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Connecting with viewers

The path from the TV station to a viewer's television set used to be simple and direct: transmit antenna to receive antenna. Today, there are a variety of ways to reach that HDTV.

In late July, over only one week's period, I reviewed more than a dozen press releases concerning ways viewers can access content. What I learned was there may be as many paths for entertainment to reach into the home as grubs in a summer lawn.

The large players — Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and even Wal-Mart — were all mentioned, but also there were stories about smaller companies. Hulu was ranked by comScore as the ninth most popular video viewing site with almost 27 million unique viewers. Lest you think Hulu is merely another OTT player streaming YouTube videos, the subscription service also delivered almost 1 billion ads, or about 19 percent of the total 5.3 billion ads viewed in June. That is a lot of commercials.

In addition to the above familiar names, several new players are getting into the video delivery business. RIM, the BlackBerry maker, is rumored to be building an Apple TV-like STB. Codenamed Cyclone, the media hub connects to TV sets via HDMI, and it is Wi-Fi enabled. The box connects with Netflix, YouTube and in-home media sources.

For those former (or just angry) Netflix subscribers, Amazon Prime Instant Video will soon carry CBS network programming. The Amazon/CBS deal will include all episodes of “Star Trek.” The Amazon service says it will provide access to 6000 movies and TV shows.

Streaming player Roku has released the Roku 2. The device provides access to 300 channels, including iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Crackle and Amazon. Sports fans can access subscription-based feeds of MLB, NBA, NHL and UFC. And if that's not sufficient, the Roku player has an “enhanced remote” allowing viewers to wave the remote at the TV to play games like Angry Birds.

For those who prefer the stability of big-box stores, retailer Wal-Mart intends to challenge the dominance of Netflix through its recent acquisition of streaming service Vudu. Viewers will be able to stream movies and television shows through more than 300 devices, including HDTV sets, Blu-ray players and the Sony PlayStation 3.

All these new paths to viewers' eyeballs should make broadcasters tremble in their control rooms, right? Maybe not.

New consumer research from Leichtman Research Group shows that while 70 percent of households subscribe to both broadband and multichannel (cable/satellite) video services, only 8 percent of U.S. households have broadband but no cable or satellite.

Viewers using only broadband express a variety of reasons for not subscribing to multichannel providers. Of this group, 5 percent say they won't buy an MVPD service because they get all they want from the Internet.

Other reasons for not subscribing to a multichannel service are cost (28 percent), don't watch much TV (26 percent) or have no need for a service (18 percent).

Interestingly, viewing patterns of those using broadband but no MVPD are actually similar to those with both broadband and MVPD. Nineteen percent of the Internet-only group watch online video daily and 55 percent weekly. For those with both Internet and an MVPD service, 17 percent watch videos daily, and 48 percent watch weekly.

The research firm's conclusion: “These decisions [purchasing broadband and no MVPD] tend to be based more on economics than about alternatives to traditional video services.”

I'm not worried about broadcasters going out of business. But those grubs … that's something else.

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