McAdams On: TV as We Know It

TV is at a threshold of being an entirely different concept, with Comcast the likely impetus. It has to be. Its primary business is heading south.

The pay-TV exodus is establishing momentum. Last year was the first full year to yield an overall decline. It wasn’t much; about a quarter of a million. There are still more than 100 million households in the United States paying for TV. That’s out of 115.2 million total, according to U.S Census figures. Those last 15 million or so (depending on which D.C. lobby talks) haven’t, don’t and probably won’t pay for TV. Some live on reservations. Some are still reverberating from the Great Depression. Others still are too otherwise occupied to care.

So the provision of television content for money officially is no longer a growth business. The rope-in tactics of one-year rate discounts and bundling are not working any longer, especially since no one cares about VoIP enough to make it a revenue driver.

There’s only one path of least resistance for cable operators, and it’s broadband. Comcast already has 20.7 million broadband subscribers (out of 21.7 million total subscribers). Nearly 1.3 million signed up last year. It will have 30 million after the Time Warner Cable deal is done. If wired broadband is to become the future modality of TV delivery to the home—and it will unless legacy distribution goes on-demand in real time—Comcast will make it so. Dish, meanwhile, will take over out-of-home OTT delivery with aggressive moves in time- and place-shifting, and fixed wireless.

That leaves broadcasting. It’s clear the distribution side must evolve. Into what, remains to be seen, but it will have to be IP-based, simultaneously on-demand and live, with real-time, interactive metrics that can be used in a responsive production environment. In the meantime, the industry needs to continually hone and constantly improve the quality of its programming, which still dominates the market.