TV from the Interwebs
Microsoft announced Friday 300 Time Warner Cable Channels would be coming to the Xbox. Now, I may have overreacted when I first heard the news. My knee-jerk reaction was, "Finally, we'll be able to purchase a subscription to television channels and never own a cable company set-top box!!!" Not so fast. TWC is apparently requiring customers have at least one cable box before accessing the channels, and the application was already available through Roku, iOS, Android and on some Samsung TVs. Regardless, it's a step in the right direction, and Microsoft isn't the only company starting to move.
Apple also made some serious forward strides last week. Apple added WatchESPN, HBO Go, SKY News and several other channels to the Apple TV. Although few have focused on it, I think the SKY News channel was the biggest step forward. Yes, HBO GO is cool, and some of the content on the Watch ESPN channel is ok. But the Sky News application allows you to watch 24/7 news coverage LIVE for FREE. That means you get FREE access to a cable channel - a british cable channel, but a cable channel nonetheless.
I've been waiting several years for channels to become available a la carte through Roku, Apple TV or both. My senior year of high school we bought a Roku and put it in the living room. The amount of live TV I've watched since then has been astoundingly low. I used the DVR to record a daily news show and Mark Hoppus' "Hoppus on Music" from FUSE, but that was it. The only reason we have satellite at my apartment is because one of my roommates really wanted ESPN. That's it. If we could buy live sports coverage, we would probably be willing to pay $20 - $30 per month, so that we wouldn't have to pay for any of the other junk.
It looks like Apple might be getting close. The SKY News deal is huge, even though no one knows what SKY News is, and that's for one real reason. SKY News' parent company is News Corp. (Fox News, Fox Sports, Fox, 20th Century Fox, and basically every other thing that has the word Fox in it. Also, WSJ and this.) It might be wishful thinking, but putting SKY News on Apple TV seems like a market testing technique. Can they get enough eyes on Apple TV to pay the bills? If they need to have a subscription fee, how much should it be?
Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. might be the guy to finally force the TV industry into a frenzy. He did spend a ton of money on The Daily, which ended up turning into not much more than a giant research project on converging media. The market appears to be there. One of the most telling cases about the market for pay-per-channel Internet TV showed up this week when it was announced Glenn Beck earned more money running the Blaze TV than Oprah over the last year. Starting his own channel, Beck outperformed Hannity and Limbaugh. For leaving his show at the most watched cable news channel, he seems to be doing alright for himself.
It's hard to tell exactly when and how the market will play out. No one would have guessed in the late 90s that it would be Apple that would shake up the music industry so heavily and permanently just a few years later. It could be Apple again, but I wouldn't take any bets just yet. There are a lot of media device makers and content providers who are keeping a close eye on the ball - TWC included. The only thing I would bet against at this point is the entertainment industry's business model staying static for much longer.