The transition by broadcasters and pay TV operators from traditional services delivered to TV set-top boxes, to multiscreen distribution, seems to have created a two-headed beast with respect to video quality assurance.
On one hand, monitoring for MPEG delivery to STBs involves comparison of the source video before and after encoding, monitoring for data communications errors in transmission, and evaluation of the video after processing or delivery: characteristics like clarity, chroma, luma, A/V sync, the integrity of closed captions, plus things like channel-change latency and so on.
On the other hand, monitoring of adaptive bit-rate (ABR) streaming is more about determining buffering time, rebuffing and freezes, DRM errors, how often the stream changed video profiles adaptively, whether or not the viewer abandoned or completed the video – all of which are more transactionally-oriented. Of course, the data generated by this kind of monitoring is also useful to marketers (and not just to video and network engineers)
In reality, end users generally are not aware of the technologies that make their video experiences possible, nor should they care. Therefore, video providers must take an ecosystem approach that helps ensure the quality and continuity of the overall consumer experience, regardless of delivery or the nature of the end user device.
As it turned out, the first 4K content was distributed over adaptive streaming. But 4K, by definition, is high resolution, and to the end user, it doesn’t matter that the distribution was ABR.
So, in reality, the considerations inherent in the ‘two-headed beast’ of traditional and streaming video quality assurance are really one. The preservation of content integrity during transmission (QoS), the perceived quality at the consumer device (QoE), and whether or not the experience had continuity are equally important. And no matter how the video is delivered, monitoring gives video providers more tools to attract advertisers.
My Spring 2017 report for SNL Kagan, on Multiscreen Video Quality Assurance provides further details and analysis of this situation.
Although 2016 was generally a good year for technology, I do have a few bones to pick about Apple. Hence, my first annual 2016 Apple ‘What were they thinking?’ blog post.
My “Baker’s” Top Ten list:
1) New MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar, which is the signature feature of the higher-end models. It’s dim and difficult to see, even under lesser indoor room illumination; and there’s no way to adjust its brightness manually.
2) New MacBook Pro: No real-world connectivity except for WiFi, BlueTooth and two or four USB-C ports. Meaning that you need adapters for Ethernet, external display or projectors, and no SD memory card slot, which are useful (required) in Enterprise market,
3) New MacBook Pro: No Magsafe connector, so now, after a ten year hiatus, people can again bring their machines crashing to the floor when they trip over the power cord,
4) New MacBook Pro: Does not incorporate the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor. People buy this machine for a 4-5 year lifecycle, and part of that is to buy the latest possible processor. The only reason I can think of, for why Apple opted for a previous-generation processor, was to boost 2016 revenue for the MacBook Pro line,
5) New MacBook Pro: No optical (CD/DVD-R) drive. Even though these have been missing on the MacBook Pro for a few years, I’m not real happy about having to use an external DVD/CD drive to back up my machine onto physical media, which I still do every so often,
6) iPhone 7: No headphone jack, end of story. Hope that Apple keeps the 6s around for a while longer,
7) iOS: Apple conditions users to use the button in the upper right to go “back” – except for voicemail, where the UI in that position is for changing your voicemail greeting,
8) iOS: Why does Apple insist on hiding elements of the UI that are useful, like the Search box and the ‘Back’ arrow in the browser?
9) iOS: Users have to shift to the alternate keyboard for the @, which is only the most used character on the Internet. Really?
10) iOS: Apple ‘expires’ old versions of iOS too quickly, even when the new ones are known buggy. Yes, you can download older OS versions, but as soon as the installer program pings Apple, the installation process is halted.
And just like a “Baker’s Dozen,” where you get 13 for the price of 12, here’s the rest of my Baker’s Ten:
11) Software stability: iOS 10.2 broke several of my apps. iOS 10.2 also apparently shuts down some iPhone models when the battery level reaches 30%. iOS 9 was problematic too.
12) Technical support: Neither an AppleCare phone support rep nor any of the Genius Bar staff in my local Apple store could confirm whether a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter could be used to connect and migrate my software and content from my old Mac to the new one – and told me to use WiFi. I had to buy the Ethernet adapter and try – thankfully it worked fine.
I waited for a long time before buying a new MacBook Pro, hoping for better. But given the first five items in my list, I went ahead and bought a 2015 model instead, which still has at least the first three. The 2015 model is sufficient for my purposes, has fast solid state storage, the screen is beautiful, and it has the connectivity I need (with the exception of the optical drive)
After Steve Jobs returned to the company 20 years ago and Apple had its long series of successes with the iMac, iPod, and all the other iDevices, it hurts to think that the post-Jobs Apple has again lost its way.
Just as was the case pre-Jobs’ return, Apple again has many Mac models on the showroom floor, with little to differentiate many of them. Who remembers the Mac Performa, Quadra, Centris, LC, Macintosh II, and Classic, which were all available at the same time. Bewildering. Much like the current MacBook line-up. Too many models, and many of them don’t quite fit.
A letter recently arrived by postal mail, telling me that I had a copyrighted image on my Web site. Many companies and individuals use images on Web sites that they find online. Adding a caption that attributed the image to its source was not enough.
Today it was followed up by an email, below. I write analysis about the use of watermarks and fingerprinting to detect the use of copyrighted content, which I imagine was used in my case; so this incident brought it all home! Despite having taken the image down after receiving the initial letter, I still had to pay a license fee.
The moral of the story: Make sure you have clear rights (and license) before you use someone else’s content. Come to think of it, I would expect the same if it were my content.
October 5, 2016
Via physical mail and email
Advanced Media Strategies LLC
P.O. Box: 717
Ravensdale, Washington 98051
Unauthorized Use of (Name of the copyright holder) – Reference Number: XXX
(Our agency) provides copyright compliance services to third party content owners, including (the copyright holder). We recently sent you a notice that imagery represented by (copyright holder) was being used on your company’s website; however this matter remains unresolved.
According to (copyright holder’s) records, there is no valid license issued to your company for the use of that imagery.
Use of imagery managed by (this copyright holder) without a valid license is considered copyright infringement and entitles (copyright holder) to seek compensation for infringing uses (Copyright Act, Title 17, United States Code). The cost of settlement for past usage of the imagery on your company’s website is $xxx.
To Resolve This Matter – (Reference Number):
You are requested to take one of the following actions within 14 days of the date of this correspondence, as follows:
- If your company possesses a valid license … (and) the matter will be closed.
- If your company does not hold a valid license or other authorization for the use of the imagery, please remove the imagery referenced at the end of this correspondence and remit the settlement payment of $xxx.
Please be aware that removal of the imagery alone will not resolve this issue; we require payment of a settlement for past usage even after you have removed the image.
You may have been unaware that this imagery was subject to copyright. However, copyright infringement can occur regardless of knowledge or intent. Being unaware of license requirements does not change liability….”
(Further reference information followed, with a link to the offending image).
Cable & Satellite International asked me to contribute my thoughts after the 2016 IBC conference in Amsterdam.
The article is available online via CSI’s Web site.
The promises made by technological progress and the industry consolidation of recent years are finally coming to fruition. Video delivery frameworks now can reside at the customer premises, in the public cloud, in a private cloud, or in a combination thereof. The major video security platforms can be software, hardware, or a combination. Because service delivery can be built around common management and video security platforms, multi-screen delivery challenges have largely been solved. The remaining challenges revolve around implementing the video player, and video encoding in the cloud.
Two areas that I found to be very interesting, but still flying a bit under the radar for most operators, are video quality assurance and truly integrated video content security. Multi-screen service and adaptive streaming have had a huge impact on both of these. Each requires an ecosystem approach and each of them benefits from having comprehensive management frameworks.
By the end of the week, this IBC showed that the vendor community is meeting challenges better than ever, to help operators meet consumer needs and better meet consumer expectations.
China has more IPTV subscribers than any other country in the world, and IPTV is available to millions of households nationwide. At the 2016 Huawei Global Analyst Summit this Spring, Mr. Jie Feng, CTO of China Telecom Sichuan Branch, explained how its own IPTV service has changed the DNA of his organization.
Traditionally, competition among communications carriers in China has been about providing bandwidth at the lowest possible price. On the mobile side, the three major mobile carriers in Sichuan Province are in a price war: the price for 700mb of data plus 200 minutes of voice service from Sichuan Mobile is equivalent to US$14/month, while Sichuan Unicom and Sichuan Telecom were at US$12 and US$13 respectively. The result is low customer loyalty and greater customer retention costs. In 2011, revenue was growing at a rate of more than 13 percent, but by mid-2013, growth was down to just over 8 percent.
The management of China Telecom Sichuan Province decided that a different approach was needed. Instead of joining the voice and data price war, it would focus its attention on providing Video First. Broadband has long been a national priority in China, not only for the benefit of consumers, but also to attract private investment and accelerate industrial growth. Because China Telecom has rich experience in the fixed broadband business, the company already had the foundation to differentiate itself from its mobile competitors by bringing video to as many consumers as possible.
To accomplish this Video First strategy, a new “Zero, One, Two” business model was put in place, where there is Zero cost for video as a basic service, Internet access over One fiber connection to the home, plus Two smartphones. Unlike the competition, Zero, One, Two enables China Telecom to appeal to the entire household, all for a single price. To support the transformation toward video as a basic service, China Telecom also transformed its organization by combining its TV Broadband, Multimedia, and New Media Operations departments, and placing them under unified management and operations.
By 2015, China Telecom had deployed a full optical network with 90% coverage. Traditional local exchange switches have all been shut down, and voice is all over IP. It took just 330 days from Sichuan Province to go from one to 21 fully-optical cities. In September 2015, the Sichuan government held a ceremony celebrating that it had become the first fully optical province in China. While some construction still remains in remote areas, coverage in cities in 2016 was greater than 98%.
At more than 9 million subscribers, China Telecom Sichuan Branch operates one of the largest IPTV deployments in the world. To provide high definition television, 4K ultra HD and Blu-ray video content, the operator built its ultra broadband metro networks to support 100mbps access. China Telecom also decided that CDN was integral, so it could accommodate not just traditional broadcast video, but also streaming video over the Internet. A three-tier CDN architecture was built, at the province-wide level, in municipalities and in areas that had marginal coverage. To meet the demands of its consumers, China Telecom Sichuan Branch opened its network platform to business partners. Content includes live TV such as China Central Television (CCTV), as well as video on demand, music and games.
Devices are also an important element. Before China Telecom Sichuan Branch placed video in its list of basic services, the operator certified full 4K set-top boxes, a first for any Telco worldwide. Then, there’s a feature called Home & Love. While consumers in other cultures tend to communicate mobile-to-mobile, China Telecom recognized that many younger Chinese consumers rely upon video to communicate with family members far away, so Home & Love enables video calling from Handset-to-Handset, Handset-to-TV, and TV-to-TV.
“We know there are high requirements,” said Mr. Feng. “If there are interruptions or pixilation, we will get calls. So over the past 3 years, we have been developing an end-to-end system for video quality maintenance, from user through the operator’s network. We also are striving for zero configuration of the home gateway and set-top box, and zero verification of quality. We have automatic fault-finding: currently our system can find errors in the home, in the optical modem, and in the network, so it’s an end-to-end system.”
China Telecom’s rigorous standards have been paying off. Installations have increased by four times. Fault isolation has increased by 10%, and customer satisfaction has gone up 12%. The company knows that customer satisfaction can increase greatly if they can identify and deal with problems before customers see them.
“If we can become pro-active, not passive, and forecast the user experience before the complaints come,” said Mr. Feng, “it will help a lot. We will continue to push the border of our video services and become a global leading operator.” China Telecom Sichuan Branch is already well on its way.
We all know about ‘Over the Top,’ where an online video provider circumvents or disintermediates a pay TV operator (while using the operator’s own network to deliver said video). Then there’s ‘TV Everywhere,’ in which pay TV content providers require users to associate themselves with their pay TV subscriptions or, no play.
Through the Middle
A third online video service model is where a pay TV operator enters into a relationship with an OTT provider or online aggregator and exposes the online service within its pay TV experience. In other words, not OTT or TVE, but “through the middle,” or “TTM.”
At first, it sounds like a gimmick – some kind of desperation move by the pay TV provider to give frustrated subscribers one more reason not to cut the cord. But let’s look a little further…
TTM: A little background
In March 2014, the Danish broadband provider Waoo! introduced Netflix from within its pay TV user interface, through the middle. Here’s a demo video (in Danish).
This is enabled through the integration of software from Netflix, Nordija and Airties, which are Waoo!’s TV middleware and set-top box suppliers, respectively.
DISH embraced TTM too
In December 2014, DISH Network introduced Netflix integration as well. DISH’s implementation is different from Waoo!’s. While Waoo! dedicated a button to Netflix in its main menu, DISH placed Netflix within the electronic program guide, which made Netflix “just another channel.”
So now, I can access Netflix using the same method of access as DISH uses for video on demand.
TTM’s not a gimmick
Again, I thought “it’s a gimmick.” Until I decided to try it. If you own a streaming video player, you’ve probably been through a drill that goes something like this:
- Turn on the TV set (using either the pay TV STB remote or the TV set’s own remote)
- Locate the streaming video player’s remote, press the button to activate it
- Locate your TV set’s remote, and change the input from your pay TV set-top box, to the streaming video player
- Navigate the video player’s menus to the Netflix application, and activate the app
- Navigate the Netflix thumbnails, using up/down/right/left on the streaming player’s remote, or locate the search field and use the text search character matrix.
- Watch videos on Netflix
- Grab the TV’s remote and switch the input back to your pay TV set-top box
- (…At which point, we’ve used at least two different user interfaces – that of your streaming player and Netflix.’ Plus, perhaps, the TV set’s own UI – and as many as three different remote controls)
- (…At which point, my wife asks me to call someone for technical support – but who?)
Compare this classic early-adopter experience with DISH’s TTM experience
- Turn on the TV, using the DISH remote
- Bring up the EPG and navigate to Channel 370
- Press the center button to enter Netflix.
- The Netflix user experience takes over (DISH can’t be held responsible for Netflix’ unusable search and recommendation capabilities)
- Hit Cancel, Cancel, Cancel… to back out of Netflix and return to DISH
- (…at which point we used one remote control and two UIs: that of DISH and that of Netflix)
The first time you access Netflix via the DISH EPG, you must enter your Netflix ID and passcode. Any subsequent use of Netflix goes right from the EPG to Netflix, with no login needed.
Has someone already decided that TTM is too good to be true?
I was initially motivated to write this article because Zatz Not Funny published a report that the YouTube and Amazon apps were being removed from the TiVo Series 2 and Series 3 DVRs, as of April 15. Sure enough, TiVo confirms this. Because the apps reside on the TiVo box, this is really another version of Through the Middle.
I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Amazon and YouTube were starting to get choosy about their distribution channels – and that TTM might just be a fleeting phenomenon as different content providers contend against one another to be the one on top. Or as my wife’s dad used to say: “If it’s any good, they’ll stop making it!”
As it turns out, the moves by Amazon and YouTube are simply because the TiVo 2- and 3-Series are old, and the app developers made the choice not to support them anymore. In fact, video apps from Amazon, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu (and others) are all key selling points for TiVo’s current Roamio DVR, and surely these video providers must appreciate having access to TiVo’s subscribers.
Not long ago, an industry friend of mine told me that Netflix had been in a pay TV operator’s EPG, but had pulled out. But the reason that Netflix and the pay TV provider went their separate ways was because Netflix wanted more control over the user experience.
So, these weren’t cases of competitive wrangling or channel conflict at all. One was about discontinuing support for old devices, and the other was about a content provider trying to maintain its look and feel across any device environment.
TTM is BoBW
Pay TV operators that integrate their services with TiVo can choose whether or not to expose TiVo’s OTT apps through the middle, but that’s also another story. In those cases, the pay TV operator is calling the shots, which brings us full circle back to the debate as to whether OTT is a threat or an opportunity for operators.
In the end, I view ‘Through the Middle’ is BoBW (the Best of Both Worlds) as a consumer retention tool for pay TV. But I think it’s more because of the added convenience, and it’s a tacit admission by pay TV operators that OTT can be a friend and isn’t a threat.
[ Side note: This topic takes us into a whole 'nother discussion about where the pay TV provider's user experience leaves off, and where the OTT (TTM) provider's UEx takes over. I promise an article about this soon. ]
It’s an easy trap to fall into: to be so distracted by goings-on in what have traditionally been the world’s largest pay TV and online video markets that we miss what’s going on in the rest of the world.
Case in point is India. Five to ten years ago, it was easy to dismiss India as a yet-to-emerge market for pay TV. There was a vague assumption that IP video might succeed over mobile, but not anytime soon. And because per-subscriber revenue is so low, the conventional wisdom among infrastructure providers was that India wasn’t particularly worth their attention anyway.
Fast forward to the present day: India’s TV and online video industries are super-active, white-hot. Last summer, Hong Kong-based Media Partners Asia estimated that pay TV in India would grow at a 11% per year through 2018, driven by rising ARPU.
Just during the first calendar quarter of 2015 alone:
- India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued operating licenses to 11 TV operators between November 2014 and January 2015, and then another 11 between January and early March. In that short period, it represents about 15 percent of the total number of operators in the country (153 total, as of March 10)
- Operators are adding new TV channels at a rapid pace. Tata Sky announced that its move to MPEG-4 is making room for 20 new channels. The same operator launched 4K set-top boxes early in 2015.
- Outside media companies see India as a new market opportunity for their programming. Turner announced the launch of its Toonami channel with five operators in February. Online video provider Hungama.com is adding Disney and Marvel content.
- New online video providers are also coming on the scene. Viral Fever launched on online movie service, while Culture Machine, which distributes content over YouTube, raised US18M to fund its network of 400 India-based media brands and independent content providers.
- Graphic India raised about U$3M from the Asian investment arm of Chernin Media, which is also noteworthy because Chernin has a content partnership with AT&T (my guess is that this could help fuel a future AT&T ‘International’ content offering in the US).
- New operators and broadcasters are also raising money: One operator, Ortel Communications, raised INR1.75B (about US$28M) in March. India-based Zee Media is offering 108M shares in its IPO, and is launching its &TV service in the UK in combination with the trivia app QuizUP on April 6.
- New video advertising networks are coming on the scene, with launches by Komli Media and Seventynine, which offers an in-app advertising platform and advertising SDK for mobile video.
And of course, infrastructure providers are striking while the iron is hot:
- Verimatrix announced a video security win with Vuclip, a mobile VOD service available in India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East
- Ericsson, Cisco, and Elemental Technologies all announced operator wins for their 4K-capable video encoding platforms
- Cisco also announced a win for its Videoscape multiscreen service delivery platform, with DTT operator Videocon 2dh.
- Companies like Micromax are introducing Android-based 4K/UHD TVs in India, although consumer uptake for 4K in India is likely to be sluggish.
- Amagi is winning deals with video content providers for its Cloudport cloud-based online video system
- Technicolor is considering making video technology acquisitions in the country.
- Home-grown infrastructure providers are emerging. New Delhi-based Chrome Data has announced an anti-piracy service to fight cable signal theft. Multivert India has partnered with Video Propulsion to offer low-cost headend equipment.
In short, the entire video industry ecosystem is thriving there.
If nothing else, this situation has prompted me adjust my perception as to which pay TV market might be the biggest one right now. If not from a revenue perspective, then at least in terms of opportunity and potential.
This article owes a major tip of the hat to NexTV India.
On March 12, 2015, the FCC published its 300-page-plus Net Neutrality ruling, titled In the Matter of Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet: Report and Order on Remand, Declatory Ruling and Order.
As expected, Republicans in Congress immediately threatened to undermine it. US Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and two Congressional colleagues announced their objections the same day.
Another US Representative, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) exclaimed that “Trying to regulate or reclassify the Internet has as much support as transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States. Both proposals are net losers that need to be retired once and for all.” She is co-sponsor of an anti-Net Neutrality bill, HR4070, The Internet Freedom Act, which is currently before the 113th Congress.
Was the FCC strong-armed?
Republicans believe that President Obama inappropriately influenced FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Net Neutrality. So far, Republicans in Congress have scheduled five hearings into the matter:
- US House Oversight Committee, March 17
- US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, March 18
- US House Energy & Commerce Committee, March 19
- US House Appropriations Committee, March 24
- US House Judiciary Committee, March 25
This week, The Washington Post reported that the FCC’s Inspector General, who is named by the FCC Chairman, has opened an internal investigation. On March 17, US House Communications and Technology Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) released a draft bill to reauthorize the FCC. One of its stipulations is to make this Inspector General independent of the agency.
While the Republicans are firm in their convictions, others believe that this situation simply repeats a tactic that they’ve used since the days of Ken Starr and Whitewater, and most recently after the killing of the US Ambassador in Benghazi Libya: conduct endless hearings to create the appearance of a criminal situation where none actually exists.
Perhaps a better tactic would be to do a little research about the legislators initiating these hearings, to see where their campaign donations come from.
The FCC goes to the movies
I’m reminded of two movie references, the obvious one being The Empire Strikes Back. Just before the the FCC’s vote, Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai even quoted Emperor Palpatine, saying “Young fool… Only now, at the end, do you understand,” imagining that someday, people would look back wistfully upon the decision with regret that they didn’t stop it when they could.
But perhaps more aligned with America’s political climate, there’s also that charming character from the last scene of Pixar’s The Incredibles.
Apple announced a new MacBook computer this week, during a press event that also provided the release date and pricing details for the upcoming Apple Watch. Everyone seemed to agree that the MacBook is a beautiful thing.
But why this machine?
I wish I could be more delicate, but the MacBook impresses me as being a totally unnecessary product. It might be a good ‘casual user’ machine: sufficient for accessing the Web, watching (cat) videos and for short emails perhaps? But so is the iPad. It might be a good “Office” machine: good for making presentations, writing, working on budgets. But so is the MacBook Air, which is less expensive and much more powerful. Instead, Apple seems to have aimed it at the less expensive Chromebook Pixel.
This was a major lost opportunity for Apple. It could have been the one form-factor that Apple is missing – the one that would have addressed the three things that the Microsoft Surface has over the iPad. The MacBook could have had a full computer operating system (as opposed to iOS), the ability to remove the keyboard portion so it could function as a tablet, and a port for file transfer and peripherals. These could have made the MacBook an instant hit. Instead, it has a mobile processor and people are already complaining about the keyboard.
I also immediately imagined a folder-like leather cover that would go behind the screen portion and under the keyboard portion. With the screen removed, the part of the cover that went behind the screen would simply fold down over the keyboard to protect it.
My first impression of the Apple Watch is that its not something that was designed for the ages. Luxury watches are designed as heirlooms and have century-long life expectancies, not 18-months.
Apple could still pull off a coup for $10,000-to-$17,000 Apple Watch Edition buyers if its Applecare extended warranty were to consist of replacing the electronics every couple of years. That would also reinforce the notion of Apple as a luxury brand. Or, instead of doing it under Applecare, just do it for free. The electronics probably cost less than $100 under mass production – the BOM (bill of materials) cost is probably much lower than a smartphone. iPhone 5S’ BOM was $199. It would be a pretty small percentage of the price.
But are they jewelry?
If Apple intended the new MacBook to be “jewelry,” it’s too big for a lady to carry in her pocketbook. And as for the Apple Watch. I imagine that it will sell, but not in Version 1.0. Too big. One of the appeals of the FitBit is its size and light weight. Once Apple manages to skinny down the electronics, then yes maybe.
As counter intuitive as it may seem, the emerging range of online video services might give pay TV subscribers little incentive to cut the cord, reunite existing cord-cutters back with pay TV, and even start driving would-be cord-nevers to adopt pay TV.
The conventional wisdom about OTT has been that the cost of online TV would be much lower than for traditional pay TV. Along comes DISH Network’s Sling TV, which only seems to reinforce that point. Comparing Sling TV’s $20/month with the typical entry-level pay TV package at $40/month – excluding monthly service and equipment fees – seems to bear that out.
Or does it?
A reality-check against the conventional wisdom
For the first time, there are enough actual online TV services that it’s becoming possible to make an objective comparison. So, let’s compare:
Basic Pay TV (for about $40 per month)
- Broadcast networks: CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox
- Networks found on pay TV: AMC Networks, CBS, Discovery Communications, The Walt Disney Company, Netwarko Grupo (Latino), Scripps Networks, Time Warner, Viacom and others
Online TV (…for about $40 per month!)
- DISH Sling TV ($20/month): AMC Networks, Disney/ABC, Netwarko Grupo, Scripps Networks, Time Warner
- Sony Playstation Vue (TBD, but let’s say $20/month): CBS, Discovery, Fox, NBC Universal, Scripps, Time Warner, Viacom
- Broadcast networks (live linear): Sony will offer CBS and Fox linear feeds in selected local markets.
- Or in place of Sony, you can opt for a combination of CBS All Access (which offers CBS linear feeds) plus HBO’s upcoming direct-to-consumer online TV service; probably for about the same $20/mo.
You might have noticed that Sling TV’s programming and Sony’s are almost mutually exclusive. They have only Scripps and Time Warner in common. So, an online-only subscriber who wants to come at all close to replicating a traditional MVPD’s line-up would need both DISH and Sony.
Is price the right metric for comparison?
My comparison make it look as if there’s price parity between online and pay TV, but this is not a truly fair comparison. Pay TV’s $40/mo for pay TV excludes monthly equipment rental and service fees; which bring it to about $60-70/month. Not to mention what the price might rise to after the new-subscriber promotional period wears off.
Okay: $60-$70/mo for pay TV, versus $40/mo for online. But unless the online subscriber abandons their Netflix, Hulu and/or Amazon Instant Video (or Prime) accounts – and many online subscribers take two or even all three of those, at about $10 each per month, plus or minus – the price comparison again comes closer to parity. (And let’s also acknowledge that $60-$70 price points are a lot higher than many of us envisioned…)
Both may taste great, but one may be less filling
Purely on the basis of the number of available channels, pay TV wins. Compare the lineups and prices from Comcast, AT&T U-verse and DISH Network (not SlingTV) with those from SlingTV and Sony Playstation Vue. Add all of the local and independent channels, and live local sports programming that you don’t get online.
One might protest that you can fill the local sports gap with online programming from professional sports leagues. But MLB.TV blocks programming for local games, in order to drive people back to local broadcast or pay TV. This may change, but for now, that’s the way it is. Plus, my local MLB games are included with my pay TV subscription, but MLB.TV starts at $19.95 per month. Yikes!
This situation makes me wonder: was it the plan all along to drive people back to pay TV? In the end, there may be very little incentive for pay TV subscribers to cut the cord, and very little reason for cord-nevers not to ultimately adopt the pay TV cord. DISH Network, for one, might be quite pleased with such a turn of events – and maybe this was DISH’s objective all along.
It comes down to priorities. Would you be satisfied enough with the limited lineups of online TV, and okay with filling the gaps with services from individual networks? Many people are. Many people are not.
Is TV having a dialectical moment?
In the discipline of philosophy, there is a method of resolving disagreements, called the dialectic process, which consists of a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis. Here, the thesis has been that OTT would drive people from pay TV. The antithesis has been the empire striking back, that pay TV would have sufficient value stem cord-cutting.
But this also can take an entirely different direction. The synthesis might be the emergence of the “hybrid subscriber,” in which one might take pay TV for local news and live sports, plus whatever else they get with the lowest cost basic subscription, and then get his or her premium content online from Hulu and perhaps HBO. In any of these scenarios, the alternatives might add up pretty close: a cord-never might end up paying the same as a pay TV subscriber would pay.