The Scary <s>Future</s> Present of TV

Back in 2013, I had a conversation with cmatta about what I thought was the scary inevitable future of streaming companies vertically integrating into content producers. I kept meaning to write up a blog entry. Here we are, now, 6 years later, and the future I saw is now the present, so I will just copy and paste some excerpts from the conversation, and you’ll just have to believe I was as prescient as I claim I was.

I need to write a post about why House of Cards and Arrested Development scare me

Picture a world where Comcast made some shows and RCN made other shows and each one of a dozen cable companies each made their own shows

And none of them carried each others shows

That world would be really terrible

Instead of actual openness, it’s just a different kind of closedness, and it’s about the same amount of money but a lot more annoying

It’s only Netflix and Hulu right now

I’m extrapolating out a decade

There’ll be dozens of these providers all with mutually exclusive shows and streaming mechanisms

It’ll be a nightmare for the user

And you’ll be saving like 10%

It depends on what I think Netflix and Hulu and Amazon are going to do as these things get more popular, and I don’t think it is “cooperate”

And then I’ll have to have 20 different accounts to watch the one good show on each of the 20 distributors

You’ll be paying about the same – $40-80 a month, but it’ll be harder because you’re paying a bunch of different places

And the punchline:

cmatta: write this up, i'd be happy to have a longer-form discussion on this

me: I will, you’re ON, MATTA

I post this now, because there’s now not just Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, all with great exclusive originals, but also CBS All Access if you want to watch Star Trek Discovery and the upcoming Picard show. And HBO Now for Game of Thrones. And soon you’ll need Disney+ if you want to watch anything Marvel or Star Wars or Fox (like The Simpsons or Futurama). And Apple is getting into the original content business, too.

That’s potentially 7 different monthly bills where just 10 years ago you’d pay one company and be done with it. Forget the days when all your TV would just work, today there’s a question if the world’s biggest content producer’s new service will work on the world’s biggest tech company’s streaming device. The content is better than it was then, without a doubt, and the ability to watch whenever (I’m old enough to have programmed a VCR in my life) but the experience as a consumer is worse.

I cancelled my MLB.TV

For the past two years, I’ve subscribed to MLB.TV. It allowed me to stream baseball games to my computer and my TV, and was a way better value proposition than getting the expensive cable package that would have provided me with NESN (the Red Sox’s local network). But I will not be subscribing for the 2013 season. It’s not because I’m no longer a Red Sox fan. It’s not because I’m not interested in watching their games. It’s because I’m sick of jumping through hoops to avoid their stupid blackout restrictions. If I was a Phillies fan, I could watch all of their games (except when they were playing the Red Sox). If I was a Red Sox fan from California, I’d be fine, too (unless the Sox were visiting the Giants or some such).

But because I live in the Red Sox’s “home television territory”, I’m unable to watch any of their games, both at home and away, without resorting to using proxies. Paying nearly a hundred dollars a year for the right to not get to watch any of the games I care about is very stupid. These are based on ancient cable contracts, I’m certain, but MLB has the upper hand in these negotiations. Are the networks really going to say “nevermind, we won’t show your games” if MLB insists on allowing paying customers to watch even local games online?

Until Major League Baseball joins us in the 21st century with their blackout restrictions, I’m not going to be paying for MLB.TV anymore. I’ll just have to enjoy the game at a bar, where Major League Baseball will get none of my dollars.