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.

Filed Under: competition, piracy, price hikes, streaming, tv


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 7:10am

    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.

    Encouraging broadband competition is a non-starter. High infrastructure costs make broadband exactly the sort of system that the term "natural monopoly" was coined to describe. The real problems are net neutrality and "vertical" mergers.

    Comcast/Universal should never have happened. Neither should AT&T/Time Warner. The same company owning both the production of content and a natural monopoly on its distribution is just begging for abuse, and while content distribution is a natural monopoly, content production is not. We need net neutrality, definitely, but even more urgently we need antitrust to break up production/distribution companies.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 7:29am

      Re:

      Encouraging broadband competition is a non-starter. High infrastructure costs make broadband exactly the sort of system that the term "natural monopoly" was coined to describe.

      Depends what you mean by "broadband". The last-mile wiring is the natural monopoly. Internet (and TV and phone) service, including tech support and billing, can be separated from that. Lots of countries do that and have real competition for the services running on those wires.

      Separating ISPs and TV companies is a good idea too.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 7:45am

        Re: Re:

        The connection between user and ISP should be considered a utility, based upon the fact that the internet has become somewhat indispensable for most people. For example, try getting a job without use of the internet. But this does not stop the grifters and their never ending schemes.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 7:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The connection between user and ISP should be considered a utility

          Should be considered a utility again. In the dial-up days, it was (because that was the phone network), and there were hundreds of small ISPs. If one tried to pull something shady, people could switch in an hour. There was no ISP-provided equipment; just modify the dial-in number and username/password in your software.

          DSL was kind of like that till about 2005, when it was reclassified as an "information service". There weren't quite so many ISPs, but people had real choices.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 8:31am

        Re: Re:

        Depends what you mean by "broadband". The last-mile wiring is the natural monopoly.

        Yes, that's exactly what I was talking about. (That should be clear from the context, where the article was talking about the way people connect to the Internet.)

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 9:42am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That should be clear from the context, where the article was talking about the way people connect to the Internet.

          Not so clear, because you're talking about content providers. Why would it make any difference if a film/TV company owns a wireline provider? If their wireline business had no direct dealings with customers, it would be hard to abuse the wireline monopoly to promote the content. (Ideally, they'd have no visibility into what happens on that wire, nor any information about the subscriber except the address.)

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Mar 2020 @ 4:39am

      Re:

      "Encouraging broadband competition is a non-starter. High infrastructure costs make broadband exactly the sort of system that the term "natural monopoly" was coined to describe."

      Quite a lot of other nations solve this by ensuring that core infrastructure falls under regulation which forces equal treatment bandwidth lease.

      In other words, infrastructure providers still make good, even great money, but are unable to restrict the use of the infrastructure they built to only one or a few actors.

      The US did something similar in the time of the railway barons and when they nationalized the flight patent mess into a common pool pre-WW2. People keep forgetting just how many times the US has seen itself forced to break up "natural monopolies" out of sheer self-preservation.

      And net neutrality is, essentially, a no-brainer. The US is eventually going to have to adopt that wholesale, or twenty years from now find itself behind the currently developing nations when it comes to IT infrastructure.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 7:20am

    Return to piracy?

    When did the piracy/cyber-terrorism get interrupted?

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

  • icon
    Designerfx (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 8:13am

    users on piracy sites have been increasing

    I've been noticing a rise in torrent seeds lately, it's surely not an accident

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 8:35am

    yeah

    Wow. Streaming. That'll save us.
    subscriptions upon subscriptions upon subscriptions upon subscriptions...
    Traditional TV:
    -pay the electric company so that the TV turns on (monthly)
    -pay for the TV (once)
    -enjoy

    Streaming:
    -pay the electric company so that the TV turns on (monthly)
    -pay for the TV (once)
    -pay the ISP for stream access (monthly)
    -pay the streaming company(s) subscription (monthly - Multiple Subscriptions Even!)
    -enjoy

    Streaming: the latest way to separate us from our $
    Now With Calcium!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 8:48am

      Re: yeah, not entirely accurate

      Most of us, if not the vast majority of us, have internet access at home whether we also have cable or not. This is a bill that almost all pay gladly for continued access to the internet. It's as necessary as power and water these days.

      The only additional cost for streaming is in paying for access to whatever streaming services you wish to use. Most are unlikely to subscribe to more than 2 or 3 which brings your "TV entertainment" budget to $20-$45/mo depending on which services you use. You can still stick an antenna on your house and watch OTA content for free if you want but that's always been and always will be garbage.

      Given that any specific streaming service is purely optional and that it's still cheaper than cable I don't think getting on streaming's case for "separating us from our $" is a worthwhile cause. Bitch about the ISPs and their fees, cable's high cost or the cost of a new 80" flatscreen all you want. But streaming? Yeah, that's not the problem.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 9:04am

        Re: Re: yeah, not entirely accurate

        can you see the trees?
        You MUST pay the ISP in order to even have access to the stream, Since the ISPs:
        1)control the access to said streams &
        2)are losing $ on their cable tv offerings
        you better believe that the price of your cable/ISP bill will increase accordingly.

        So yeah, the divide between you and your $ is increasing, but if You don't mind paying, they (our beloved ISPs) don't mind charging.
        It's just entertainment...try streaming without paying your ISP.
        I'm waiting

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

        • identicon
          Your Friendly Neighbohood Neighbor, 3 Mar 2020 @ 11:16am

          Re: Re: Re: yeah, not entirely accurate

          "You MUST pay the ISP in order to even have access to the stream, Since the ISPs..."

          Kinda, not really, we get our access via wifi from the neighbors, one has an unsecured network, the other uses the password printed on their router in their garage. (the left the big door open on night five years ago, I closed it for them that eve)

          We prefer to connect to the kinda secured network.

          I hope they are managing to stay under our data cap!

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Mar 2020 @ 4:46am

          Re: Re: Re: yeah, not entirely accurate

          "You MUST pay the infrastructure provider in order to even have access to anything..."

          FTFY.

          And that serves as evidence A as to why government regulations on how infrastructure providers can provide infrastructure and what terms they can ask is bloody important

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 9:44am

      Re: yeah

      I'm waiting for them to start crapping advertisements on top of the shows you're watching, like the networks do. Add some "bugs" too, just in case people forget which service they're watching. And commercial breaks, because people need to go to the washroom.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Mar 2020 @ 4:44am

      Re: yeah

      "Wow. Streaming. That'll save us."

      That was the hope, yes. Imagine one meta-search engine you could pay a single monthly fee to and then freely browse from any channel associated with it.

      Now imagine how the greedy fscks at channel marketing divisions all end up coming up with the idea of running their own separate engine where only their own offers exist. Welcome back to cable version 2.0.

      Customers all want convenience. The media companies all want maximum profits. Convenience gets in the way of that.

      And so, rather than buy fifteen subscriptions or cable channel networks the consumer ends up going to that one torrent index page where they can find everything in one go.

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

  • icon
    McGyver (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 9:13am

    But... but... but...

    This wasn’t supposed to be what happened... I was told by numerous people who obviously know everything, that streaming would not end up like this... they can’t be wrong...
    It’s impossible I tell ya’... impossible.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 12:55pm

    Lets see...

    What can we do?
    Can we get rid of the franchise fee's?? YEP.
    Can we go direct and not use Broadcast facilities around the USA and deal with all the paper work?? Yep.
    Can we build our Own facility or Buy one that can store and Broadcast all of our materials? Yep.
    Why sell, rent, lease OUR Material to others that are making the money??(net flix, YT, Amazon,HULU,...,...)
    When we can do it? we would save tons of money, and make more..

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 1:44pm

    Let them raise the prices all they want. It will drive people to pirate tv. What i pay for internet is crazy high priced. We need more choices to lower the bill.

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

  • icon
    Darkness Of Course (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 2:41pm

    Comcast can die

    I used to be a Comcast customer, and thankfully I've escaped their clutches.

    Two bits of detail re old TV vs streaming: Science channel had a site, not quite a stream in today's sense. Close, but not quite. The problem was there were MORE commercials than watching over the air. The maximum time I could watch something was less than 4 minutes, past that - commercial after commercial. Needless to say, that didn't last two days.

    Comcast has their Xfinity badge trying to pretend they aren't associated with that suckage known as Comcast. However, it sucks on its own. Their streaming option for existing customers was more problematic than watching using their (chicken-shit) cable box. Again, more commercials than old TV. Yet, they couldn't understand my complaint; well, TV has ads and we have to show them. Not on the menu you twit!

    No hope for anything good to come from any TV provider. Not in America.

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


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