I call it vertical exclusivity. And you aren’t going to like it. Unless, of course, you're Disney, AT&T, Comcast, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple, CBS, Charter, T-Mobile, Google and, oh, yeah, Facebook. There will be more. Our future is all about who controls the “content” (shades of Redstone) and the conduit. What’s happening now in 2019 will put in place how you’ll pay for programming -- no matter where, when or for what device -- by 2024.
The guys with the pipes win … whether they are fiber or airborne spectrum. To get to the really good content today, you first need to subscribe to an internet service provider. That means Comcast (or one of its fellow cable providers) or a satellite provider (that would be DirecTV or Dish but no internet unless you pick an internet specific provider) or a 4 or 5G wireless provider. With today’s 4G, you can watch some things if all is right in your world. Of course, you need Wi-Fi of good or great quality in your home or business. And pretty soon, you'll need …
Suffice it to say that the whole video game got very complicated while no one was really watching. That basic cable bundle was actually something of a bargain. It looked great as, among other things, satellite subscribers were abandoning those dishes attached to houses. Dish decided to ride the internet with Sling … but Sling keeps getting more expensive … just like copycat DirecTV Now.
Want to watch Game of Thrones? You’ll need a cable provider or another ISP (internet service provider) and HBO or HBO Go via a separate subscription. “They” get you any way “they” can.
Hope you aren’t surprised.
Love Marvel and Star Wars movies? Pretty soon you’ll need to pay Disney directly every month via Disney+. Only $6.99/month. Add that to Netflix (going up?), Hulu, cable, Acorn, Philo and … well, pretty much everybody.
And, oh yeah, implicit in all of that is you won’t be getting some things unless and only unless you subscribe to whichever distribution service (which rides on the internet you’re paying for) carries that unique programming you want to watch.
All of which has led to interesting activity on the programming front. Dish’s Sling has a neat gadget called “Air” that picks up broadcast signals and meshes them (sort of) with the channels on Sling. Which brings up “over-the-air” … you know, free local TV. Unless you get it by cable … that cable bill is exploding because of something called “retransmission consent.” Cable operators must pay TV stations in order to carry (retransmit) the free signal. You pay your local stations if you receive free TV via cable.
So, you got all of those choices you wanted. Have fun figuring out whom to pay for what. Cable’s video margins are almost nil. By the time you figure out just how much you’re paying for a half dozen different video streaming or video on demand services … well, compare that to your last cable bill.
Of course, none of the above takes away from the regulatory battles. And I simply couldn’t have a column without mention the thing that simply won’t go away: Network Neutrality. It’s in Congress at the moment. The House says, “let’s go back to 2014” while the Senate says, “let’s stick with 2000.”
There it stands. There it will stay … at least until 2020.
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