Well, when a gosh darn week like this gosh darn happens, you gosh darn make time to blog, gosh darn-it. Let’s check out how witty The Reporters Who Cover Television (to steal from the best Lisa in the world) were in the last few days …
“If you’ve been considering cutting the cord to your cable-TV subscription, HBO may have just handed you the scissors,” Time‘s James Poniewozik wrote on Wednesday.
“In less than a day, the most critically acclaimed network and the most watched network bet on the future of Internet TV. And just like that, the cable bundle has unraveled more in the last 24 hours than in the previous 24 months,” The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson wrote Thursday.
“A new era of à la carte television arrived in earnest this week — seemingly all at once and more quickly than many industry executives and television fans had expected. And with it, the virtual monopoly that cable, satellite and telecommunications companies have had over TV programming is dissipating,” The New York Times‘ Emily Steel wrote Thursday.
“I don’t understand any of this,” I said to the great Michael Hunley last night over dinner.
He tried to explain. It didn’t work.
Anyway, HBO and CBS both announced this week that they are going to essentially offer their networks online through the conduit we have come to know as “streaming services.” HBO will offer its uber-effective HBO Go to people who aren’t already subscribing to the network in 2015, while CBS has already hit the ground running, going live with its service, CBS All Access, yesterday at the low cost of a mere six bucks.
So, grab a couple cans of light beer, buckle in, and let’s have ourselves a weekend! We’ve got CBS!
Or, well, kind of. Curiously enough, the service will not feature NFL games. To which I say, “Well, ESPN does it when it broadcasts ‘Monday Night Football.’ What’s your problem, Les?!”
Here’s what I don’t understand: How could this possibly be the watershed moment so many people are touting it as, if A) You aren’t truly getting all of CBS — and don’t scoff at that; when I read that the NFL wasn’t included in this service, my interest immediately weakened and I began questioning how useful this move actually is (more on that in a second) — and B) Do any of these people even understand how easy it is to access something like HBO Go these days?
It’s the same conundrum with Netflix. And Hulu. And … literally every other television service that streams online: Joe pays for Netflix and gives Beth his password. Beth pays for Hulu and gives Joe her password. There’s money left on the table for the businesses involved. The businesses figure out a way to snatch the money up. Internet TV becomes infinitely less fun. And the point behind ditching cable in the first place is essentially deemed null and void.
Check this out from Steel’s piece and substitute the words “Jennifer” and “Seide” with “Colin” and “McGuire:”
“Take Jennifer Seide, 28, a Queens resident who watches at least four hours of television a day. She pays Verizon about $60 a month for Internet access but does not pay for a conventional TV subscription. She stays up-to-date on the latest shows via an $8-a-month subscription to Netflix, a friend’s subscription to Hulu, another friend’s subscription to HBO, and YouTube.”
That’s exactly how I live my life now (with a sprinkle of the Watch ESPN app that I access through a family member’s cable subscription log-in information). And while I understand that I don’t necessarily watch as much television as the normal person anyway (at the most, it’s an episode of a show on DVD a night; at the least, the TV literally isn’t even turned on), I can at least attest to what it’s like to actually have these tools available to me on a consistent basis, regardless of if or how much I might use them.
And it’s with that, that I say this: I just don’t care. And I don’t say that obnoxiously. I say that honestly. I just don’t care. For the first time in my life, I’m living in a place that has access to HBO programming via the HBO Go app … and outside of watching “Doll & Em” and the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony, I have hardly ever even considered clicking on the network’s application.
Need a movie? Why wouldn’t I browse Netflix instead? In the mood to trek through the duration of “The Wire” again? I already own those DVDs. Eager to get into a new series? There isn’t enough time in the day (unless if it’s Showtime’s “The Affair,” which I’d give a kidney to watch in real time, though despite landing someone else’s log-in information for that application, Comcast, in the most Comcast move ever, refuses to offer the Showtime app to its customers).
My point is this: If HBO Go goes away, that’s OK. If you expect me to buy into an HBO streaming service … well, you better wipe all your content from things like Netflix and Amazon yesterday. Because, as it goes, you are competing directly with those services by making this announcement, and because I already have a subscription to Netflix — and Amazon is my go-to source to watch an episode of a series if I want to keep up with and can’t do it otherwise (cough, “Halt And Catch Fire,” cough) — I simply can’t imagine what HBO might be able to offer that sets it above other similar services.
Unless if there’s a live stream, of course. But that’s another conversation for another day.
CBS, on the other hand? Well, CBS did something smart a long time ago when it retained digital rights to some series and refused to buy into the Hulu hoopla. On some level, the people there were much more forward-thinking than their peers: “We know the future is the Internet, so we’re going to go this alone and keep all the money for ourselves.”
In recent months, its CBS News app has been useless (sorry, but I adore my “60 Minutes”), and frankly, at this point, it’s hard to view a move like this without a skeptical eye, especially if you can’t even watch NFL games in real time. You’ve gotta remember something: Sports is the Holy Grail when it comes to streaming content on the Internet. While I understand that people actually do DVR certain sports events and watch them later, that niche is still by far and away the most valuable asset any television network could have, if only because the results are immediate. And in today’s world, where social media and smartphones make things like sporting events such a communal and up-to-the-minute affair, real-time athletics are a must for anyone trying to be a serious competitor.
Back to Steel …
“Many viewers will continue to pay for cable or satellite because of live sports programming on ESPN and other networks, which pay sports leagues big dollars for the rights to broadcast games,” she wrote. “Live matches are one of the few remaining types of programming that still draw high ratings, and analysts say that sports fans who want to watch them will not be able to cut the cord.”
Hey, CBS. Remember that paragraph.
The other end of this, of course, is the reality that … well … I’m really getting sick and tired of having things like “The Good Wife” spoiled for me through headlines a Google News feed likes to pull (did you really need to report that Kalinda was leaving the show, Reporters Who Cover Television?!). And if you can promise me the ability to see things in real time for a meager six dollars each month … well, I’m listening. Combine that with the idea that you can also access local news feeds and you might have yourself a customer.
Still, I can’t help but go back to the point I always make whenever these major developments occur in the Internet TV world: At what point is enough enough? The sole reason I ditched a cable package years ago was practicality — I wasn’t going to tack on an extra $100 to my Internet bill for the sake of having 19 different ESPNs. The minute this stuff becomes too divided and too expensive is the minute I’ll quickly realize how easy it is to live without the ability to buy a $2 episode of “Halt And Catch Fire” each Monday and just head back to my DVD-collecting ways (which, yes, I know, are becoming increasingly obsolete as it is).
If the point behind cutting the cord is to save money and yet you find yourself throwing $6 at CBS, a hypothetical $9 at HBO (nobody knows how much that service is going to cost yet), $8 at Netflix and $8 at Hulu … well that’s $31 right there and things like NBC or ABC or FOX or news channels or sports channels haven’t even been discussed. I mean, I get it — the à la carte angle is one that seems more and more attractive by the day once you realize how much unwatchable stuff there actually is on television these days, but what good does any of this do if you actually end up having to pay more than you currently do, just so you can have access to “Homeland” and “Mad Men” and “The Good Wife” and “The Blacklist” and “True Detective” and “House Of Cards?”
That’s a question that will inevitably be answered sooner rather than later now that HBO and CBS have officially thrown their hats into this increasingly crowded ring. In the meantime, I, for one, am going to head home today and see what in the name of “Madame Secretary” all this CBS All Access fuss is about.