As I write, I can hear the stampede coming in the distance. And, it’s being led right now by HBO. What stampede, you may ask? The stampede of the next generation of TV. The stampede of the democratization of television and film.
As the industry debates whether or not a $15 HBO over the top service will be a success, there’s a much more important point to acknowledge. The importance of the HBO announcement to go over the top, direct to consumers, isn’t how many OTT subscribers it can get outside of the cable bundle. Of course, the traditional TV industry would have us believe this move by HBO will never make it and it signals the death of The Golden Age of TV already. I think it’s just the beginning.The importance of HBO’s decision to go over the top, direct to consumers, is that this is a major, significant, earth-shattering, industry-redefining moment when a major cable TV network has decided to seriously circumvent traditional TV distribution (Hulu doesn’t really count) and join the “next-gen TV” revolution that is taking place thanks to broadband video. “Cord cutters” are for real. Even more importantly, “cord nevers” are for real – might as well also mention “cord shavers” and “cord cheaters”, what the heck. To ignore them is to stick your head in the sand so you don’t see the stampede coming to trample all over you. I’ve written and talked a lot about Netflix. Netflix was the first major, significant, earth-shattering, industry-redefining TV Rebel. HBO is on the traditional TV team – and they held out as long as they could IMHO.
So, I am not here to predict whether or not HBO OTT (or CBS OTT, or Showtime OTT, or ESPN OTT) will be a successful business model for them per se. I suspect there are some very smart people in those companies who will figure it out. What I am here to say, is that HBO OTT is another major, significant, earth-shattering, industry-redefining moment proving that TV is being democratized - like music, news and books - thanks to the digital broadband revolution.
OK let’s pretend today is throwback Thursday. The music industry. Video killed the radio star. OK, not that far back. The digital revolution was proclaimed to be the death of good music. Back then, the record labels, the gatekeepers for music distribution, had some of us believing that the music industry will never be able to stay in business without them. However, the Internet and digital media took the control of the music industry away from the record labels and “big media” and handed it to the people. It was disintermediation at its finest! The music industry became democratized. And guess what? They made money too - lots of it. The gatekeepers no longer controlled who got let in, promoted and exposed. The choice became ours. Now, anyone can be famous in the music industry. And we consumers have more fantastic music choices than ever. We can still go buy a mainstream artist’s CD at WalMart (when is the last time you did that?), or we can discover and purchase a single track from a band that started up yesterday. And digital revenue is real, and there is a lot of it being earned.
Well the same thing is now happening to TV. The traditional TV gatekeepers are beginning to lose their grip, just a little. It’s just the beginning. In addition to the inevitable breakdown of traditional distribution channels, the infrastructure (including financial infrastructure – thanks crowdfunding!) required to produce and distribute high quality video programming has also experienced incredible changes in the content creator’s favor. Have you seen “House of Cards” or “Transparent”? Good stuff. Not controlled by “cable”. Now any show can be famous in the TV industry. And they will be able to make money too. Lots of it. Sound familiar? Say it again with me, “disintermediation”. In full disclosure, I have an interest in the democratization of TV. I am happy about it. My company can even help facilitate it, and we’re doing it already. We’ve been doing it for a while. And I’m not saying traditional TV will die. I don’t think it will. But it will change. Those who change with it can survive and thrive.
Just like with music, we, the "masses," will soon have access to create, distribute, discover, promote, share and watch any “TV” we want. HBO apparently recognizes this (unless this is some kind of Jedi mind trick to make us appreciate the “cable bundle”, as some would have you believe). The next generation of TV will inspire us, make us think and open doors and minds to new experiences we choose, not what a corporation or media outlet decides we should want. The crowd, not a corporation will get to decide what is bad and good. I suspect I’ll have a lot to write about, over the coming months and years, regarding the reinvention and democratization of TV and Film. For today, thanks HBO!
That’s how I see it. What are your thoughts?
Paul D Hamm