NBC Exec: Netflix Poses No Threat To Us, God Wants You To Watch Expensive, Legacy TV

from the not-just-a-river-in-Egypt dept

The traditional cable and broadcast industry's chief export is no longer quality programming, it's denial. First the industry denied cord cutting even existed. Then it acknowledged it existed, but pretended it was only something losers living with mommy had any interest in. More recently the cable industry has acknowledged that yes, there is something that vaguely looks like a mammoth tsunami looming on the horizon, but people are totally overreacting because the cable industry is just so god damned innovative.

Historically, the cable industry has needed all the help it could get when it comes to laboring under the delusion that the legacy cable cash cow will live forever. And, as Nielsen's failure to provide real data on cord cutting has shown, the industry employs plenty of people happy to take money in exchange for telling industry executives precisely what they want to hear. Lending a hand this week was NBC's president of research and media development Andy Wurtzel, who proudly told attendees of the Television Critics Association's winter press tour that neither Netflix nor YouTube pose a "consistent" threat to cable.

His only evidence? That Netflix's top shows still only get a fraction of the viewership that traditional cable gets:
"Symphony measured the average audience in the 18-to-49 demographic for each episode within 35 days of a new Netflix series premiere between September and December. During that time, Marvel's Jessica Jones averaged 4.8 million viewers in the demographic, comparable to the 18-to-49 ratings for How to Get Away with Murder and Modern Family. Master of None drew 3.9 million in the demo and Narcos was third with 3.2 million."
Nobody denies that cable TV's audience still towers over that of streaming video services. That's never been in dispute. Nor has anyone really debated the fact that cord cutting is a slow but steady phenomenon (NBC's parent company Comcast lost 48,000 video subscribers last quarter). But that doesn't really change the fact that the threat obviously exists, or that cable needs to dramatically change to adapt to it. But Wurtzel for some reason seems convinced that because viewership for Netflix hit shows drops off after a few weeks of binge watching, this somehow means cable has nothing to worry about:
"Wurtzel said Symphony's data also revealed that most viewers of those SVOD shows return to their old viewing habits by the third week. "[By then], people are watching TV the way that God intended"—that is, via traditional, linear viewing—said Wurtzel. "The impact goes away."

That's because Netflix has "a very different business model—their business model is to make you write a check the next month," said Wurtzel. "I don't believe there's enough stuff on Netflix that is broad enough and consistent enough to affect us in a meaningful way on a consistent basis."
But again, cord cutting isn't about just Netflix. It's about picking and choosing among a myriad of different options as an alternative to soaring cable rates. One fifth of pay TV customers are expected to cut the cord next year. Only 51% watch live TV (as "god intended"?). Consumers are tired of paying an arm and a leg to get 194 channels while only watching, on average, about 17 of them. And, to put it bluntly, cable's biggest customers are dying, and being replaced by "cord nevers" that have absolutely no interest in paying too much for too little.

The threat is more than just consistent, it's inevitable.

Fueled by the kind of bubbly optimism provided by Wurtzel, legacy cable honestly believes it's doing a bang up job adapting to the Netflix threat. Except that's not remotely true; the industry refuses to compete on price, consistently fights more flexible programming options tooth and nail, and still confuses proclamations of "Hey, we're innovating!" with actual innovation. Were I Netflix, Amazon, Apple, or any of a million other companies eager to jump into the field, I'd be thrilled that guys like Wurtzel continue to provide a false sense of security across an industry so desperately in need of a disruptive kick in the ass.

Filed Under: andy wurtzel, broadcast tv, cord cutting, denial, internet, nbc, streaming video, tv
Companies: comcast, nbc universal, netflix

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  1. icon
    John85851 (profile), 15 Jan 2016 @ 2:20pm

    They don't learn from history

    This is just like the music industry:
    Oh, don't worry that a few people download their music. They're outliers and tech nerds. People will always buy CD's.
    Oh, don't worry that Apple's iTunes is becoming popular. People will always buy CD's.

    Hey, how come no one's buying CD's? We totally didn't see that coming.

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