Everything Old Is New Again
While Apple, Google, Intel and the like may want to provide a fundamentally different kind of TV platform (though there aren\’t necessarily any \”good guys\” or \”bad guys\” here), reports suggest that the pressure imposed by current TV giants would effectively turn their services into ordinary cable boxes, just based online and with different interfaces. The same bundles, data caps, and high prices that annoy users of today’s cable model may still apply, if only because the tech companies would have no choice but to play ball like everyone else.
That’s if they can even come to exist at all. Google’s proposals to content makers haven’t yielded any results yet, according to the above WSJ report, so whether or not it can get its service out in the open is still unclear. The company reportedly made a similar attempt two years ago only to be shot down, so history could very well repeat itself.
Variety says that Intel, meanwhile, is investing up to $2 billion to secure TV content licenses over the next few years, but that its newcomer status has given it trouble getting any done. Another Reuters report claims that the chipmaker has reached marginal agreements with the likes of Comcast, Viacom and News Corp., but that it may end up paying up to 75 percent more than traditional cable companies to secure its content deals. Intel, for its part, is still saying that it plans on launching its service by the end of the year, but it won’t be much of a compelling alternative if it can’t get (or spends billions trying to get) programming deals in place.
If and when Intel’s TV service does go live, the company has already announced that it won’t abandon the bundles we see in cable today. Intel Media CEO Erik Huggers has said that Intel will try to bundle channels “right,” but it’s still likely that more than a few users will be paying for content they neither watch nor want. Huggers also made it clear that Intel’s service won’t focus on affordability either, playing up its status as a “premium” experience and saying it won’t be a “value play.” So it won’t be cheap.
Finally, Huggers also said that the set-top box that houses Intel’s service will come with an optional camera, which will be used to deliver targeted advertisements and other \’personalized\’ content. It remains to be seen what benefit this would bring to consumers, but the personal ad approach is something that would potentially appease existing TV companies by bringing in more revenue. And for Intel, keeping them happy has to be a priority.
Tech journalist Jessica Lessin recently reported that Apple is seeking a way around the inherent struggles of launching an internet TV service with technology that would let you skip advertisements during programs. But the Cupertino clan would have to pay the cable companies and networks to get away with something different like that, currying favor the with current establishments in the process. The recent additions of HBO Go and WatchESPN to Apple TV demonstrate this idea further, as those aforementioned apps are both locked down to subscribers who are already paying for the channels on traditional TV platforms.
A recent New York Times report echoed these sentiments, saying that Apple is planning to add a Time Warner Cable app that would function in the same way. Nothing has been confirmed yet, of course, but Apple would likely be more capable of introducing its own internet-based TV setup if it’s more eager to throw the existing powers a bone. This makes some sense–the TV industry has shown that it’ll try to sue more antagonistic alternatives like Aereo into oblivion–but it may result in an internet TV service that isn’t all that different from the cable TV we have today.
Reasons to Doubt
So to recap, a mixture of reports and Intel’s own words say that “OnCue” will have bundles, a not-insignificant price point, and a watchful camera, all of which will not prevent Intel from having to fork over much more than traditional pay-TV companies for content deals. Google’s service is still up in the air, but if it does end up existing, it would likely need to follow the same standards we know today. Apple is already making moves that suggest it is willing to play along with the established powers.
And that’s not even to mention all the other complexities that come with launching an online platform (goodbye, bandwidth), or the FCC’s reluctance to support alternate cable models like a la carte (even when prominent Senators support it), or the fact that the vast majority of users are still sticking with cable.
Taking all of that into account, the question then becomes: Why would anyone want one of these internet TV services in the first place? If this entrenched set of TV standards would keep these would-be disruptors from actually disrupting, what’s the benefit? It\’s not clear yet.
Apple, Google, Intel and the like may provide snappier-looking interfaces or hardware, yes, and some may enjoy having their computer monitor as their new central entertainment hub. But if they’re all going to provide the same channels (if not less) at the same prices (if not higher), it’s difficult to see what would be so desirable about internet TV. It’d be the future, stuck in the models of the past. There’s still plenty of time and unconfirmed details out there, but for now, there’s ample reason to have just as many doubts in TV’s future as many do in its present.
Pages: 1 2