The secret to cable TVs success was not “all the channels.” It was the fact that cable providers could package and sell “all the channels” together as one product. Sure, customers could add-on “premium” channels like HBO or Showtime, but you were still getting stuck with a bunch of channels you probably didn’t want and wouldn’t watch, just to get the few you actually wanted.
This method lasted decades and created the channel-surfing pastime everyone with cable understands all too well. Two hundred channels and “nothin” on!
That was one of America’s premier first world problems through the 80s, 90s, and 00s, simply because there was no other option. Then, enter streaming media. Amazon and Apple TV, among others, turned viewers onto TV on their own terms. They may not get everything they want to see, but, as more apps were added to streaming services, there was less tethering consumers to cable. Good news for viewers, bad news for cable companies.
Meanwhile, as consumers were adjusting to the new viewing possibilities, there was big doings happening at the highest levels of the biggest media companies in the country. Basically, these businesses were searching for a way to remain profitable – or solvent – in a world where they didn’t have universal control over content anymore.
One of the solutions currently being tried is merging media companies, for example, the AT&T purchase of Time Warner. That was great news for stockholders and offered Time Warner some breathing room to figure out how to make a profit with its properties in a rapidly changing world.
And there’s no doubt the changes will begin happening faster than ever. Really, the last holdout for live TV was sports, and, with more people either DVRing the game or finding a way to watch it online anyway, networks had to give sooner or later. They’ve begun to capitulate to the new normal by broadcasting games on both streaming media and social media.
But it still may be too little too late. Cable initially scoffed at alternative media like Netflix and Amazon Prime. But they’re not really laughing now. And services such as the app-based Apple TV or combo services such as Sling and Hulu provide another level of concern. These companies are making deals with individual networks to show their content through a subscription fee service.
One relatively new idea that some merged media companies are floating is the idea of combining mobile service with TV service in much the same way internet and cable have been bundled for years.
Will this idea help cable companies make it in a new media market? Time will tell. But there’s no doubt they need to do something…and fast.