We are well into the first quarter of 2011 -- and TV networks still can't decide whether or not to be in the digital distribution business. But they know what they don't want -- new kinds of digital services looking to change the game again.
Learning some lessons from the growth of cable in the 1980s, the three big TV-centric companies rallied around the idea of a cable system for the modern age: Hulu. But they seem to want more for this distribution service -- or perhaps to change it. Talk to News Corp's Chase Carey. Talk to Disney's Bob Iger.
This might bring a smile to the likes of CBS's Les Moonves, Discovery's David Zaslav and Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes, who stayed away from Hulu altogether. They don't see its big value yet.
CBS went in a digital syndication direction for video -- making big deals across many sites for its player and content, so it could gain the biggest possible potential audience. Right now, it seems to have made a good decision.
While not all networks can decide what form of digital distribution to take, they surely don't want upstarts in another form of digital distribution -- like FilmOn and ivi TV. These new digital video companies believe they have the same right under the copyright laws as some 16,000 cable, satellite and telco operators -- that they are cable system-like platforms, only online.
"They would rather sue us because we compete with their own distribution," Todd Weaver, CEO of ivi TV, said recently.
Is this a truly new digital age where TV networks can sell to whomever they want? Or an age where broadcasters having less say about who carries their signals? The FCC is reviewing retransmission rules.
At some point, there is still the over-arching business question about who are the "content owners" and what rights they have. FilmOn and ivi TV should take note that some big network TV producers, because of contract deal points, won't allow their associated TV networks to run their shows digitally. All is not entirely clear in this media world.
Weaver pointed out that some broadcast networks won't even take money above and beyond what is contributed under t copyright royalties.
Hmmm....maybe this is really a good business after all. In its first six months, ivi TV says it was profitable. No wonder Weaver supports the thinking that another cable-style digital site might start soon -- this one backed by broadcasters.