Sony’s service, you see, offers all but one of the big sports broadcasters. CBS, Fox, and NBC are all on board. Apple is pushing towards its own sports-happy deals. And sports is really all that cable has left.
Today, the big difference between cable TV and internet TV is live programming. “Sports is one of those last things that makes people still want to watch TV in a linear fashion,” says Tony Emerson, a Microsoft managing director who works closely with hundreds of the world’s media and cable TV companies.
Unlike almost everything else on TV, sports happen in the moment. And fans want to be there for that moment. Emerson points to himself as an example: “I am a big fan of Formula One and I will still stay up until 2 a.m. to see a race in the Far East—partly so my brother doesn’t call me to tell me who won and partly because I want to see it right away.”
Yes, internet TV makes it easier to view programming on any device, from TVs to phones, and it gives you more freedom to watch stuff when you want to watch it. But many wouldn’t dream of cutting their cable cords because they would lose live games from the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NCAA, and other popular sports organizations.
In recent years, however, even live sports have pushed onto the net, because that’s where so many people want to watch them. Typically, this comes with strings attached. You can’t watch the Olympics online, for instance, unless you key in credentials for a home cable TV subscription. But now, a wide range of forces—from changes in the way people view stuff on cable to the new internet TV habits engendered by services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video—are pushing broadcasters towards unfettered sports-laden services from likes of Sony. These services are on verge of reality.
“Live events—sports and others, but mainly sports—are certainly an impediment to cord cutting,” says Stephen Beck, the founder of a consulting firm called cg42, which has closely studied the move to internet television over the last few years. “But this problem will ultimately be solved.”
Sling Opens the Gates to Cord-CuttingThis move all started with a service called Sling TV. Sling was built by satellite TV company Dish, but it doesn’t send TV signals via satellite. It sends them over the internet—and its collection of channels includes ESPN, the preeminent cable sports channel now owned Disney.
“This was the one that could break the camel’s back,” says Emerson, who helps media and cable companies across the globe build internet TV services atop Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service. Emerson has seen firsthand a huge shift in the way these businesses treat the net. “Once you can get ESPN unbundled from the cable system, it puts into question the whole bundle [idea] for lots of different channels.”
Sony’s new service doesn’t offer ESPN or its sister network, ABC. But it does offer all the other big American sports broadcasters. It streams feeds from the local CBS, NBC, and Fox affiliates in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, and yes, this includes all the usual sports coverage, according to Sony. And no, you don’t need a cable TV subscription to use it—-just a PlayStation and a broadband internet connection.
Meanwhile, according to The Wall Street Journal, Apple is in talks with traditional television programmers as it seeks to offer a streaming service that includes about 25 channels, including ABC, CBS, and Fox. The rub, the Journal reports, is that the talks don’t include NBC. Apparently, there was a “falling out” between Apple and NBC’s parent company, Comcast.
It’s hardly surprising that Comcast is the one holdout. After all, it’s a cable TV company. According another report from tech news site 9to5Mac, NBC and Comcast are now looking to offer their own NBC app on Apple TV—an app can’t be used unless you’re also a cable TV subscriber. “At the end of the day,” says Beck. “Comcast wants to preserve its existing model.” But remember: NBC is available on Sony’s service. The landscape is shifting. The walls are cracking.
Change Abounds for Internet TVThe reasons are myriad. Sling’s deal with ESPN, it seems, came about in part because Disney did a little horse-trading to stop some of the commercial skipping that is so common on today’s cable and satellite services. (It agreed to offer its channels over a Dish internet TV service, and Dish agreed to limit commercial skipping on its Hopper set-top box). And due to the government consent decree it signed in order to acquire NBCUniversal years ago, Comcast may be under pressure to offer up NBC programming to services outside its own cable TV offering.
But most notably, people are changing the way they consume TV. According to one study, about 7.6 million households have cut the cable cord. Dish TV began as a satellite TV company but it’s moving into internet because that’s what so many people want. “What we see is the growth of broadband-only homes,” says Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch. “Cord cutting is happening, and it’s been happening for years.”
The likes of Comcast are feeling the same heat. “Anytime you have a customer base as frustrated as the traditional cable providers’ customers are,” Beck says, citing a cb24 study that indicates that 53 percent of cable customers say they would leave their cable provider if they hand another viable alternative for TV, “you have an environment that’s ripe for technology companies to disrupt it.”
The heat will only increase as the sport leagues start negotiating directly with internet-only services—without going through the cable and satellite providers. In some cases, they’re already moving in this direction. As Lynch points out, the European golf tour recently went straight to the net.
The Future Is Nearly HereTo be sure, we’re a long way from everyone getting all their TV online. There are too many things that need to change.
Existing rights deals can prevent unfettered access to some sport programming on the internet (because wireless phone service provider Verizon has an exclusive deal for Monday Night Football, Sling TV can’t show the MNF games on phones). A cable company like Comcast still has reason to slow the move to internet streaming (witness: the Apple talks). And the internet, well, can’t yet handle all programming.
“If we went entirely to delivering TV over IP today,” says Microsoft’s Emerson, referring to the internet networking protocol, “do you know how fast the internet would stop?”
As Emerson rightly says, we don’t really know what internet TV will look like in the years to come. But we know it won’t look like it does today.
source: wired.com by CADE METZ