until seeing two quarters back-to-back of downward movement.
And before we all declare these companies are done for, let's crunch the attitudes up, down and sideways to make sure the context behind what trend we say is happening is on sure ground. Don't make this a case that Comcast isn't permanently out of harm's way. They won't be if they don't advance the diversity of services they offer and advance diversity together, or a better vehicle doing both engages the public's fancy. Just don't sound an alarm like cord-cutting until it's clear cords get cut. Right now, to paraphrase a hit song, you can't see clearly now about that.
Observations from the passing parade:
**Remember The Truman Show? Robot Chicken creator/actor Seth Green wants to create a real Truman for the Web, except unlike the Jim Carrey character, the subject would be a willing one, willing to have his or her actions shown live to an audience of millions worldwide. And here's the catch: the audience at points would dictate what this person would do. URule is the project, and Green isn't ruling out an interactive TV aspect to his venture, announced at Digitas' DigitalContent New Front in New York last week. "We're not far from the day when entire channels are streaming all the time on TV," he told me.
**If you're wondering what's next from Heroes creator Tim Kreig, be on the lookout for a press release this week or shortly after with the details. He's cooking up an "immersive, interactive experience" for Web and mobile distribution, incorporating storylines where onlookers at various locations participate. Nokia is an underwriter; no hints from Kreig on a TV adaptation.
**NewFront, so big in audience that 200 people were turned away, was among the big highlights of Internet Week NY, version 3.0. More than 200 events, packed crowds at many of them, and a month after Google TV's announcement, we've yet to see a public demo of that here in NY. Maybe at CEA LineShows next week--we can believe.
**Lots of Webcast and Twitter participation throughout Internet Week NY, connecting thousands of people worldwide into various events. Great coordination by IW's production team, event organizers, and Webcast providers. My favorite Tweet of last week: "Mommy is at the Digital Content NewFront, counting how many times the panelists say made-up words like 'advertainment.' " Out of the keyboards of Twitter users, like kids, come gems.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
Simon Applebaum is host/producer of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio/podcast-delivered program on the TV scene. The program runs live Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time/noon, Pacific time over www.blogtalkradio.com, with replays 24/7 at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04, and on podcast (details at www.sonibyte.com). Have a question or reaction? Communicate through email@example.com.
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