Will nervous providers let mobile TV and streaming grow up?

Traditionally, when you subscribe to cable TV, you decide what channels you want, pay the monthly fee and then relax in front of your main television. Getting that content to all of your mobile devices has been the tricky part.

The technology is there, but there are so many different ways, and companies doing it via different methods, that some consumers don’t even bother. But what if your provider did it for you? NimbleTV has a new concept that just may be what you are looking for. But more importantly, it is helping to usher in a new wave of content delivery that may have traditional media providers very nervous.

NimbleTV is starting small — its beta rollout this week is only a few hundred people in New York City — but its concept is anything but tiny. In the business plan, the customer signs up for whatever services he or she wants, from cable to satellite to pay TV, and then NimbleTV pushes the content to the person’s web browser, to be enjoyed on any mobile device. If this sounds familiar to Aereo, which has been in hot water since launch for rebroadcasting over the air channels to portable devices, then you’re starting to see the trend developing. One interesting tidbit with NimbleTV is that the customer’s content is not set by region, meaning someone could sign up for TV and services actually outside of their region, stepping around traditional blackouts such as sports programs.

NimbleTV has already raised $6 million from Tribune, Greycroft Partners and Tribeca Venture Partners, so they are quite serious. But the company is not so naive to realize that providers may have a problem with this concept. Pay TV would lose a certain amount of control, but in theory the set up is not too much different from a consumer signing up for services on their own. NimbleTV would charge a flat monthly fee, say around $20, but the customer would still pay for all programming services.

The result of this would be a more level playing field. Yes, you read that right, a more level playing field in satellite and cable television services. Instead of being locked into a service available in your area, you could choose (in theory) from any service in any area. With all providers suddenly jockeying for your attention and revenue, things may get more interesting as far as price points. If you are in a neighborhood locked in to only one cable TV provider (you can put your hands down now), suddenly a choice emerges that was never there before. Once all the programming was in place and your purchases and services completed, the company would then stream everything to your web browser. Now instead of trying to find apps to view programming or using methods such as Apple’s Airplay to fling shows here and there, you would rely on the web browser and enjoy programming on any device you choice.

Down the line, to have your programming on your Apple iPad / iPhone, Kindle Fire, Android tablet, and any other portable device available, now and in the future, would be a tremendous benefit and quite nicely fit into the TV Everywhere digital home that you, and broadcasters, have been working hard to imagine. The initiative created by Dyle has been a good head start to get consumers wanting portable TV, but this could take it much further. The rollout is starting small, and is being offered for free to 250 beta users, however the company is planning to quickly ramp up in the first quarter of 2013. But, there will no doubt be obstacles and perhaps litigation from traditional broadcast, satellite and cable providers.

Media companies are often scared by new methods of delivery. Rather than look towards enchanting a new array of customers, they nervously fear the lose of control via what a new “pipe” can provide. Years ago, record companies were entrenched with physical media, CDs primarily, while digital downloads gained dramatic traction. Because the new wild west of digital was too foreign, record companies resisted, causing other methods like illegal downloading, to spiral out of control. A similar scenario happened with video media. With studios having their heads down working on new disc-based video formats, they only needed to look up to see video downloads rapidly becoming the norm. Because discs were something they could physically see, barcode and track, they were calmly reassuring. Whereas digital copies were much scarier, they were less tangible and could slip just about anywhere.

This scenario has repeated itself multiple times and in multiple industries (ebooks being a major one currently), so its no surprise that providers are adverse to new methods of delivering television programming content. The tight lock they’ve had on control and, in the case of cable, local monopolies, is slowly unraveling. Services such as Aereo and NimbleTV are outside of the box (literally), and while they wrestle away some control, they do spin off traditional content into new delivery methods potentially reaching new audiences. It might have been hard to imagine the wealth of programming available on services such as Hulu Plus, Amazon Video, Apple’s iTunes and Apple TV as well as Netflix Streaming just a decade ago. But streaming services delivering to almost every conceivable mobile device, smartphone and tablet has become the norm.

Tiered premium programming moving to a web browser makes sense because what portable device does not offer the web? You’ve got devices built for mobile TV, such as hundreds of flavors of phones and tablets, but you also then extend to devices such as gaming, including options like the Playstation Vita and Wii U. Services such as NimbleTV sound appealing because they offer more choice and flexibility as opposed to cable and satellite, contract and region lock in. It’s a win for consumers (more choice always is), but it may take a while for providers to truly warm up to it.

It will be interesting to see how NimbleTV progresses as 2013 rolls on. What will be more interesting is if cable and satellite decide to rethink their industry and see the opportunity in change. Time will tell, and early opportunities have been missed in the past, but the coming year could be very pivotal, for all parties involved.