NBC Universal Likes To Keep Its Head In The Sand About People Watching TV Online

from the it's-all-a-big-urban-legend dept

While NBC Universal has done a decent job with Hulu, the video streaming site it partially owns, the company still seems to be pretty tone deaf to where the market is heading. Reporter Laura Holson told NBC Universal's president of research, Alan Wurtzel that she had ditched her TV and now watches TV solely via her computer, and his response indicates an unwillingness to believe that such things really happen:
"I hear about people like you," he said, a hint of skepticism in his voice. "But the notion that people have forsaken watching cable and network television is an urban myth."

Then he hissed what sounded vaguely like an insult.

"You probably read."
Yet, it is happening more and more often as it becomes easier than ever to watch TV online. And, that trend is only going to continue, thanks to new technologies and services such as Boxee.

In the end, this is something of an Innovator's Dilemma issue. Yes, the number of folks watching TV via their computers is still quite small, it's getting easier and easier to do so, and the offerings are getting better and better. At some point, the line of "good enough" is crossed, and people start flooding to that offering, and away from the older, more expensive offering. NBC Universal may be brushing off the early adopters as something to sneer at, but it's making a huge mistake if it thinks such things will remain on the fringe.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Stephen, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 3:03pm


    Hulu is going to seriously impair DVD sales for TV shows, in particular those you want to watch just once.

    My wife is the same way: When we got into "Always Sunny in Phil," the most perverse show in history not by Robert Smiegel, we wanted the fourth season On Demand, then she went back to the watch the first three on Hulu. Previously, I'd have bought her the DVDs, just like I bought her those for "Arrested Development," which is also on Hulu. Now that "Star Trek: TOS" is streamed on CBS, my DVDs of the first two seasons are pretty obsolete; I'm certainly not getting season three.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Cipher-0, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 3:30pm

    (no subject)

    Then he hissed what sounded vaguely like an insult. "You probably read."

    Apparently, being smart enough to read is now a bad thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Peter, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 3:39pm

    No TV here.

    I used to watch TV via a tuner box that plugged into my monitor to get some shows over the air, but others I downloaded. After my tuner box fried, I have gone exclusively to downloading my shows.

    I will probably get a TV, but primarily I will watch downloaded programs or DVD/Blu Rays. I will never pay for cable again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Hans, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 3:46pm

    I also watch TV almost exclusively on my laptop. I never really noticed it until recently. Our family still has 2 TV's, both with satellite, but I've been thinking that if I ever lose my job in the current economy, the satellite dishes will the first thing to be thrown overboard. I myself have a few shows that I regularly watch, and I find it much more convenient to download them and watch them when I have the time, rather than switching my schedule around to watch them when they happen to be on the air. 90% of the time when our TV's are on, someone's watching a DVD, rather than a broadcast. Of course if I was a big sports fan, things might be different, since that's the one thing that really needs to be seen live.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Rosetta Stoned, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 4:07pm

    Mom, what's a TV set?

    Same here. I gave away my family's two TV sets earlier this year, intending on buying a brand-new HD set. It hasn't happened yet because we're watching TV on Hulu, renting season-long DVDs from Netflix, or borrowing DVDs from the public library, and watching all of this content on our individual laptops.

    Every time the subject comes up, we agree that the $500 set aside for a brand-new TV set sure sounds like a safety net, especially with one of us out of work. It seems outlandish to blow money on a TV set right now, especially since we're not getting cable TV right away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    bob, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 4:11pm

    Re: (no subject)

    To a TV executive, it is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 4:34pm

    Reading is a bad thing for NBC

    Actually I'd suggest that this guy is probably saying that the reporter spends a significant amount of free time reading recreationaly instead of watching programs on the television.

    The bad thing to sneer at, of course, is that the reporter is not spending all the free time partaking in this guy's product.

    I will say that some of my free time goes towards reading-- but on the other set of monitors in the house.

    But as for taking in moving pictures. I'll agree with the reporter in saying that I'd still take the couch in front of the large screen over the computer chair in front of the small screen. One of my projects is to attach that large screen to an internet-connected computer...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    jessie, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 4:56pm

    No cable

    My roommate and I ditched cable early last year even before the economic downturn simply because with Netflix and TV-on line that we could watch whenever we had time, we were rarely turning on cable any more. My sister and her husband ditched it before we did and my parents are considering it. We can't possibly be that unusual.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Mark Regan, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 4:57pm

    That's Great

    If I understand you correctly, I can cancel my $109/month cable service, and sign up for high speed internet service only, and view tv through boxee (and possibly also sling). That would save me about 40%. And I could likely also do my phone through the internet too. Neat. Anything to cut the cable TV companies out of the loop, because they do not have a CLUE about what good customer service means.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    dkp, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 5:21pm

    Hulu is the future

    I was watching three different tv shows on hulu earlier today goodbye cable

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Luci, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 5:46pm

    Re: That's Great

    Currently, we get our cable, internet, and telephone service through the local Cablesystem provider in a package deal. We could certainly drop the cable, but we'd only save about $20, and honestly I've yet to see my regular shows available online since we don't watch any of the Big Four (ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox). Maybe when our shows are available, it'll be worth it to spend that twenty bucks on cables for the computers to the television, but in the meantime it isn't really a solid choice for everyone..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 5:55pm

    Re: Mom, what's a TV set?

    Ditto, I found watch Hulu and other streaming services much more convenient then watching the broadcast, especially with email notification when new episodes are available. On top of that there are far few commercials so watching is much more enjoyable. The one thing I don't think they've worked out well is targeting commercials (on Hulu) to the correct demographic. I watch Sarah Conner Chronicles and every episode has commercials for things like Swifter and feminine hygiene products. I figure the demographic of this kind of show leans more towards men than women so I think the advertising misses the mark.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Simple Mind, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 6:02pm

    Good Enough

    That line was crossed over a year ago. Most people just aren't aware of it yet, and/or there is inertia with change. The picture quality, player reliability, and amount of content have been good enough for a while and just keep getting better. With netflix, hulu, and the individual sites from nbc, cbs, abc, (etc.) the mainstream is pretty much covered. Cheap computer video cards today plug directly into your hdtv. Or just get a playstation 3 and get a blueray player and game machine as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 9:57pm

    When it comes to TV, as Charlton Heston stated at an NRA convention some years ago "From my cold dead hands..." will my 52" TV replaced by a 20" monitor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    bill, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 10:12pm

    Complete nonsense

    So, apparently this High Def stuff was all for naught?

    Lets see if we have this right. Our family is to give up our 3 62 inch plasmas , download some crapshit recorded stuff and then all the family gather in the darkly lit basement among our D&D paraphenalia and watch a pissant 15 inch laptop screen.

    Now what kind of f**ktard could possible pass that opportunity up.

    Keep telling your selves that the rest of society is just waiting to join you......


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 5th, 2008 @ 11:04pm

    Re: Complete nonsense

    I have a media pc that cost me 300 bucks to build hooked up to my plasma and use a gyration remote to watch 1100 movies via mediaportal (freeware), many of them high def...through my pc. That same pc streams all that media to any pc on my network. What is more, I can check my email, stocks, weather, etc from my couch. I dont think anyone is giving up their plasma for a 15 inch screen. I can switch between movies, find an exact point in my movie within seconds without having to put in a DVD or get off my butt. I have built 7 of these boxes for other people and none of them regret it. The biggest pain is ripping DVD's to put on the hard drive other than that it is easy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    PaulT (profile), Dec 6th, 2008 @ 12:20am

    Re: hulu

    "Hulu is going to seriously impair DVD sales for TV shows, in particular those you want to watch just once."

    Do that many people really pay $30-60 for a season they'll only watch once rather than TiVo/Netflix it? If so, such an extravagant expense will probably be killed by the economic crisis anyway...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    GJ Hagenaars, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 12:29am

    the NY times made a crucial mistake in this article.

    You cannot hiss the phrase "you probably read"; there's no "s".


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Jim, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 5:09am

    it's not about the tv set.

    TV is now Hulu or torrents for my family. We have no cable subscription and we haven't turned on the old TV set to watch a DVD in months.

    Hulu and/or Torrents is all about on-demand convenience.

    The difference between Hulu and Torrents is that the torrent downloads are not instant and they have a much wider selection. Hulu is legal, has commercials, but they're not such a pain yet, and instant. With limited selection.

    We do not have to arrange our schedule around the broadcast schedule. We do not have to sort through a physical library of deteriorating DVD's.

    And we don't use a 15" screen. We've got a 24" screen for $350 and it's plenty good. If you (bill) believe you need a 62" screen, you're just compensating. You need glasses or natural male enhancment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Rob, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 5:25am


    Torrents and Hulu and don't forget the NFL now streams Sunday night games. A buddy of mine got his 40 dollar converter box and built a hdtv antenna, he now gets over the air tv and combined with a Roku box and Hulu has it covered. He ditched cable and I did too... admittedly there are a small amount of shows I miss - but not many. I sure don't miss all the ultra loud commercials.

    Who cares about screen size ? try bringing the 62" into bed to watch the IT crowd with your lady... :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 8:56am

    Hulu has bad international availability. That is really annoying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    nasch, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 1:35pm

    Re: it's not about the tv set.

    A 62 inch screen may be a bit excessive, but a big screen isn't to compensate for poor eyes or a small penis (generally), it's to enjoy a nice picture by multiple people at a distance of more than three or four feet. It would be really weird to have your couch pulled up right in front of the screen, and from 10 or 12 feet, a 24" is pretty small. Not everyone wants to watch stuff by themselves, or sitting in a computer chair.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Mike, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 2:55pm


    Yes, but the cable or HD box attached to the tv is what is becoming obsolete... you CAN hook a PC up to your HD tv.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    ConceptJunkie (profile), Dec 6th, 2008 @ 5:38pm

    Re: Complete nonsense

    You couldn't possibly have self-esteem issues, could you?

    I cancelled satellite about 4 years ago. I actually think it's a good value, but we simply weren't using it enough to justify the expense. Now that there's Netflix and Hulu in addition to the DVDs we buy, I wouldn't bother with satellite or cable even if they cut the price by 75%.

    Hooray for the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Gabriel, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 5:59pm

    I gave up on broadcast television two or three years ago now. I listen to my local sports on the radio, get my news and weather online, and my remaining television needs are met by DVD, iTunes or YouTube. I spend my free time far more usefully, now that I'm not a slave to TV scheduling.

    Mr. Alan Wurtzel would know how common this is becoming if he'd checked the internet. But apparently he can't read, so I suppose his ignorance makes sense. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    ScytheNoire, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 7:55pm

    Executive = Idiot

    Why does it always seem that any sort of executive is an idiot and out of touch with reality?

    Personally, I haven't had cable or satellite TV in over three years. I've been getting all my TV online for that time, and it's been the best thing I've done. I never miss a show I want to see and if a show gets a good word of mouth going, I can go back and get the show from the start and watch it, while avoiding shows that are good but get canceled (looking at you FOX).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    anonymous coward, Dec 7th, 2008 @ 8:33pm

    Re: Executive = Idiot

    "Why does it always seem that any sort of executive is an idiot and out of touch with reality?"

    while I do agree with you that we are heading in a direction of computers over TV and many don't seem to see that, I still believe it is safe to say that 95% of the general populace does not know of the possibilities, or even if they did, do not know how to set it up or believe that it is worth the time/effort (especially with how much tv the average person still watches, in america at least).

    so really, they should be doing some investment on the online broadcasting side, but I don't think its made a dent yet to where most executives would care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    James Carmichael, Dec 7th, 2008 @ 8:36pm

    Someone only has to make TV more enjoyable as a couch-with-family-or-friends experience. The only watch a handful of shows, and they are mostly available online (Comedy Network puts most of their shows on their website, which is something I love them for), so I barely have any reason to use a TV at all anymore. Not that there's anything good on anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Pete Dixon, Dec 7th, 2008 @ 9:44pm

    Yay for torrents and books

    I haven't had a TV since my ex lugged it away 10 years ago. Nowadays the 3-4 shows I like I simply torrent. Imagine that, 10 years without hearing a TV commercial.. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    DS, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 5:30am

    If I could watch Hulu on my Wii, you better believe that it will impact my regular TV viewing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Monarch, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:51am

    Re: Complete nonsense

    Only F'tards like Bill would do that. Smart people would connect a media computer to their HDTV and stream the shows in HD from sites like Hulu, or torrent an HD quality show.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:54am

    Re: the NY times made a crucial mistake in this article.

    Come on he's a big media executive. They are all snakes, so they hiss everything they say.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    MJ, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:55am


    No cable here for about two years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    bshock, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 7:51am

    an urban myth that will sink the networks

    I stopped watching American tv years ago, not long after I stopped watching Hollywood movies. I still watch plenty of video though -- I either download it or watch YouTube.

    Even my wife, the hopeless tv addict, has given up watching many of her favorite shows in network-defined time. She watches "The Office" online, and other shows like "Dexter" or "Mad Men" she watches through our cable company's "on demand" service, which shows them to her whenever she wants.

    We want the video we want when we want it, not when we're told we can have it. And what's wrong with that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    mrosedale (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 8:07am

    Ditching cable

    I haven't ditched cable just yet, but I only have basic. The big problem is that high speed internet cost so very much and cable tv costs so much. Combine just those two services and you are paying $100 or more, at least in New England, so if you wanted to save money you could ditch the tv and opt for the internet. The only reason I have basic is because it is free for a year with my cable internet. I looked into it.

    Basic: $10 or so
    Next level Cable: $50 or so
    Don't even want to think about the next level of cable. Too much when almost all of the content is legally online.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    James, Mar 24th, 2009 @ 10:56am

    Re: Complete nonsense

    When will people realize you don't have to watch internet TV on the actual laptop screen? With a $15 cable, most any laptop or desktop can connect to most modern TVs, especially HD tvs. New LCD TVs essentially ARE monitors. I have my iMac connected to my LCD tv, using it as a second monitor, and when I fire up hulu, anyone walking in my apartment would have NO IDEA I wasn't watching cable from the comfort of my recliner...

    and lots of content online is HD already, and more is coming. If we aren't solelt discussing legitimate video services, the only way many folks can get certain HD content today is by torrenting it online now when the HD version of the channel isnt available to them in their area or at a reasonable price when all you want is one show (ie: BSG). When the new episode of LOST in HD on my dvr was "runied" by the weather overlay from my local station due to a storm that had passed long before i actually watched the episode, I was more and more tempted to just pirate it since my "legit" version was downsized and overwritten unacceptably...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2010 @ 11:47am


    dear nbc we want nbc to be gone on dish network and derec tv now we want to keep nbc on the air that nobody would relise that nbc will be gone now at 10pm loose my dish nbc shows now on sunday ngiht now no shows like 0 shows no change on dish network and derec tv now we will keep it on cable on io fios time waner comcast will not keep nbc on dish network now yelling

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    Lisa (profile), Feb 7th, 2011 @ 12:55am

    I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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