Many of Cable TV's Dumbest Habits Will Make The Leap To Streaming
from the meet-the-new-boss... dept
In many ways, the streaming TV revolution is finally delivering many of the things that consumers had been begging for for years — more flexibility, better customer service, and cheaper overall packages. Thanks to increased competition, streaming is finally forcing the sector to adapt and actually listen to customers. At least for now, when a flood of competitors are jockeying for market share.
At the same time, many of the same annoyances that have frustrated consumers for years will also be making the jump to streaming, including a steady parade of price hikes with little in the way of notable improvements for your purchasing dollar. Annoying “retrans disputes” — where a broadcaster and cable TV provider will bicker over programming and blackout out user content (without refunds) in the process — have also come along for the ride. That’s before you get to ISPs abusing their monopoly power over broadband to disadvantage competitors, the whole reason for the entire net neutrality fracas.
As the EFF’s Katharine Trendacosta correctly notes at Slate, in many ways as the streaming sector consolidates into a few powerful players, consumers will slowly find they’ve traded in old cable TV channel bundles for entirely new “vertical” bundles:
“Instead of the old horizontal bundling?in which cable companies packaged a bunch of channels together so that people paid for some things they weren?t going to watch to get what they were?the new bundling is going to be vertical, where you pay for internet and get a streaming service in return. It?s not just Comcast that?s doing this. AT&T owns HBO, and it?s going to give premium AT&T mobile and broadband customers HBO Max (not to be confused, although you could definitely be forgiven for doing so, with the existing HBO Go and HBO Now apps) bundles at no extra charge.”
AT&T owning both the content and a monopoly over internet access creates a universe of problems, most of which were discussed at the Time Warner merger trial, and then promptly ignored by a comically myopic judge. Layer in the FCC’s decision to kill most of its consumer protection and net neutrality authority over these growing giants at lobbyist behest (not to mention the endless rubber stamps for megamergers), and it shouldn’t be too difficult to see how the new streaming sector will slowly but surely start to look more and more similar to the cable TV offerings we thought we were escaping from.
Ironically the flood of choice in the streaming wars to come (in which too many exclusives are siloed behind too many paywalls) also risks driving users back to piracy, something we’ve been noting for a while:
“Now, instead of paying one cable bill for all the channels, the ones we want and those we don?t, we?re paying for countless individual services just for the one or two programs or movies we want to watch on each of them. And that will bring back piracy, which is bouncing back after having been on the decline for years.
The return to piracy is both a bit of a meme and a bit of a reality. And its return is absolutely the result of a market that giant companies have built to intentionally trap customers into either a single-company ecosystem (one ISP, one easy streaming service) or an annoying, expensive patchwork. And while piracy signals discontent with the system, it?s quite unlikely that these companies will react by changing their approach, let alone lowering prices.
If history is any indication, giants will slowly come to dominate streaming through mergers, anti-competitive behavior, and wealth. There are ways America could fix this (stop rubber stamping mergers, encourage more broadband competition, pass some modest net neutrality and privacy rules protecting consumers from monopolistic behavior), but we’re currently doing the exact opposite. As giants like Comcast NBC Universal, Amazon, and AT&T Time Warner consolidate their power, they’ll engage in all the same lessons of years gone by. When consumers revolt and piracy rates soar as a result, they’ll blame everybody (copyright infringers!) and everything (VPNs!) else for the avoidable problems they created.