Are CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX must haves ??

I’ve taken quite a bit of time off from posting any thoughts, but the media business is changing so rapidly that I just had to put a few thoughts down for kicks.

Question: If you were required to pay to receive the broadcast networks (as we’ve come to know them), how much is too much? That means, what is it worth to you to see shows on ABC, CBS, NBC or FOX each month? $ 1.00 a month per network, more? Would you pay to get these channels?
For years these ‘broadcast’ networks have been free, over-the-air channels that are supported by advertising. They still are. But you might say, ‘c’mon now, these are free channels’ why should I pay now? Answer: its NOT Hulu. Think about what you’d not be able to watch if you decided NOT to pay; Super Bowl, the Grammys, CSI, The Final Four, Survivor and David Letterman, The World Series and I could add another dozen or so shows and events. How about now, is $ 1.00 a month too much?
I believe that soon, we will be seeing a ‘fee’ to have these channels included in our cable packages, satellite packages, etc. And the reason we’ll see this fee is that these networks can charge for this and will most likely get it. They will charge a fee to cable op’s to carry the network and cloth them as ‘retransmission’ fees.
“Going forward, we will be seeking retransmission dollars from our distributors,” said Murdoch, FOX Chairman. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves announced that he intended to charge retransmission fees for CBS.
I think its just a matter of time before we will see those fees ‘bleed’ into our monthly bills. And once Hulu begin to charge, there won’t be anywhere else to go…except the torrents and newsgroups which are out of the reach of most people.
Welcome to the future.

TV Online – It’s NOT on TV and worse, everyone appears to be all the same.

At first, CinemaNow and MovieLink were the 2 places for online consumption of movies at first, then TV shows were added. Well intentioned but clunky and smothered with restrictions on viewing the content, it was accepted only by the most avid online enthusiast with the fastest connections to the Internet.  You could download Indiana Jones ( 30-45 days AFTER its DVD release) and by the time you were done, Indi 2 was in the theaters. It was painful.  But your yardstick for measuring success was simple – in the number of downloads.

Then came the notion of streaming video just like youtube was doing (and much illegal content on youtube ) and then came a crop of youtube look-alikes, then joost appeared and a whole slew of joost-alikes came along.  Once the social networks hit big, there were social networks built around content, blip TV, veoh’s, revvers, myspaceTV, etc.  Somehow, someone felt that if I was online at Facebook or a MySpace member then I must also like to watch a certain genre of films or type of TV show (which is mistake # 1) and that I’d watch it online (mistake # 2).  The recommendation engine ‘notion’ applied to me in this way was all wrong!

Soon, established brands launched their own ‘branded’ version/site of online TV and movie consumption; iTunes,  amazon video on demand (downloads) , hulu, reeltime, tidaltv, jaman, babelgum, TheWB + and more. Then we have all the set-top ‘boxes’ that arrived, X-Box downloads, Vudu, Roku/Netflix, the late Akimbo, TiVo, Comcast, ATT-U-Verse and the list goes on.  Now, after all of this ‘launching’ and all of these press releases and all of these disparate systems, I have 2 observations to make. The FIRST is that unfortunately, EVERYONE SEEMS TO HAVE MUCH OF THE SAME MOVIES AND TV SHOWS. There is no real ‘differentiation’ other than the domain. No one ‘programs’ a service anymore.   It seems depending on the service and who they have been able to strike a deal with, they simply put every single piece of content up online in mass, categorize each piece with the usual tags like ‘adventure’, ‘sci-fi’,  ‘suspense’ etc.  Each is advertising not hundreds, but ‘thousands’ of titles…4,500..10,000, 40,000 +. There is no ‘guide’ other than search fields embedded somewhere on each site for the consumer to ‘search’ for his or her movie or show. The SECOND is that despite all of the many services calling themselves ‘online TV’ or ‘ IPTV’, NONE OF THEM ARE ACTUALLY CARRIED ON TELEVISION. Unless you’ve hooked up your PC/MAC to your LCD, your computer bound. With the exception of a few ‘boxes’, most online TV websites require you to watch and pay to watch this content on your computer. I can see watching some of this content for free on my computer, but I have a hard time seeing myself paying for any of it, especially since most of it I can already get on my cable or satellite TV in one form or the other (and I can find it easier with the TV guide on my cable or Direct TV). So, why should I be excited to see ‘Tropic Thunder’ show up online on my 21” PC screen for $ 5.99 ? It will show-up on my 45” LCD TV set anyway on PPV for the same fee, but I can sit on my couch and watch it.

UGC is easy to understand why its so popular. Most UGC is 2-3 minutes in length, hardly an hour and a half movie.

There are a lot of people online and yes, movies and TV shows are popular. But the reason most of us are online was not to find a movie or TV show. Initially, it was for email and for information and communication. It still is and even more so. It’s simply that our connections are that much bigger today and therefore this allows for the ‘broadcasting’ of video whereas years ago, it just was a ‘pipe’ (sorry, bad joke) dream.

Now, if one day, somehow I can get access to any movie or TV show I can think of sent directly to my TV set, (using the internet as a dumb pipe) regardless of what pay or basic cable service had the film under license… now that’s something I’d pay for or watch with commercials. I’d love to collectively watch some of Hollywood’s grandest and biggest failures that I choose like Michael Cimino’s ‘Heaven’s Gate’, ‘George Lucas’s Howard the Duck’ , Warren Beatty’s ‘Ishtar’, ‘Under the Volcano’ etc. Or, watch all of the ‘Thin Man’ films (William Powell, Mynra Loy and Asta). Ahh…maybe one day.

Hurricane’s worth watching.

police car chase

police car chase

There is this urge in all of us to watch others dilemma’s, happenstances and circumstances that are out of our control or for that matter, anyone’s control to see what will happen and when it will happen.  If there was a 24/7 car chase channel on TV that did nothing but let us watch the myriads of car chases from TV news helicopters that occur every day on our highways and city streets, it would be a ratings star.  We’d use it as TV wallpaper.  Leave it on, glance over at the screen once and a while all the time hoping to see some kind of climactic and safe (?) resolution to each chase.  Well, there is no ‘Chase Channel’ cable TV or internet channel today but there is a new web site that allows us to better watch and observe a Hurricane. And its got great graphics and data, along with a nice light degree of interactivity. So, instead of only being able to see the giant ‘green swirling’ white clouds repeated 10X backwards and forwards on the evening weather portion of the news, try this site called ‘Stormpulse‘.  Here’s a pic/preview. There’s nothing to download,  which is even better.

Stormpulse partial screen shot

Stormpulse partial screen shot

The coming demise of Cable TV channels

Though Verizon is often associated with its phone networks, the company has been busy building up and promoting its advanced FiOS infrastructure. This high bandwidth service provides one of the most advanced packages of high definition television, high-speed Internet and phone service for customers in areas where it is available. For example, FiOS Internet download speeds currently max out at 50 megabits per second, compare that to traditional cable company speeds which are often 1/10th of that or less.

So, you’ve just gotten FiOS at your house. You now have 50mbps coming into your home. So, you set your TiVo to record from your TV through cable the newest episode of ‘Lost’. Oh, and just this past weekend you also got a brand new 56″ LCD TV and hooked your FiOS into the set so you could launch a browser on your new LCD TV set. Cool. Now you can surf the web on your new LCD. So, you’ve recorded ‘Lost’ on the TiVo and went to bed. The next day you come home and are ready to watch the episode of ‘Lost’ you recorded on your TiVo the night before. You sit down in your living room, turn on your big screen TV and discover that your browser is still open and lo and behold there is last nights ‘Lost’ episode right there on Hulu (or iTunes ). And its free (with a few 30 sec. commercials running ). So, you click play and sit and watch ‘Lost’ with online commercials (about a total of 8 mins of commercials as opposed to 22 mins on standard TV).

Then it hits you. Since your TV viewing habits are time-shifted anyway with TiVo, and now that you have FiOS and have a virtual TV, why should you pay for Cable? I’m mean, nearly all the cable networks and Broadcast nets are beginning to re-broadcast everything online. So why pay for Cable TV when you can view your favorite shows anytime by launching your browser on your big TV?

This merger of the TV and the internet will happen, but ONLY when the pipe into your home blurs the lines between TV and the web. Its happening today and most of us can’t see it yet, but we will. And this will be an issue for cable companies who down the road will be nothing more than a pipe into our homes. The web will carry into our homes what cable TV carries today. Its just a matter of time.

The above scenario is a true one, my in-laws have this today in Florida through FiOS. cabletv.jpg

In trouble within 5 yrs and big trouble within 10. Its the pipe.

We estimate online viewing of full-episode Broadcast/Cable Network TV as a percentage of the traditional TV base was 9% in 2007 (6% in 2006), and we forecast 14% for 2008, 19% for 2009, and 23% for 2010. ABC & NBC were the Broadcast, and Viacom the Cable Network, 2007 online full-episode viewing leaders.

First there was HBO and Showtime, then came the internet with Kazaa and Limelight, but who was REALLY the first and better than all the rest put together? It was the ‘Z Channel’.

Part 1

Full disclosure first: I used to work for Westinghouse Broadcasting and Cable and they used to own and promote the Z Channel, The Country Music Channel, Home Theater Network, Satellite News Channel and The Travel Channel as well as many radio stations. zmag.jpg

In the 1970’s Jerry Harvey programmed movies for the Beverly Canon, a repertory theater in Los Angeles, and made a name for himself when he booked the uncut version of “The Wild Bunch” and its director, Sam Peckinpah, delivered the print in person. Z Channel had been started in 1974 by a cable franchise as one of the country’s first pay-movie channels. In 1980 Harvey wrote to Z’s new owner, Select TV, complaining that their programming was terrible. He was hired. Under Harvey, the Z Channel became a 24-hour mix of films by auteur directors like François Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa, little-known European movies, popular fare like “Silver Streak” and “The Empire Strikes Back” , Fast Times At Ridgemont High, The Road Warrior: Mad Max 2, and, late at night, soft-core offerings. Harvey soon found another niche for the channel to fill. After “Heaven’s Gate” was re-edited and shortened in a failed attempt to reverse its course as the biggest flop in movie history, he decided to play Michael Cimino’s four-hour original version. The reassembled movie received admiring reviews, and the Z Channel was regarded as a new kind of salvager.

While working at Westinghouse, I was tasked with launching Z Channel as a satellite national pay TV subscription channel and boy, was I jazzed to get this done. I thought the Z Channel was the nest best thing invented for pay TV next to the folded napkin. The problem was, once the ‘local’ footprint left for a ‘national’ footprint, different rules of the game in Hollywood applied and Z was not given the kind of licensing rights for films that they were granted locally. This made a subscription look more like a poor man’s HBO or SHOWTIME and that would not have worked on a national level.

“The whole idea of a director’s cut being something you could actually market came out of his rescue of ‘Heaven’s Gate,’ ” Mr. Feeney said. “It’s an important measure, because home video, home viewing via pay TV, these things have really revolutionized how we perceive movies.” (Feeney or F.X. – was a brilliant reviewer working for Z Channel at the time).

Harvey went on to do the same kinds of unusual broadcasts with Wolfgang Petersen ‘s six-hour “Das Boot,” originally a mini-series in Germany; Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 14-hour “Berlin Alexanderplatz”; and the five-and-a-half-hour version of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “1900.” (In “Z Channel,” Mr. Payne brags that he still has the “1900” he recorded on VHS at the time.) Harvey played the cut and uncut versions of Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” as a double feature to show the difference in quality.

Harvey also gave us sneak previews of every academy award nominated film each year in January, right after the nominations came out. Those of us who were subscribers in southern California looked forward to that week on Z. Somehow, someway Harvey was able to get a copy from each of the studios months BEFORE the film was released on VHS. A totally unprecedented event in the world of pay TV, this was the ultimate cool factor for a pay TV service at that time. No other Pay TV service was doing this or even thought of it.