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Voices


I almost missed the Aereo announcement last week, because I was ensconced at VidCon, the annual YouTube-focused convention in Anaheim, Calif. There I was, surrounded by 20,000 12-to-20-year-old-girls searching for their favorite Web video stars, and traditional TV seemed as anachronistic as buggy whips and computer magazines.

But when I finally heard that the Supreme Court had shut down the groundbreaking digital video system, I was amazed by how universally joyful TV broadcasters and distributors were about the ruling and ensuing shutdown. Too bad they weren’t in Anaheim with me, because despite Aereo’s now-illegal Rube Goldberg-esque transmission technology, it offered a distinctive and revolutionary way for broadcast TV to remain relevant to younger viewers.

Unfortunately, most TV execs probably never had a chance to actually use Aereo. And that’s too bad, because the well-designed service delivered a unique and compelling way for traditional TV — still mostly watched on TVs — to build an audience among digital natives. I had a chance to use Aereo extensively when I spent a month in the Boston area this spring, and it delivered broadcast TV to the devices that most people under 30 use to view video — mobile phones and tablets.

Easy-to-use Web and mobile apps — which also started to show up on newfangled set-top boxes from Roku and others — made it simple to watch live TV on the go, or in any room in the house. They also let subscribers record favorite shows on Aereo’s own servers, which meant that a fan of “The Good Wife” or “2 Broke Girls” could watch them on their own time, in their hands or laps, and they made those shows as equivalently accessible as Tyler Oakley or Grace Helbig.

Don’t know Tyler or Grace? Again, if you were in Anaheim, you couldn’t avoid them. Every time one of them showed their face — either on the main stage in front of 10,000 fans, or as they signed autographs in the cavernous exhibit hall — a squeal so deafening, and so particular to teen girls, caused everyone to stop and rush toward their object of attention just to find out what the heck was going on.

To its credit, NBC had a booth focusing on “The Tonight Show,” as Jimmy Fallon is the closest thing to an Internet celebrity at the old-guard broadcaster. And to their credit, many of the big broadcasters are at least trying. I watched a VidCon panel where Rob Hayes from NBC talked about their efforts, including “NBC Playground,” which will bring two new Web-born comedies to the network, along with upcoming efforts around “Heroes” and “Saturday Night Live.”

The problem is that, for the most part, those shows will likely not be available in any meaningful way on the screens used by the audiences that are abandoning the big broadcasters in droves. Sure, you can get clips of “The Tonight Show” on YouTube, and at least some episodes of the broadcasters’ biggest shows on their mobile apps, websites, Hulu and (if you pay) on Hulu Plus, Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. But it’s an incomplete experience — you can’t watch live, and you can’t record what you want and watch at your leisure, and you can’t discover series via social sharing and then go back and start watching from Episode 1 on the broadcasters’ own platforms.

In short, the experience pales compared to YouTube and other native Web video services that are setting the expectations and media consumption habits of an entire generation.

And now that the Aereo experiment is over, network executives will be newly emboldened to continue to circle the wagons and mostly keep doing business in the same old way — via traditional distributors and to the dumb devices that, when millennials do watch, they usually mostly ignore in favor of their favorite screens in their hands (disparagingly called the “second screen” by the traditional TV industry).

Unfortunately, they will continue to see their audience decline — and revenue along with it. The broadcast upfronts just concluded, and even though there was a slight increase in the rates charged to reach each viewer, overall revenue is likely to be down across most of the English-language broadcasters, due to declining viewership.

And even though New York Times reporter Stuart Elliott thinks the problem is cyclical, attributing the decline to “a couple of seasons without any breakthrough hits that generate the huge amounts of conversation among consumers that advertisers prize so highly these days,” I believe it’s structural. Those viewers aren’t coming back to the new shows, because many 13-to-30-year-olds just can’t be bothered to discover and watch broadcast TV in the archaic and stilted way it’s currently presented.

So what to do? If I were running one of the major networks, I’d be negotiating today to purchase Aereo’s assets, and then I’d move quickly to rebuild it as my digital delivery service. I’d push everything through it, both live and on-demand, and heavily promote and expand phone and tablet distribution.

But that’s not going to happen. The Supreme Court just quashed one of the few things that made me optimistic about the long-term viability of broadcast TV. And I just don’t see the vision or leadership out in the industry to embrace such a radical reinvention of the business. Which means that as the digital-native generation grows up, broadcast TV will become more and more irrelevant to a broad swath of the population. And that will eventually lead to their obsolescence.

“Cord Cutter” currently works for a major programming company, and has more than 20 years’ experience in traditional and digital media, including magazines, TV networks and Web video.



22 comments
Jamie NYC
Jamie NYC

I had to stop reading this article when I realized it was authored by, "Cord Cutter, a "Senior Digital Exec", from "Big Media Company".

TKList
TKList

The workaround is: Aereo can sell a box (like the Slingbox) and people can use it to upload whatever they want to watch to a cloud service provided by Aereo.

Mergatroid69
Mergatroid69

Looks like all the network shills are in here...anyway, I believe Aero will make some sort of payment arrangements with the networks...I'm a cord cutter, have 50Mbps high-speed internet, use a Roku, own an Xbox One, have Netflix, have Amazon Prime...I don't watch network TV unless it's on one of those services...I toyed getting Aero but knew they would lose this case, politicos don't want to lose all that free political time from network TV...once Aero figures out their new model I will add them to my ecosystem... 

raoul
raoul

I wonder how YouTube would react if their original channel creators were to take their videos on another platforms and monetize without YT's approval? Any thoughts Mr. Cord Cutter? Stealing is stealing.

Peter M
Peter M

For those who think A is stealing you would have to brush up on retrans laws to really understand this case in historical context. Secondly, this isn't about stealing or missing an opportunity to sell in the mobile, "snackable" age... this is about getting paid.

You can bet A will be in business but they'll be paying the broadcasters a nominal fee... this same dance happened with the cableco's and broadcaster some twenty years ago... Cable long. long, ago didn't pay the broadcasters... and they liked it. Cable extended their reach and gave them access to areas the broadcasting signal couldn't reach... Once broadcasters had the leverage to flip the model and collect on both advertising and subscription they took the leap... 

Aereo will start to pay the drip in slow small increments and it will be a simple cogs approach... but over time they will build their subscribers, raise their prices, and pay the broadcasters just what they want... No reason to lament... there's always YouTube and frankly the younger cohort thinks todays broadcast fare sucks... I've got three twenty somethings... you'll never get them. HBO-Showtime-Netflix all on app's... and there are many more on the way... 

rocketx2
rocketx2

This suit has nothing to do with technology it had to do with copyright. Stealing is against the law!  The Aereo technology is still legal and your premise is foolish. It's not a disaster to keep someone from stealing your business.


There are already many ways to watch broadcast TV off air and there will be many more in the future but none of them will be built on theft.


Aereo could pay for the programming they were trying to steal by negotiating with the networks like the other cable companies.   

jtoeman
jtoeman

 "So what to do? If I were running one of the major networks, I’d be negotiating today to purchase Aereo’s assets, and then I’d move quickly to rebuild it as my digital delivery service. I’d push everything through it, both live and on-demand, and heavily promote and expand phone and tablet distribution."


Why on earth would they do this? They don't *need* the assets, AT ALL. Every network *already has* a digital delivery service.


I'm agreeing that there's a learning lesson here, but this is *far* from it.

DavidfromMA
DavidfromMA

Neither of my two teenage children watch Broadcast TV.  Everything they watch is on YouTube, and on their computers or mobile devices.  If it wasn't for the bundled rate offered by Verizon (which makes it cheaper to keep cable than to dump it), I would have cancelled cable long ago.  Almost everything I want to watch is online and available when I want to watch it.

hello
hello

As soon as the baby boomers die off (10-15 years), broadcasters are f***ed. No one in my peer group (30-35) pays for cable... without Aereo, it's back to torrenting.

TinoBird
TinoBird

Absolutely spot on with your assessment.  Cord cutters, as myself, are gone for good. The gauntlet has fallen and has left me with a deep suspicion of the entire industry.  The recent facebook social experimentation, combined with this ruling, have cemented as a total skeptic of viability of reasonable technological advances improving our lives.

Adam S
Adam S

 I honestly don't understand why Mass Media doesn't get this. Haven't we proven that you can't win when you tell people HOW to use technology (and/or artificially limit convenience in the name of licensing)?  We consumers don't care about you making money, but we're happy to pay when things work the way we want them to work.  I'm a cord cutter.  It's not because of cost, it's because cable companies suck and their terrible DVRs are embarrassing.  If there were a broadcast system as easy as Netflix, I'd probably be a customer.  But I am not optimistic. 

rocketx2
rocketx2

@Mergatroid69 Next time there is a weather emergency in your area you can fire up your Roku while FREE TV will be saving your neighbors lives. 

rocketx2
rocketx2

@Peter M And soon your 20 somethings will be 50 somethings and they'll want to sit on the expensive furniture they bought in their 40s and watch the CSI of the future... just like you do now.  Things change as you get older.


In the future you'll be able to watch free TV on many more devices and stealing will still be wrong.

jeclark2006
jeclark2006

@rocketx2 

Aereo was no more 'stealing' that a person putting up a 100 foot mast to get their antenna to a point to receive 'distant' TV signals. It was a 'one antenna per client at that moment in time'. There may have also been provision for delayed viewing, via some temporary recording device, but that is also 'legal' for an individual to do.


All Aereo was doing was providing a service for people who don't know how to use a soldering gun, or set up a antenna wire.

The signal contained any 'advertising' that paid for the broadcast, and the broadcaster themselves did not pay for the 'air' medium to broadcast on. That was given FREE to the broadcasters by the government, ostensibly for 'the public benefit'.

 

raoul
raoul

@hello no one in your peer group pays for cable...not now at least! in 10 years when your friends will make more money and settle down, I promise you that a TON of them will pay for some form of cable.....I PROMISE!!!

rocketx2
rocketx2

@hello So you're a thief who doesn't understand the difference between pay cable and free broadcast television. Broadcast TV doesn't care if you pay for cable.

rocketx2
rocketx2

@TinoBird This suit was brought BROADCAST television... they want you to cut the CABLE cord.

rocketx2
rocketx2

@Adam S This had nothing to do with cable... Aereo was stealing broadcast TV and reselling it. The broadcasters love you hate the cable DVR.

Mergatroid69
Mergatroid69

@rocketx2 @Mergatroid69  Naah, I have very good weather apps on my phone...if there is a weather emergency, electricity/TV will be out anyway...My family has a disaster plan ever since Sandy...

jeclark2006
jeclark2006

@rocketx2 @Peter M 

Hardly... I 'cut down the arial in 1968... ok I did watch the last season of "Start Trek: The Burial Urn Generation", in 1969... but that's the last of my 'over-the-air" broadcast reception. Had cable for 6 months in 1980-1 time frame, never could be 'home' at the right to watch movies on of HBO, Showtime, or Cinemax, the only channels I wanted to watch... never did watch any 'local' or even 'remote' broadcast TV channels... at the same time video stores and video player machines began to pop up, allowing me to watch movies when I wanted to, not when some 'programmer' decided... cut the cable and haven't had any inclination to reconnect via 'cable'.

I've used the phone company from dial up through current 'broadband' connectivity.

jeclark2006
jeclark2006

@Mergatroid69 @rocketx2

Yeah, the claim about use of TV's for 'emergency' broadcasts has become just empty words. Handheld devices win, when one is running out of the house to the car to get out of town, if an evacuation is in order, and as long as some cell towers have emergency power.


Outside of the evacuation area, all that TV does is fill the airwaves with blabber.


I live in a 'valley' which pretty much cuts out all TV reception... although when the Daughter was growing up, she found that if she messed around with some rabbit ears, that she could just barely get a snow laden signal... she grew up to not 'need' broadcast TV for entertainment. I don't think that's going to change any time soon.


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