THE SANDS OF TIME RUNNETH OVER
There've been a number of data points emerging over the last few months pointing to an acceleration of what I called the "Broadband Content End-Run" back in March:
There's a day coming soon, when content providers are going to provide their content, especially video content, directly to consumers via rich, broadband connections. The existing distribution cable oligopolies are going to fight every inch of the way before this content is pried out of their boxes.
But there are too many competitors eventually, telcos, power companies, and various forms of wireless technologies, for this technology-driven tsunami to be mitigated. We may see other intermediaries emerge, in the form of today's portals like Yahoo!/Google/MSN/AOL etc., or entirely new entities to enable this content routing AROUND the cable box.
And we'll need easier ways for the broadband content, once in the house, to be viewed on any TV in the house. Inexpensive and easy-to-use technological solutions to this problem are likely to emerge in the near future.
But this "broadband content end-run" is happening...the only questions are when, and with what type of economic models?
In the meantime, most of the popular, mainstream content will likely stay behind the walled gardens of today's distribution networks. And consumers have to be content with nichier types of video content, both old and new.
Significant investment in CBS News and CBSNews.com as part of a "cable bypass" strategy designed to offer breaking news, free broadband-quality video and original reporting, commentary and analysis directly to the fastest-growing segment of news consumers -- those accessing news on the Internet.
Projections indicate that homes connected to broadband will equal or surpass homes serviced by cable and satellite by 2010. During that time, the broadband delivery system will dramatically improve, resulting in a viewing experience equal to television.
Furthermore, use of broadband connections during working hours -- when most top stories take place -- significantly outweighs that of cable and satellite.
This specific announcement is met with some healthy skepticism from media/journalism mavens like Dana Blankenhorn, but what's of interest here is the overall trend.
And that is the small, slow, steady and ultimately inevitable march of content AROUND today's distribution channels. The Viacom/CBSNews announcement is but the latest in a series of similar developments so far this year. As USA Today highlighted in an excellent article yesterday:
They aren't just thinking. Programming powers including ABC, ESPN, CBS, Fox News, MTV, the BBC, Telemundo and Major League Baseball already are investing in subscription and ad-supported ventures offering TV-like video online. In recent weeks:
• Scripps, which owns Home & Garden Television (HGTV) and the Food Network, said it will launch 10 Web channels by the end of 2006, beginning with one for kitchen design.
• AOL, which recently served live video from Live 8 concerts, will partner in a joint venture announced Tuesday to offer live music and comedy online, as well as via satellite and other platforms. Also in the Network Live venture: XM Satellite Radio and Anschutz Corp.'s AEG, an arena owner and event promoter.
• At Viacom, cable channel Nickelodeon launched TurboNick, a Web site with episodes of cartoons including SpongeBob SquarePants and Rugrats. Viacom's VH1 also introduced VSpot, which will show the season opener of The Surreal Life before the TV channel.
• CNN ditched its nearly $5-a-month subscription fee to rely on ad support for a site with beefed-up programming. It plans a broader subscription service this fall.
I'd also start to add moves by cable networks like the Scifi Channel, to put online entire episodes of some of its shows like Battlestar Galactica, primarily as promotions for its off-line programming, to be part of this trend.
As the USA Today article also points out, the cable industry is not taking this lying down:
Comcast and other big distributors are taking no chances: In contract talks, most now insist that programmers agree not to simulcast their shows on the Internet.
I have to agree with Real Network's CEO Rob Glaser here, who according to the article said,
Defining rights and responsibilities in Internet video "will be like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again,"...He expects "more of a 'Shootout at the O.K. Corral' kind of story ahead than 'here's what technology makes possible.' "
While the business model shoot-out approaches for mainstream AND non-mainstream media creators and distributors, there are interesting and potentially applicable lessons to be learned from the far humbler world of textual blogs and the problems it's facing today, especially as it incorporates audio in the form of pod casts and eventually video in its mix.
As blogs are fueled by syndicating technologies like RSS, and RSS is incorporated into ALL types of content feeds going forward (see this post by BW/Blogspotting's Heather Green), we have to pay attention to several issues that are already painful to today's producers AND readers of Blogs.
The potentially biggest issue to me, besides making sure the business models work for all parties concerned (eventually), is that consumers ultimately only have 24 hours in a day. And the amount of stuff coming at them digitally is exploding exponentially, when you include
- Web-driven stuff like emails, blogs, rss feeds, etc.
- Mainstream media jumping into Web-driven stuff (see number 1 above)
- Mainstream advertisers and marketers jumping into Web-driven stuff.
- Mainstream retailers jumping into Web-driven stuff...
...well, you get the point. This will be compounded with time-shifting devices like Tivo and digital/personal video recorder (DVR and PVRs), and place-shifting devices like boxes from start-ups like Slingmedia, Orb et al.
The content overload, and the need for better ways to find, search, navigate, and digest it all is going to be one of the biggest opportunities and achilles heel of this upcoming fight at the OK Corral.
"RSS is starting to feel like television. I sit in front of the tv with a remote and click through 100 channels and then say "nothing is on."
Tom Watson has a post titled "Blog Overload" that expresses a similar pain. In fact, the phrase "blog overload" gets you almost 1200 entries on Google.
"I can't help but wonder if the recent news at Dreamworks and Pixar is in some way related to the Internet, Tivo, and other disruptive technologies. Could it be that people are watching Shrek 2 on Tivo and saving that on Tivo for future viewing? Could it be that other activities, such as Internet usage, is infringing on DVD time?"
Larry Kramer, President of CBSNews.com, in his press conference with the head of CBS News, said, "the new prime-time is day-time", referring to folks with broadband connections at work accessing video content 9-5.
With a truly broadband Internet, the new, what I'll call "web prime-time" is really any time the user can scrounge a moment away from all the stuff he/she has to get done in a day.
And that "web prime-time" is increasingly going to do an end-run around a lot of traditional prime-times, including the ones we as user/consumers have for our own personal and professional lives.