Henry Blodget Is Absolutely Wrong About Television's Death

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- While I accept that I could be the man hurling rocks on a Billy Joel album cover, I often wonder if Henry Blodget -- a man whose success motivates me daily -- thinks through some of the theses he fires off at the wall.

Last June at Business Insider, Blodget argued that the television business was "starting to collapse." A few days later, I wrote a retort, which was pretty much ignored (do I need any more motivation?). In Rumors of Television's Death Are Premature (I probably just needed a better title), I took Blodget to task on two primary counts:

1. He used the decline of the newspaper to predict the death of television, particularly things like networks and cable subscriptions, at the hands of cord-cutting and new ways of viewing.

2. He ignores the reality that the same companies who control the present dominant model also control the content that fuels most consumption. (Newspapers never controlled content; they merely disseminated it to the masses. They failed to see shifting consumption patterns, thus they died. Old guard media sees the pattern, they have responded to it and effectively own it).

To nutshell it, Blodget makes a great argument if your goal is merely to get people to agree with you. It's a bit like George Bush asking if you hate freedom; few people want to stand up and defend rotten media conglomerates against tortured souls who pay $100 a month for 100 channels, but only watch four of them.

But, as usual, it's not that simple. It's not the dichotomy Blodget makes it out to be. And it's not about this battle Blodget hallucinates of "networks" and "cable operators" vs. Netflix ( NFLX), Apple's ( AAPL) iTunes and a handful of still-standing "uber-networks" such as NBCUniversal (owned by Comcast ( CMCSA)) and Time Warner ( TWX).

Where to begin?

First, with the obvious: You can't bring up Comcast and Time Warner -- two excellent companies -- without mentioning Disney ( DIS) and News Corp ( NWSA). Between these four major players, other large and small content providers they're likely to gobble up and the delivery systems, you have the old guard media.

And, again, these entities control the content. That's an argument I make repeatedly because it gets overlooked thanks, in large part, to Reed Hastings' incredibly effective PR machine at Netflix.

Blodget misses the contextual nuance in a key point Time Warner Cable's ( TWC) Programming Chief Melinda Witmer made a couple of years ago via an excellent quote in The Wall Street Journal:
I don't know what a TV is anymore. It's kind of an anachronistic term.

The old guard knew the score and dictated the rules of engagement two years ago. Don't let Reed Hastings or Henry Blodget fool you. They know the score and dictate the rules of the game today.

While Blodget might be correct that we'll watch less and less television on an actual television set, he's wrong about the death of cable and satellite subscriptions. They're more valuable than he gives them credit for, primarily because you cannot view the most premium content -- live sports, originals from networks such as HBO and first-run stuff the first time it runs or shortly thereafter -- without a subscription. The old guard knows this and, while "television" might die as a word meaning one specific thing, the companies who have always been in the television business will continue thrive for decades, if not forever.

Blodget got it wrong beyond the theoretical-empirical territory I prefer to wade in. Consider some thoughts Richard Tullo, an analyst at Albert Fried, released via an informative and entertaining email note Thursday.

Tullo uses data to debunk Blodget's claims about cord-cutting. He also shoots down the notion that Netflix created "binge viewing." That's just another mix of PR spin, a figment of Reed Hastings' imagination. Tidbits, lightly edited, straight from Tullo's email:
  • Last year great minds in research such as Henry Blodget declared TV was dead. They even talked about the death of cable TV on CNBC so it must be true right?
  • Nine million cable TV unsubscribes failed to manifest and 9% to 21% of all Americans they said would cut the cord are still connected.
  • In fact according to SNL Kagen, the industry added 46,000 subs beating Henry Blodget's claims by more than 9 million.
  • While 46,000 is hardly a big number as compared to the 100 million US homes getting MSO service, it's not as significant as 9 million.
  • We think the media transition from TV to IP will more closely resemble the path of Terrestrial Radio which continued to grow for nearly six decades following the introduction of TV's in the late 1940s.
  • As TV Everywhere is not really everywhere; VOD (Video-On-Demand) is turning out to be the silent revolution in our view.
  • According to Rentrak's Bruce Goerlich, there are 53 million VOD-enabled households watching 8.5 hours of programing per month; 78% of which is free content. Moreover, according to Mr. Goerlich most VOD is T+4 (day of original airing plus four) viewing (meaning delayed and binge watching in our view).
  • Thus NFLX has hardly done anything new or revolutionary as about 40% of all cable subs are watching VOD the same way as subscribers watch NFLX.

So, like yeah, "television" is collapsing or it's dying or it's dead. But big deal? What does that mean? What does that make for other than an alarmist headline "everybody" can blindly fist pump to?

It's not based in reality. The reality that the networks and institutions Blodget claims will die are the entities that exercise almost complete control over what amounts to little more than a changing definition. Dollars will continue to flow from the same pockets -- consumers, advertisers, affiliates, middle men such as Netflix -- to the same pockets -- CMCSA, TWX, NWSA, DIS, etc. -- no matter how or where you're watching content.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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