As a member of Generation Internet and an entrepreneur who built a $100 million a year lifestyle business in the online world, you’d assume I’d be first among the cable naysayers – the analyst and venture capitalist legion that pumps up every new bleeding-edge technology that could lead to the demise of King Cable.
Well, take it from this young, 100% plugged-in online brand builder. Cable and the MSOs are not only not endangered, they are better positioned than ever to be the center of the multi-platform entertainment universe, the best avenues to build the brands that will thrive in the “TV Everywhere” world.
First off, it’s about cable’s own critical mass. Nielsen recently recorded the highest TV viewing levels in history, a trend that has continued among men, women, children and tech-centric teens alike. Mercury Media’s “Power of Television” stated: “Considering that TV viewership remains at hundreds of hours per month while broadband and mobile viewership remains in the low single digits, it is reckless to proclaim that any great revolution is taking place.” Even The New York Times recently weighed in to downplay the current state of “cord-cutting” among cable subscribers. But like anything in this fast changing world, the currents could shift suddenly. And a radical change would be, like most things revolution and all things digital, driven by the young.
With set-top boxes in 100 million homes, MSOs stand as the mother ship of the content universe, the most efficient gateway and content aggregator, providing the mix of critical-hit series, movies and events that are the cornerstones of our pop culture. They also provide the most reliable connectivity to serve up content to the out-of-home platforms where “TV Everywhere” will live. The cable industry has also made great traction facilitating the online array, the Tweeting, Facebook sharing and blog buzz, that separates the hits from the misses in original content.
As someone who gets monthly input from millions of young consumers, I can assure you cable is not dead to these people. We are just disillusioned with the lack of content created to meet our tastes. We have long turned to the Net for short form videos that we now enjoy on our smart phones and iPads. Today, this is increasingly being complemented with long-form content from distribution outlets like Hulu. The most popular here is not web-created content, but rather branded cable and network series and films. There’s no barrier of entry on the web, which is great for viral video, watchdogs, political agitators and the like, but not necessarily for top-notch, long-form entertainment and movies of cable quality. Watching such content – your favorite cable series or events – is a social one for viewers. It is one best enjoyed on widescreen HD and the coming 3D experience that will continue to trump the computers and mobile as the preferred forum for the foreseeable future, even though 70% of the audience in the youth demo is IMing, texting and Tweeting as they watch, and, in a short time, will be doing it all on the TV itself, as the two techologies continue to converge.
A cable brand still means quality that’s a cut above, even to young people who feel they are not top-of-mind with its programmers. We know there’s a higher dedication to production value, storytelling and being the gatekeeper of a special-interest niche that a cable network so heavily invests in serving. From HBO’s "Boardwalk Empire" and "True Blood" to Bravo’s "Queer Eye" and "Real Housewives," entertainment brands, cable networks and multi-platform alike, are defined first and foremost by their signature, long-form hits – ones that reach and build buzz and devotion with a vast audience.
Interestingly, there has never been a long-form, original hit created on the web, even though operations like Pseudo tried to follow cable’s big studio model in the web’s Wild West days. For successful web brands like TMZ and Funny or Die, the ultimate sign of arrival is running cable’s rigorous selection process to gain a long-form slot on the dial – still the gold standard in the world of entertainment. And while the web is increasingly serving as the genesis point for diverse youth-centric notables like IFC’s "Whitest Kids ‘U Know," the ultimate lynchpin to build a brand name that connects and resonates across platforms is once again the mass impact of cable.
To remain at the center of the universe, MSOs need to work hard to cost-effectively and reliably serve consumers their content wherever they want to watch it, via their mobile devices, iPads, etc., to let them simply and cost-effectively pull it from the set-top to wherever they may be.
As for cable networks the MSOs provide, they need to start understanding and capitalizing on the evangelist power of the young early adopters that will help write the future. That means once again providing them with high-quality programming that targets their interests and passions, something that cable has not done well in a while. If cable networks strike a chord with groups of young people of a certain sensibility and interest, they will literally use the wired world to do your marketing for you, creating a hit with arms that go across all the platforms where content lives.
(Greg Selkoe is CEO of e-commerce site Karmaloop.com and the cable network Karmaloop TV)