Perhaps the most concerning quote in all the copy devoted to cable channels dumping on Verizon for trying to do something everyone in the country wants was this one from a 65-year-old retired electronics salesman, who told the WSJ: “I’ve been paying for ESPN for 30 years and never watch it.”
Really? My head would not have snapped back if he had said Nickelodeon or Home Shopping Network or even Food Network, but ESPN? As in no college football? No “Monday Night Football?” No Little League baseball playoffs? No "Around the Horn!!" I think that is grounds for excommunication from the "Mystic Knights of The Male Persuasion." Leave it to the Journal to track down the singular exception to the rule.
Cable companies, who own essentially geographic monopolies, have done everything in their power from "somewhere between 8 am and 8 pm" service calls to "leasing" boxes and controllers for ridiculous amounts each month just to pad their profits, to become the Hated Utility Company replacing landline providers (who would give up a first born child to make a sale these days).
Moreover, their business revolves around charging for an average of 189 channels while Americans watch only about 17. The only reason the citizenry has not shown them the door in cord-cutting greater numbers is that they also provide access to Internet broadband -- and so become the infuriating spouse that you stay with because divorce would be too painful on the kids.
It is hard for most Americans to separate cable programmers from cable providers since it all comes through the same box. So you can expect their loathing for their local cable company to be reflected in their disgust that the programming providers are fighting unbundling. They have voted their feelings in vast numbers by subscribing to Netflix and Amazon Prime.
At the same time they are howling about Verizon violating "our existing agreements," cable programmers are starting to offer direct-to-consumer packages delivered over the Internet, a form of unbundling to be sure. And they wonder why consumers are confused and angry with their efforts to stop Verizon.
What subscribers see as an evil alliance between programmers and providers to keep TV delivered through the set-top-box expensive and anti-choice will lead inevitably to change. Look no farther than smart TVs to see the future. I predict that there will come a time (sooner rather than later) where every form of video will be in on-demand movies, Hulu, ABC, Al Jazeera, AMC, YouTube, or the yet-to-be programmed "100 Ways to Cook Chicken Network" will all be offered a la carte to consumers who will build their own programming lineups in an interface that allows them to find nearly everything ever recorded on film or video. The notion of appointment TV with the exception of major live events, will essentially disappear. Consumers won't care if the programming was produced by HBO or FX or Nabisco.
In this near future world, how you ignite sampling and build loyalty will depend less on redundant on-air promotions and more on Big Data. Finding your audience will be algorithmically easy. Figuring out how to get their attention in an essential all-on-demand world will be a different challenge. Especially if the concept of networks collapses altogether.This is essentially what viewers want, and I think eventually will get. It might, in the end, cost consumers more to pay for a la carte programming (something the cable programmers and providers claim now in defense of bundling), but they will enjoy having control over what they pay for and can adjust their spending from month-to-month rather than being stuck with a bill (that only goes in one direction) for channels they never watch.