Friday, December 30, 2016

We & TV are in our 70's - what about that cord?
   Part 1: 2017 will be a landmark year
   in the TV industry and our household

Each day when I try to figure out what to watch on TV, the internet streaming "evolution" - I don't want to call it a "revolution" - makes me feel like I walked into this store:

Really, how do you select what to watch when you have a thousand program choices?

This is, of course, a problem created by change. Let me elaborate.

The Changes

Last year (2015) we saw a heated discussion develop over a statement by John Landgraf, CEO of the cable channel FX: “There is simply too much television.”

He had been meticulously keeping count of original scripted series on TV. As it turned out Since 2009, the number of scripted series has increased 94%, rising from 211 to 409, with a 174% growth in scripted series on basic cable (181 vs. 66).

Landgraf is right. As the number of scripted shows increased even slightly more in 2016, I really do feel like every evening I walked into that DVD store pictured above. The numbers are overwhelming.

For simplicity sake, if one assumes the TV industry airs 400 scripted series with an average of 10 episodes for the season at an average of 40 minutes an episode, that is 7 hours and 30 minutes of viewing a day 365 days a year.

And that ignores the fact that I just did not get around to that new series or seasons released two years ago or last year. When I realize that the best I could do is watch an average of 3-4 hours a day, it meant not only have I missed half of 2016-17 scripted TV, I also missed half of 2015-16 scripted TV, and half of 2014-15 scripted TV and I will miss half of next year's scripted TV and the year after....

Even more frustrating is that most of those recent episodes I missed are sitting there waiting to be streamed - they don't go away. When I started this blog, I did not think its title "The Lost Scripts" meant that soon there would be too many potentially interesting series episodes for me to ever watch ... way too many ... ever.

To think that in 1962 there were only three networks and I was disappointed when shows ran opposite each other so I could only watch one in a particular time slot and maybe pick up another in the Summer repeats - we had no recorders, no internet - heck no cable or satellite.

Reportedly, Landgraf also said that the “TV advertising model is broken” and “has to be reinvented” with fewer, more targeted ads so ad-supported outlets can compete with commercial-free content providers like streaming services and premium cable.

Which brings up the most significant change in TV since HBO was launched as the first successful cable channel of any kind in 1972 - internet TV. Generally referred to as streaming TV, reportedly there are 3,051 "channels" available on my Roku receiver, excluding religious "channels" which apparently number 969.

Among others three of those 3,051 include the cable premium (pay for a monthly subscription) channels HBO, Showtime, and Starz. This means that the first cable channel, HBO, has already acknowledged the future importance of internet streaming and that cable TV is in trouble. To be clear, most cable companies are high speed internet service providers, so when I say that cable TV is in trouble I mean cable channels, like Landgraf's FX.

We are in a transition period. The streaming services which created Landgraf's problem of too much TV and broke the advertising model were the subscription services Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Acorn TV.  While the first three deliver a mix of original content and content which has already aired on American broadcast and cable channels, Acorn TV delivers content from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, with a smattering of some non-English European content, most of which has never been seen in the United States though some older shows appeared on PBS.

The advent of these services has created a different TV audience:
  • adults called "cord-nevers" who just wirelessly stream content over the internet using devices like tablets and smart phones and who have never subscribed to a cable or satellite TV service;
  • adults called "cord-cutters" initially but who are "cord-switchers" because they have dropped their cable or satellite TV channel package services and stream content over their home internet "wire" from specific channels like Netflix using devices such as a Roku or Apple TV; and,
  • adults who have substantially reduced their cable or satellite TV package while streaming some content over their home internet and who are called "frugally connected".
A recent study indicates that 35 percent of adults ages 18 to 31 do not subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service, most of whom are cord-nevers. When you add in all age groups, what we know is that the 24 percent who don’t pay for cable are divided as follows:  18 percent are cord-nevers while 6 percent are cord-switchers.

In other words, the younger adult audience is rapidly becoming an all internet TV audience. And they are leading the way for the older adult audience.

Why 2017 is Important

The year 2017 will bring to us one more change. Because of the 2016 election, the concept of "Net Neutrality" will die except in the memories of activists. According to FCC Republicans Vow To Scrap Net Neutrality 'As Soon As Possible' (as well as other sources):
Scrapping the net neutrality rules appears to be a priority for the two Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission. This week, FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly vowed to revisit those rules "as soon as possible."

What's more, even while the rules remain in effect, the GOP commissioners apparently have no intention of fully policing them. Pai and O'Rielly said as much in a letter sent to five industry trade groups: the CTIA, NTCA -- The Rural Broadband Association, Competitive Carriers Association, American Cable Association and WISPA -- Wireless Internet Service Providers.

Those groups had urged the FCC to permanently exempt small ISPs from a net neutrality rule requiring providers to transparently inform subscribers about broadband policies, including prices, speeds, surcharges, data caps and network management practices. (Other net neutrality rules include a prohibition on blocking or degrading traffic and on charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.)
If you don't really understand what this is all about, don't worry, the AT&T folks do and they are ready to take your money by selling you "Rules Free TV":

DirecTV Now is, of course, a satellite TV service company offering service over the internet using what I call "channel-package TV" in your home via your internet wire (which may be the same wire over which cable TV comes into your home). Early this year we were offered channel-package TV from Dish Network's Sling TV and from Playstation Vue.

Channel-package TV is different than buying streaming content from individual "channels" like Netflix or Amazon or Acorn TV purchased as à la carte subscriptions - meaning we don't have to purchase or subsidize any other "channels" and we have no contracts with penalties for a year or two year's of service.

This difference is important. CBS has gone its own way offering streaming of all its programming - including your local channel live - through CBS All Access - essentially you buy one channel, not a package.  And that channel will be offering original programming apart from the CBS broadcast network.

And ABC, NBC and Fox broadcast networks offer some or most of their programming through a single Hulu subscription (which also offers original programming and programming from others like NBCU's cable channels).

But cable channel content from the Turner channels like TNT and Viacom channels like Comedy Central are not readily available except through channel-package TV. The risk they are taking is not small. "Cord Nevers" are not a market for channel-package TV. They want specific shows to binge watch without bearing a heavy cost to subsidize kids TV or professional sports leagues.

Our senior household will begin experimenting with the near-exclusive use of internet streaming through CBS All Access and Hulu along with Acorn TV, Amazon Prime Video, Crackle, Feeln, and Netflix. For the first third of the year, we will retain our Dish Network Flex Pack and Locals Pack.

The reality is that there are likely 1,000 episodes of scripted TV available to watch during that period, some newly released each week but most are those episodes we just didn't get around to. The issue to be weighed is how many episodes won't be available without channel-package TV? 100, 200, 400??? And of those, how many are "must see TV" episodes? 0, 10, 20, 40???

Except, of course, we're stuck in that video store trying to figure out what we are going to watch each night. Can we make that work or will we in the end revert to depending on networks to set our viewing schedule, more or less in 1962 style?

It all will begin Sunday, January 1, 2017.