There are now more televisions per household (2.8) than there are people (2.5), according to the latest Nielsen survey. Folks are watching more television (over 58 hours per household per week) than ever before, and there are more television households (almost 115 million).
So there’s "…got to be a pony in there somewhere" as the old joke punch line goes. In other words, there has to be a business plan that will continue to work regarding all those folks watching all that television. You wouldn’t know it from all the talk these days about a "lack of a business model" to deal with the "new media world."
What’s that "new media world?" Well, of course given the numbers I just recited, television is a big part of it.
The issue seems to be how folks are going to be watching television. But I’m not sure that’s true.
Yes, we now have "mobile" TV. People can watch television on their phones. They can watch "TV Everywhere" on their laptops waiting for an airplane, or indeed, prop the laptop up in a hotel room while they’re on a trip and view the signals from their "home" television supplier, either "slinging" it over the Internet or plugging right in to a distributor instead of watching that larger set sitting right there in the room.
But why? And for how long? There are a lot of technology types who seem intent on looking at short-term trends and interpolating those into long-term realities. Having taken that jump, they then demand a "business model" that responds to that supposed long-term image. But a lot of those images quickly fade. Let’s take the one about using the ubiquitous laptop.
That same laptop-centric view prompted a lot of cities to decide that they had to get into the broadband business using WiFi, so everyone could sit outside, or at the airport, using their computers.
Well, to be sure, there are folks now using their computers while sitting cross-legged in the grass in the park, and stranded air travelers can be seen in many airports playing solitaire on their computers. But that was no business plan. It died a hasty death.
Seems that folks may like "laptops" because they are more compact and now just as powerful as the older "desktops," but they are generally still being used at a desk! And more folks are leaving them home today than before, preferring to simply rely on their iPhone or the equivalent to keep up with email, or yes, play solitaire. The whole premise is faulty.
Now I’m not saying that "portable" television won’t be a factor in the future. It will. But does that fundamentally change the core number of folks who will continue to enjoy watching more and more video entertainment at home on larger, flatter television sets? Well, the numbers seem to indicate a clear answer to that question; no. To be sure, we have to continue to make sure our services are up to the task of satisfying diverse wants and needs, but the business model of delivering high quality video and data to the home—primarily for home consumption and use—is alive and well and doesn’t look like it is in any immediate need.
Some other businesses are not so lucky, and I want to explore those at length in future columns because they inevitably affect what the cable industry is doing. After all, we provide the core infrastructure for delivery of both video and broadband information. Things are, indeed, changing in lots of ways, and we have to stay on top of that.
For instance, the newspaper business is in real trouble. Ironically, one of the more prevalent thoughts for helping that industry is to allow it to consolidate and sell their journalistic products in a package. That, for instance, is what the Kindle DX business plan from Amazon proposes. This at a time when the cable industry just finished fending off a determined effort to force us to "unbundle" our offerings (now averaging 165 digital channels per household) and sell them "a la carte!" The precise business model apparently no longer sustainable for print media.
There’s no question, this is complicated. There really is a need to deal with the impact of "search" on the Internet, aggregated news, paying for good journalism and the rest. We have to explore the options.
But one thing seems clear: our business model is just fine, thank you.