Cable everywhere, the new mantra of Time-Warner, Cablevision, and Comcast looks like cable not quite everywhere, and may soon be back to cable nowhere but your TV (where you can have it for about $85 a month).
The cable TV cartel, worried about younger consumers preference for viewing on their iPads, iPhones, Mac Books, Androids, and assorted netbooks; thought they had a solution. Under various snappy names, it is “cable everywhere.” As long as you pay the monthly cable bill, you can watch on any screen you want. That is, any screen in your own home connected to your wi-fi provided by your cable company (who also charges you for broadband).
The cable companies’ lawyers have studied their carriage contracts and concluded that they can deliver your favorite programs over any device in your home. They claim this right is already in their contracts with cable and broadcast channels like Discovery, ABC, and CBS. But Discovery, ABC, CBS plus a football team size group of other channels says “no.” Cable rights mean TV only, not portable platforms powered by an Internet signal.
The referees in this game are not the FCC but the program producers. They’re going to call these plays as illegal on both sides. They licensed TV rights to cable and broadcast channels, excluding Internet rights. In their eyes, the channels are now fighting with cable companies over rights neither has acquired.
Meanwhile Starz is going into retrograde motion by announcing cable nowhere. This is the cable channel that no one wants and everyone gets as part of the premium tier to get HBO. Now Starz is telling Netflix they will hold back new series for three months to stop Netflix subscribers from cutting their cable subscriptions.
And HBO has announced HBO GO that is their version of cable everywhere: as long as you pay for that premium tier you never watch. (At least HBO does own their own programming).
All this is beginning to look at lot like the old movie, The Magnificent Ambersons where the rich family of old money slowly falls apart. Son George, the last of the breed, is reduced to poverty and gets “his comeuppance.”
Someday RG-6 coaxial cable will be ripped off houses and tossed in landfills like old spaghetti. The media historians will remember big cable’s smarmy joy, year after year, in defeating the FCC’s appeals for a la carte programming (letting the subscriber pay for only those channels desired). And yet, that may be the very thing that could have saved them.
Viewers are defecting to portable devices because they are used to getting what they want, when they want it, where they want it, and at the price they want to pay. The idea that you’ve got to buy albums of anything went out with iTunes. That’s the core of the current problem, not how to walk around your house watching your iPad or being denied Starz on Netflix. A cartel that has gotten its way for forty years is left hanging while the audience moves on to better values and flexible choices.