Blast of the Week - The Future of Television

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Mike Maillaro: So, this week’s topic is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.  With the rise of Netflix exclusives, Amazon, Hulu, Sling, Roku, and on and on, it is harder and harder to justify the cost of cable TV.  So the question is:

Where do you see Television in 5 to 10 years?  

R.J. Carter: I’ve stated before that television and Internet would ultimately blend into one. I know of several people who have ‘cut the cord’ and gone to streaming only. I’ve streamed a few things, but I haven’t been completely satisfied. Video pauses, loses clarity, or otherwise becomes frustrating. Plus, the cord-cutting may be great for movies or binge-watching a series, but it doesn’t come close yet to replacing your local broadcasts. You never miss having an actual television until you hear the tornado siren going off in your neighborhood.

Mike Maillaro: That’s the thing...even for LOCAL emergencies, these days I get my news via Facebook or direct text messages from the local police.  Or robo-calls from my town.  That is how we got notice about Hurricane Sandy.  I pretty much never watch live TV anyway.  Everything is typically “catch up on it via DVR” later.

I haven’t had a lot of the problems with pauses or loss of clarity.  Ironically, when we have bad weather, my cable loses sound and starts to pause and skip.  I had to watch last week’s Flash and an episode of The Blacklist from like 6 weeks ago On Demand because the version on my DVR was awful.

R.J. Carter: We complain about our cable company all the time (and I have no qualms about naming names -- it’s Charter Communications). Aside from the usual bad weather freezing and pixelation, it’s simply more unwieldy since they forced everyone to digital. I’m a geezer -- when I turn on my television, I expect it to go to the channel, not show a black screen with a blue box, telling me what’s on that I’m not seeing yet for another few seconds. (The same thing happens when I change channels.)

I’m wondering if television providers aren’t going to have to reengineer their equipment for millennials, so that instead of channel numbers assigned to frequencies, they’re assigned to streams. Channel 2 would be whatever MSNBC.com is streaming, Channel 3 FOX, etc.

Mike Weaver: I think it was around 1997 when I last paid for cable.  Maybe 1996.  I got in a huge argument with my roommate, which basically ended with me refusing to pay in to cable.  He said, “Fine, but don’t let me catch you watching TV.”  I told him not to worry, he wouldn’t.  It was hard at first, but once I left that apartment and didn’t have to deal with that guy again, I realized I didn’t really need cable.  These days, I want it even less, since I get NFL games free on my phone and I’m probably going to pay into the MLB “Network” so I can watch my beloved Tigers on a variety of devices for a fraction of the cost of cable.

I haven’t had a problem with video downgrade, and I have a pretty slow internet connection.  Sometimes if I try to stream something that’s HD off Amazon it hangs a lot, but anything in standard resolution is fine, and standard resolution is fine by me.  I think what we’re going to see is a lot of the sports companies and premium channels putting out their own network via the web, and cable companies will basically have nothing that they can claim is exclusive to them anymore.  The WWE and MLB already do this on the sports side, and HBO is doing it with HBO Go.  I think cable is going to go the way of the video rental store.

Mike Maillaro: I actually am surprised that more of the bigger cable stations aren’t going the way of HBO Go.  Most of what I watch on cable is on just a very small handful of channels.  That is why Sling really appeals to me. Between Hulu and Sling, I would basically be able to watch everything I watch now except for BBC America.

I actually wonder what will happen to the vast wasteland of cable companies if more people decided to buy their entertainment a la carte.  Channels that are basically only hanging on because they get crumbs from people who would never watch the channel, but also haven’t quite cut the cord yet.

The other side of this conversation is Netflix and Amazon pushing forward on doing their own shows.  The critical darling shows that used to be on HBO and A+E are now popping up directly on Netflix.  House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Daredevil are just some recent examples.  “Off-Cable” shows are even starting to win a lot of the Emmys.  To me, this is only going to continue in the coming years.   Though I am real curious how they can monetize those shows.   

R.J. Carter: I’ve really got to start filing patents (or quit musing out loud) because I said ten years ago that shows that had a niche market of fans but got cancelled from television could conceivably find a new life via production directly to the Internet. (If anyone starts mass-producing movies straight to USB data sticks, that’s mine!) And now, as you say, we have Netflix and Amazon doing just that.

So long as local broadcasters get into the game of constant live streaming, it’s pretty much inevitable that televisions are going to become dust collectors. But the real impact is going to be on the actors and producers. Cable already provides people with almost 200 choices (roughly, and admittedly some of that is just music, and some of that is four more versions of the same channel in different qualities or languages).  What happens when it’s all Internet, and the choices are infinite? How can you even begin to measure market shares in that landscape?

Marshall McLuhan was right -- television will indeed become a vast landscape; but not because of its content, but because of it’s complete lack thereof.

Mike Maillaro:  Yeah, I still do use my television, but it’s becoming more and more of a real big monitor every day.  My kids pretty much only watch shows off our Roku through Amazon or Netflix (their newest obsession is old episodes of Rugrats on Amazon).  And there are quite a few times lately, I have just run an HDMI wire from my laptop to the TV so we could watch things off the internet.  Even for more...adult...entertainment, my wife and I have been using the laptop plugged into the TV lately.

I still do have a few shows that I DVR, but that is mostly just because of laziness. Every month, my wife tells me to cancel the cable, and I end up forgetting.    Kind of a pathetic reason to spend $150 or so a month, but I always try to be honest with the readers.

Nicole Crites: I hope to see TV a la carte 5 years from now.  Streaming from any device.  It’s my perspective of what this generation expects. I do have cable TV right now, but that’s because I refuse to torrent or watch illegal streams, and I’m not giving up being up-to-date on The Walking Dead and my favorite HBO shows (though now HBO Now is available on Apple devices and no longer requires someone to have cable to get HBO GO).  I’m a minority, though, amongst my friends who are all in their late twenties who do not have cable.  They use Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu+ or mooch from their friends who have cable (like me).  

And the reason that I feel the need to be up-to-date on tv shows rather than lagging behind using Netflix or another service is because networks are smart and make fully interactive events out of their shows.  Take The Walking Dead for example.  We have live tweeting, live quizzes, and an hour long live show devoted to discussing the episode immediately afterwards.  The following day at the office, at least one person asks if you’ve watched the episode yet.  Many of my coworkers watch it the following night and must endure a day of avoiding social media and others who want to give you a run down on their thoughts whether you’ve seen it or not.  

Half the fun of watching TV for me is talking to others about it.  I enjoy mulling over the details and predicting what might happen next.  I will admit I’m a redditor who goes to to the internet to get my full fix of an episode in the dark depths of the subreddit forums.  Many of us will delve deeply into the content and pick it apart looking for any easter eggs, symbolism, and to remind each other of any pithy quotes that need to be preserved.  Since the majority of my friends aren’t up-to-date with current TV, I don’t have that opportunity with them which is why I think TV and the networks will change to include them in the future.