NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Henry Blodget always provides a good read. However, even if he doesn't mean to be, he's often quite "alarmist."
Last week, Blodget wrote an
for his publication, Business Insider. He opens his argument with a bad analogy.
He compares television to newspapers as society made the shift from hard-copy black and white to multimedia digital. He claims the television business blindly waffles ahead without acknowledging the same type of transformation simply because people still subscribe to cable and advertisers still spend massive amounts of money on the medium.
Blodget then runs down several reasons why what ended up happening to newspapers will happen to TV -- a sleepwalk into the future followed by a massive, sudden decline in revenue. Each point fails to give television executives the credit they deserve.
Television programmers have major advantages over newspapers, and they know it.
Blodget makes one of the biggest mistakes of our time when he discounts the (staying) power and (sustainable) dominance of cable and satellite companies thanks, in large part, to their relationships with content providers ranging from
Unlike newspapers, these companies -- and their larger and smaller peers -- control the content we want to watch. Some even control the delivery systems. Rogers and BCE do in a major way; they
the cable and satellite companies. Newspapers never controlled the franchise new media stole from them -- information.
The digital world did not have to pull a power play to render newspapers obsolete. It was right there for the taking. Newspapers face a need way more desperate than television to make wholesale changes to the business model.
Just because content owners have not asked the public to kill their television sets and told cable and satellite companies to stop sending them subscriber fees each month does not mean they're clueless about a future we can safely assume is digital. In this regard, Blodget misses a crucial point -- the establishment controls the rules of engagement, not new guard streamers and platforms such as
YouTube or even old guard-controlled
Blodget is correct about a multi-platform future. We spread our viewing across devices now. No doubt about it. He's also on the money when he refers to "the very notable exception of live sports" as one of the last examples of watching a television program at its original air time. That's premium content. That's appointment viewing; in other words, you still need to be there, in front of something with a screen, at kickoff, tip-off, first pitch or face-off.
Disney, Time Warner and other American programmers continue to exercise a stranglehold over this type of content. The Canadian government allows Rogers and BCE to take it to an extreme. Not only do they own the rights to the content, they own key broadcast conduits for the content as well as the sports franchises that produce the content and the venues these teams play in.
Certainly in the Canadian scenario, and even still on the domestic landscape, control over this type of content gives the Disneys and Time Warners of the world incredible leverage. Leverage over the consumer as well as leverage over the cable and satellite provider. But it's not simply leverage over the latter; companies such as Disney and Time Warner can keep cable and satellite alive, as we know it, for as long as they want to. They have absolutely no reason not to.
Consider what I wrote on the subject in the following articles:
As I pointed out in the 'Not As Dumb As Netflix' article, fewer than 5% of households have actually cut the cord and rid themselves of cable or satellite. Maybe they keep those clunky subscriptions for the same reasons as the Blodget family, but it's a strong pull.
If you want to duplicate what you receive from a cable or satellite subscription, get ready to pony up for a monthly bill that makes cable look cheap.
Sports alone will do it. You're not going to save a dime by purchasing streaming subscriptions for every sports league you follow. That's a major reason why programmers and cable/satellite TV can hold you hostage.
As far as advertising goes, the future is mobile. I think Blodget agrees with that much. Advertisers will follow the eyes and ears. The companies that provide the platforms, as well as the companies that advertise, will collectively change the way we view advertising. It will be more about branding, less about getting a direct sale from ad campaign X. It will be more about personalized, contextual ads, where the content
the advertisement, less about thoughtless 30-second spots with snappy jingles.
Do not underestimate guys like TWX CEO Jeff Bewkes, who punk-slaps Netflix at every turn; the innovative and creative minds at HBO, who designed and launched HBO GO; the brass at Disney, who makes the coveted ESPN channels available via app; or the top programming executive at
Time Warner Cable
, Melinda Witmer, who
last year that she knows the score:
I don't know what a TV is anymore. It's kind of an anachronistic term.
What a wonderful quote.
Simply put, the television business will not collapse, die or even suffer much, if at all. It will evolve. Take a look around you. It's not too complicated. That evolution has already begun.
Industry doomsayers do not give the old guard enough credit not only for apps like HBO GO and WatchESPN, but for the hardly publicized decision to not sell Hulu. That's an asset traditional programmers should nurture and sit on simultaneously.
It's platforms such as these that dictate the future of television. If the old guard wants to preserve the television networks (i.e., NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX) Blodget thinks will become "obsolete," it will. If it wants to call them something else, it will. Even if we cease to call these things we watch "networks," shows" or "television," the same companies will be the ones calling most of the meaningful shots.
They own and control the content we want to view. At day's end, that's pretty much all that matters. Until that changes, the old guard wins our eyes, our money and billions in advertising dollars.
At the time of publication, the author was long BCE, RCI and TWX
At the time of publication, the author was long BCE, RCI and TWX.