Are the cable TV walls about to crumble?

By Natan Edelsburg 

In recent days media has been consumed by one Edward Snowden who revealed a Skynet-type infrastructure called Prism that the government is running. At the same time it appears as if traditional cable TV business is gearing up for a Game of Thrones-style war with many “kingdoms” that include Intel, Aereo, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube and more. Are the cable TV walls about to crumble?

The war to bundle TV in a non-traditional way continues and big players are stepping up:

Yesterday, the New York Times’ Brian Stelter reported that Intel is planning “the creation of a virtual cable service that would sell a bundle of television channels to subscribers over the Internet.”

A few months ago, Barry Diller-backed Aereo, the platform that allows you access the public broadcast channels via their monthly service of $8 or $12 per month, won a big court case that should pave the way for future growth.

Alkiviades David who launched an Aereo competitor, recently lost an important court case that might set a precedent that affects Aereo as well.

Google Fiber is still expanding with plans to come to Austin soon and offer TV in addition to high speed web.

Do TV lovers even care about bundled channels anymore?

There are generally two camps of opinions within the bi-coastal TV industry. Those who focus their beliefs on the fact that real-time TV watching is growing with the help of real-time platforms like Twitter and those who believe a-la-carte, on-demand, Take My Money HBO GO! is the future.

The answer to that question really lies in the evolution of primetime. The sought after TV inventory that generates the billions revolves around the primetime hours and days of the week and year that NBC once smartly coined as “Must-See TV”.

Does the web have a primetime yet? Do they even need it? Yes, they do and Netflix has proved it twice. Like the film industry the new standard in streaming TV is to create a massive hoopla around the launch. Memorial Day weekend, was dominated with commentary on when and how to watch Arrested Developement. A lot of the discussion was around spoilers, but do we ever discuss the issue of spoilers with movies? Not really, it’s just part of our culture – if you want to see a film and don’t want your friends to ruin it for you, see it on opening weekend. Even Hulu is now shifting to this model more. For the recent season of the critically acclaimed Prisoners of War (the original and Israeli version of Homeland), Hulu decided to launch all 14 episodes at the same time for Plus subscribers, unlike the first season where it was a new one, once a week.

A TV world without a linear schedule will be forced to use social media, events, press, advertising, word-of-mouth and more to create an urgency and to create one that fits in with the lifestyle of today’s consumers. If the web world of Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and more can figure out how to drive this type of “primetime” urgency, consumers might not need a traditional TV bundle.

Why the companies behind the traditional TV bundles will continue to thrive:

The mistake is to think that a TV world where bundled channels matters less means that companies like Comcast, Time Warner, DIRECTV, Cox and the others will hurt. They continue to innovate by providing authentication across everywhere platforms like HBO Go, Showtime Anytime, TNT and TBS; building apps that allow you to stream and curating content across social media and digital platforms exactly like they’ve always curated TV across linear channels.

These companies often provide internet as well and if your TV bill goes away and you start to stream more, your internet bill could very well go up as these companies start charging more for large amounts of data access that they have to build infrastructure for.

Also, TV viewing is all about simplicity and the couch potato. Letting the cable guy install the set top box and handing you a remote that generally works across the same type TV Guide and DVR experience that you’ve been using for years is still much simpler than having to hook up an Apple TV or Roku on your own.

What about live TV, reality TV and news TV versus scripted?

Scripted TV can definitely live on the web as we’ve now seen with House of Cards, Arrested Development and probably many more to come. The next few years will bring in a wave of massively popular live TV. The RedBull skyfall stunt last October generated over 7 million live views. Imagine if Netflix decided to air the next season of The Voice or American Idol? Or the NBA Playoffs? Many sporting events are streamed but if they were exclusively streamed on the web there’d be even less of a reason to care about bundles.

Imagine the global advertising opportunities with actually live streaming a major TV tentpole, on the same platform for everyone who wants to watch live. Twitter, for example, one of live TV’s biggest fans never prevented people with certain IP addresses around the world from signing up for an account. For the Shorty Awards (the ceremony I produce), the show was broadcast on and grew its viewership from the previous year by over 500% by including nominees around the world who had participated via global social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram).

Are the cable TV walls about to crumble?

The short answer is that they might, but that the major companies behind the cable TV world, who not only provide cable TV, but internet, TV everywhere and more will definitely thrive regardless. As the hardware and technology evolves with the internet so will the definition of primetime. Get ready to tune into your internet for some must-see TV.