“We are not against people moving forward and offering our content online and all sorts of places, as long as it is appropriately licensed. Innovation is still alive and well and thriving.”
Well, yeah. But … .
The top nugget was buried at the bottom of a New York Times piece authored by Emily Steel. It was published yesterday and it was what we like to call the second-day (or, at this point, at least, the third- or fourth-day) story regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to rule against Aereo last week. The quote? It came from CBS Greed Monster Les Moonves.
If we remember correctly (and we do), Mr. Moonves was at the forefront of the battle against Aereo. If nothing else, he just never knew when to shut up, issuing statements after each court decision the broadcasters lost and taking the time to give interviews to people whose inquiries would have never even made it out of his publicist’s email account otherwise. He had been waiting a long, long time for Wednesday to happen. Then it did. And then he said that.
“Innovation is still alive and well and thriving.”
Well, yeah. But … .
I understand why Aereo couldn’t, wouldn’t and shouldn’t work. It takes a lot of money to produce televised entertainment. The people who spend the money to produce said televised entertainment need to get their money back. And to be fair, they probably even deserve a little extra coin on top for their troubles. You can’t just charge people a fee for access to other people’s work and then not reimburse those other people. It might have been different if Aereo offered their stuff for free. But I also might be a little different if I had two wheels and handlebars.
Because I’d be a bike. Duh.
Anyway, the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t mean the end of Internet television. Shoot, it doesn’t even mean the end for Aereo (the case will just get kicked back down to a lower court because only the lower court can issue an order for the company to shut down its antennas for good). What it does mean, however, is that the future and subsequent revolution of television consumption is going to be a road far more traveled than previously thought and it’s going to have far more potholes than most tires can handle.
It’s ironic that Moonves offered such a rose-colored forecast after he finally got his way. Why? Take a look at the devolution of his CBS News app that those with streaming devices used to utilize with regularity and confidence. While all of this Aereo nonsense has been going down, his flagship TV network has been slowly but surely plucking the best content from its catalogue. Want to watch “60 Minutes” stories? Not anymore – these days, all you can find are 45-second previews for upcoming episodes. Need to catch up with the network’s great “Sunday Morning” infotainment show each Monday? That’s too bad, because that library has hardly even been updated in the last handful of months.
So, innovation is still alive and thriving, eh? Sure it is, Les. Sure it is.
Yet the high court’s ruling (and Moonves’ idiocy) doesn’t mean The Internet isn’t where the industry is ultimately heading. It just means that the greedy executives behind what we watch still don’t understand what in the name of “Halt And Catch Fire” (best new show!) to do about it. They want to evolve and keep their wallets as fat as they’ve always been. Innovate all you want, they tell us. Just don’t mess with my summer house on the beach.
Such is why those roads are going to be just a bit bumpier than previously imagined: The resistance toward a new pay model just won’t cut it for the casual cord-cutter. We don’t cancel our cable subscriptions because we don’t want to watch TV. We cancel our cable subscriptions because the costs keep increasing and we simply can’t justify paying for 30,924 channels we know we’ll never watch.
“Last year,” The Associated Press’s Ryan Nakashima wrote last week, “the number of pay TV subscribers in the U.S. fell for the first time, dipping 0.1 percent to 94.6 million, according to Leichtman Research Group. SNL (Kagan, another research group) estimates that 5 percent of homes will substitute pay TV with one or more Internet video services by the end of the year, rising to 10 percent in 2017.”
You see, network executives need to realize that this isn’t a matter of “if.” Shoot, it isn’t even a matter of “when,” anymore. Rather, what both them and us should be concerned with as we move forward is “how.” How can everyone win from a business standpoint and how can we be sure we aren’t getting ripped off each month from a consumer standpoint? The more people who hold Les Moonves Whining Contests as a result of this type of news, the more respect the Les Moonveses of the world lose from those of us who care about this stuff.
As we know by now, I own a Roku. I use the ESPN app religiously because it’s the only app that takes this kind of stuff seriously. There aren’t four-minute clips that explain nothing. There aren’t a barrage of short-form videos that the network itself would never even consider running by themselves. There aren’t outdated specials or useless commercials for toothpaste. All it is, is a live stream of the ESPN family of networks. Want to watch “Sportscenter?” Accessing it is as simple as pressing a button.
And it’s not like it’s free. First, I had to buy the Roku box, which, depending on the model you chose, could be either cheap or not-particularly-cheap. Then, to access the app, I had to punch in information from someone else’s cable package, which I was able to do through my mother. It’s essentially like watching television upstairs while she watches something entirely different downstairs. The only difference is that we live in different states. The content is still being paid for. It’s just being accessed over a wider landscape.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why other networks refuse to do this. If all the suits claim they want to be on the cutting edge of future technology, then why are they so bothered by the notion of consumers accessing their content in unconventional ways? This is a multi-multi-multi-million-dollar industry we are talking about here. The overhead is already ridiculous. Why are they playing the pennies game when advancing the medium in such a manner seems so clear-cut and inevitable?
A few months ago, I spoke with (name drop alert!) Jason Finn, the drummer for The Presidents Of The United States Of America (remember them?!) over the phone. We got to talking about the difference between the way the music industry used to be and the way the music industry is in the modern day. He said something that will forever stick with me:
“I do know that what they spend even on their biggest artists now – what they spend on full campaigns is less than what they used to spend for lunch every day.”
The popular music model was bloated in the mid 1990s. We all know that. What came after it was a shift as seismic as the most devastating earthquake. Hundreds of people lost jobs. The way we listen to music would never be the same. An entire industry was turned on its head, all as a result of the Internet.
There has never been a more profitable time than now for the entire television industry. Contracts for those who make series have never been richer and the amount of quality content being produced has never been more abundant. It’s a bubble aching to be burst one way or the other.
Aereo’s Supreme Court loss has only allowed that bubble to remain in tact for a little longer than anyone might have previously predicted. Yet a very real discontent with the current day television business model maintains its presence within the general populous, and you don’t need to look hard to find worthwhile evidence of as much (note the figures outlined in the middle part of this post).
So, sure. Les Moonves and all his broadcasting buddies might be able to sleep a little easier knowing that their greedy little eyes won’t bare witness to a gigantic POP! anytime soon. But if they don’t start to reassess how they’re getting to where they need to go, the piercing sound of a deflated business model might be amplified far louder than their ears could take.
Aereo or not.