For almost as long as we can remember, the big cable companies have had near monopolies in the different regions they serve. But as over-the-top (OTT) devices arrived on the scene, things started to become much more interesting. Now, with the FCC proposing to break down the final barrier to TV entry — the “locked” cable box that gives TV devices access to paid TV content — TV will soon be anybody’s game.
A new generation of digital media superpowers is swooping in to save the day — giving consumers and advertisers a lot more choice — with connected TV devices capable of distributing this content. But the box is just the beginning. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple also bring certain offerings, or “powers,” that give them different stakes to TV (such as search, data, commerce, content and users). There are also companies like Facebook, Netflix, Snapchat, and Twitter that might not have connected TV boxes, but do have content, virality, and customer reach powers.
As they all mastermind their plan of attack, industry insiders, brands, agencies and viewers may be left wondering who’s to gain — and who’s to lose — from a TV free-for-all. And will these superpowers use their forces for good (improving the customer experience) or evil (erecting walled gardens that threaten to fragment TV even more)?
The division of content and device
If the FCC’s proposal progresses, TV content that was once isolated to traditional TV screens will be available across all screens and subject to the far less regulated world of digital.
Some media superpowers will look to the telecom industry for inspiration, introducing a TV model that keeps the hardware separate from the service and the content. This is good news for a superpower like Apple that is, in many ways, already eons ahead with this approach.
Superpowers like Google that can offer audiences a holistic, seamless TV experience through their own devices (Android and Chromecast), a browser that reaches almost all screens (Chrome), and search, data and ad offerings are likely to take a more traditional approach to bundling offerings at first. This will certainly allow Google to call the shots and offer less expensive, all-inclusive TV bundles to customers and advertisers alike. But if history is any indication, consumers tend to move away from this one-size-fits-all approach when they have alternatives.
TV will get the 2016 treatment
Migrating traditional TV to new screens and devices means exposing this once “unhampered” content to digital functionality and various advertising formats. This new generation of media superpowers will do their part to transform TV content into a far more functional and interactive platform for engaging and selling to consumers.
Part of the FCC’s proposal is dedicated to making search available for content on paid TV. Google will naturally lead the charge here, and it’s likely that different hardware manufacturers will rely on Google’s search capabilities to make this new TV content searchable. Chances are that Google will sweeten the deal for advertisers that double down on ad buys with Chromecast, and take a cut from the devices and services that are now dependent on their data.
Amazon knows what you need, what you buy, and your lifestyle. They also have Fire TV, Amazon Prime and a commerce engine. All of this together means that TV content will become just another platform for Amazon to serve up ads for things you might like (and what others like you liked!) and seamlessly enabling purchasing opportunities without leaving your TV.
Getting into the content game
Social media superpowers like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest, which have been unveiling video features, come with massive new audiences who they know intimately. The same goes for services likeNetflix and Amazon Prime, which will deliver TV content to viewers independent of device. Apple, on the other hand, might not create content but may strike exclusive deals to license content and get more skin in the game.
Some fear that advertising will become device/platform-specific as bigger superpowers fight to offer full media bundles that keep others out. But ultimately, advertisers focus on audiences and if content providers strike special deals to run content only with specific providers and/or devices, things may become complicated. The key for advertisers is to work with a technology provider that is not affiliated with a specific device — or in the media game — but has reach across all devices to allow for engagement with audiences everywhere.
The real winners will be consumers. Introducing competition, and this will mean finally having a say in what device they can use to access TV content, and having a say in what content they get.
The good news is that with TV’s new superpowers each bringing different capabilities, the likelihood of a new monopoly forming to take over where cable companies leave off is much less.