Media congloms v Tech giants: which TV oligopoly is winning?

Discussion in 'TV Show Talk' started by phrelin, Feb 23, 2016.

  1. phrelin

    phrelin Hall Of Fame DBSTalk Club

    Jan 18, 2007
    The question posed in the title is a kind of silly summary of recent stories in the press and online about the business of mostly home entertainment - what we call TV and to a certain extent movies. Apparently because there have been tech changes in the past few years, in the world of media conglomerates the sky is falling ... or not. I'm pretty sure it's not and felt compelled to write this long post which I hope will stimulate some thought and even discussion.

    The March 4, 2016, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine will feature this piece Michael Wolff on Hollywood's Falling Stocks: How Tech Companies Won "Hearts and Minds" and Changed the Game which is typical.

    It's an analysis creating a picture of how things stand in the business of providing home video entertainment which can be divided into two oligopolies - the media conglomerates and the internet tech conglomerates.

    In the first half of this decade the media conglomerates as corporations appeared to have lost to the internet tech conglomerates based upon a stock market analyst's view, particularly since October. Let's look at some examples. On the surface Disney/ABC/ESPN which owns or controls a lot of content and TV channels - cable and broadcast - and broadcast stations has problems. Similarly Viacom right now is considering some restructuring.

    At the other end of the supposed struggle, we have internet content providers, which Wolff calls FANGA (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Apple) and which are stock market winners, except when they're not like Apple which has taken a 21% hit in its stock price recently which has nothing to do with showbiz.

    Anyway, Wolff's key point is:

    Personally, I think Wolff's opinion piece misses or glosses over some critical information. Much like any media circus, headlines always favor the new.

    Notice I didn't say new "and different."

    That's because I'm a viewer. Let's face it. The internet service provider (ISP) choices are basically cable and phone companies, corporations we have all been dealing with for decades.

    And even though FANGA meant more competition on the web creating a different dynamic from the 1958 broadcast TV model and the 1980's cable TV model, my experience with internet TV is that it has forced upon the industry the HBO model as embraced by Netflix - content with no commercials provided because you pay a monthly fee. I personally see that as a winner, but it may not be for everyone.

    But we have problems in internet streaming TV the seem to me to be reminiscent of other times. For instance, there is a problem discussed in threads in here, but not by Wolff. It's hardware and user interface (UI) problems. I can remember when a "cable box" looked like this...


    ...which offered no recording capabilities or remote. Recording led to use of Fast Forward, Rewind, and Skip buttons on a remote. And though there is no true standardization of cable/satellite TV remotes or interfaces, for the most part from a user interface standpoint it is easier to move from one cable/satellite TV company to another, and within the UI controlling the content delivery process is uniform.

    So far that is not true for internet TV. My Roku and my Fire Stick have nice remotes but every "channel" (streaming service) apparently looked for someone who never watched TV to create its own UI.

    And while it is true that The Walt Disney Company has a problem that worries investors causing a 25% drop in share price in the past six months, that problem is ESPN. Disney/ABC chose to force cable and satellite providers to provide ESPN to every subscriber for a comparatively high price which made a big return until it didn't. As soon as there was a viable alternative to cable/satellite TV, the number of subscribers dropped thereby reducing the ESPN extortion revenue. Disney had committed ESPN to many much too costly contracts for content. That isn't a problem that extends to other media conglomerates.

    This brings me to Comcast which should be the weather vane of the big media biz. It is the largest international media conglomerate. Despite its efforts to rebrand to Xfinity its cable TV service, Comcast is best known as the largest cable company in the U.S. As we all know, the Xfinity brand includes not only cable TV, but cable internet, cable phone service, home alarm systems, etc. Comcast also owns NBCU, which means it owns the broadcast network NBC and 11 NBC urban area broadcast stations, Telemundo and 20 Telemundo urban area broadcast stations, and the following content production companies:
    • NBC programming
    • Universal Television
    • Telemundo Studios
    • Universal Studios
    • Universal Animation Studios
    • Focus Features
    • Illumination Entertainment
    • Working Title Films
    • Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
    • United International Pictures (50%)
    One important other fact about Comcast's future standd out. Along with ABC and Fox, NBCU owns 32% of Hulu. Along with that major streaming website, as I noted in another thread, NBCU plans to launch a number of niche internet streaming services (see the article After SeeSo, NBC plans six more niche streaming services.

    So Comcast will be a cable TV company, an ISP, and a multiple Internet TV websites owner delivering content produced by its content production subsidiaries. If you are one of the millions of Comcast ISP customers watching "Shades of Blue", "The Blacklist" and/or "Chicago Whatever" on Hulu, you are watching content which is partly owned by Universal Television - a Comcast subsidiary, from a website partly owned by NBCU - a Comcast subsidiary, through your Xfinity internet service - a Comcast subsidiary. Comcast's share price did suffer a short term drop during the recent market-wide drop, but basically it's the same today as it was three months ago, unlike Disney or Apple or Netflix or Amazon ... or Viacom or CBS or News Corp (Fox).

    The important thing to understand about the long term is that the traditional media conglomerates own most of the content. Wolff does mention this twice:

    To sum up the future then, the "Congloms" are creating internet streaming websites. They own the content. They can do things like Les Moonves plans with CBS All Access and offer original programming to steer potential subscribers:

    And although right now CBS All Access can't be viewed without commercials, Moonves is looking at the Hulu idea of offering some kind of commercial free subscription option.

    Admittedly the Congloms are big, bulky, slow-to-change international corporations, but IMHO the internet is just a another way to deliver home entertainment content, the newest after off-the-air broadcast, cable, and satellite.

    IMHO Netflix is just a variation a TV channel group. Instead of "changing the channel" to switch from a TV series to a movie, you just change the content being delivered. Netflix has gotten into content production because they need to in order to survive.

    Amazon is a different animal and really can't be mentioned in the same sentence as Netflix or Comcast. It began with an internet retail business that has become the worlds largest retailer. They offer streaming music. They offer streaming TV, including original programming. They offer devices for users to receive this content. And if you must stream content from another website using your Roku you bought Best Buy instead of an Amazon Fire Stick from Amazon, you still might watch from a really cool very affordable massaging leather recliner with ottoman...


    ...which, because you are a Prime customer, was delivered free (click on the picture to link to the Amazon page).

    Amazon's share price at one point in the past three months was 30% lower than its peak in that three months. That was for reason unrelated to Amazon Video, and so far nobody generalized that drop to include Netflix and other TV streaming sites because it has nothing to do with them - just as Disney's problem has nothing to do with other media conglomerates.

    Let's face it. The "new" has been interesting and we need to follow the developing changes, but in the next five years we are more likely to see the media conglomerates make more money off of streaming TV both directly from their own websites and indirectly from license fees to other websites. And cable and satellite TV services are adding internet streaming apps to their boxes so that you have a choice to watch content directly from a TV channel via cable or from a content website via the internet. From an oligopoly standpoint, it seems like almost everyone will be a winner, except of course most of the small independently owned niche channels that have struggled since cable began and will continue to struggle on the internet.

    From a viewer standpoint, we just have more content to choose from and, if we have the self-discipline and desire, we can get a bit more control over our costs. But by 2020 we'll hardly remember there was a change just as in the 1980's most of us barely remembered what TV without cable was like in 1960's.
  2. TomCat

    TomCat Broadcast Engineer

    Aug 31, 2002
    I still have nightmares. I can't tell you how many of those I replaced in subscribers' homes as a field tech back in the day.

    They had an eprom in them, and pay TV tiers were set by blowing the eprom (8 levels available), burning it out of the chip. But customers got smart and discovered that if you just removed the eprom chip, which was socketed, and bent all of the leads up instead of two and put it back in, it unlocked everything, and the cable co did not know, because the boxes were not interactive. There was a time I had boxes of them under my house, and worked alongside some unscrupulous sales sluts who would sell them for $25 under the counter. Not me, of course; I would never be a party to that.

    And yes the stories and headlines are silly, but the question itself is also silly. It is quite obvious who is winning, and its the internet platforms. It's the long goodbye for linear TV and cable. It's like a long tug-of-war with all the beef on one end of the rope, it's just that it will take a few more years for the battle to be finally over.

    I sort of think the 'millennial' factor is overblown. Millenials are not the only people capable of recognizing that the tech changes have trumped the legacy delivery pathways. They are just the canary in the coal mine, because they are not entrenched in linear like the boomers are. But boomers are going away, and getting smarter about platforms, too. Not every Netflix sub is under 30.

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