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Broadcasters Need to Bring Their A Game to Online Video

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There are two kinds of video viewers: Those who know exactly what they want to watch and when, and those who browse -- the infamous channel surfers that hum Bruce Springsteen’s 1992 hit “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).” Aside from a good hockey game or movie, I’m most definitely the latter. My wife can’t stand it.

I had a little time the other night by myself to unwind and just veg; I didn’t have plans to watch anything specific. So it began ... I scrolled through the 250 channels from my cable provider, and ... meh. Then I went to good ol’ reliable Netflix to see if there were any new movies up since last I looked. Nope, just a couple of new knockoffs, and boy, do I hate those. I did spot a couple of possibilities, but I knew that the content would still be there waiting if I found something better somewhere else. I wasn’t ready to commit.

I tried Crackle and, again, no love. There was nothing appetizing in my usual action or sci-fi wheelhouse; Krull wasn’t going to cut it. So I went back to cable and chose a channel playing the movie Thor in glorious SD with commercials every 10 minutes. I know, I know -- how dare I. Shame on me! I constantly give my wife a hard time for tuning in to a movie on TV without even checking if it’s available online. I mean, why watch something in low quality with commercials when you can watch it in HD uninterrupted? But with a world of content in 1080 at my thumb’s command, I did what I believe most viewers do -- choose programming for the sake of the content, and choose it without loyalty. Et tu, Brute?

But that’s just it, isn’t it? Our cover says, “Content Is Still King,” and it’s there as a reminder, and for some, probably an omen. Quality isn’t the first criteria for consumers when it comes to video -- it’s accessibility. What matters is who has the content and how cheap and easy it is for consumers to get at it.

If you are a premium content producer, you are in control of where it’s seen and where it’s monetized. What’s really disruptive is the amount of discoverable and accessible content out there on the “new networks,” made by content creators who are willing to get famous for less. Blame social media, not our industry. We’re just enablers. You are the only ones holding yourselves back. And frankly, if you can’t think up something to compete with Video Game High School, well, kiss it all goodbye.

This is where the broadcasting industry and traditional multiple system operators (MSOs) are imploding as content publishers. They aren’t taking this seriously enough; it’s becoming a case of natural selection. It’s clear they how they are thinking: “Let’s save the good stuff for the way we know how to make money on TV for as long as we can.” But that’s a war broadcasters and MSOs can’t win, and they need to bring their A game to online video -- it’s the new “channel.” There is more competition than ever before for the next "Breaking Bad" or "The Walking Dead."

Sure, everyone is going OTT, but where I live, 1) no one I know even knows our provider has an app, and 2) I’ve looked, and it’s garbage content. Tom Brokaw said it with eloquence in his book The Time of Our Lives: “Leftovers are really a metaphor for larger issues of money management.” I’ll be the first to the fridge for cold pizza, but there’s no way I’m going to waste what little time I have watching second-rate programming on their “experiment.” For me, it’s all about the content, and I’ll be happy to pay whoever is going to give it to me when I want it and on the devices I want to watch it on. And you know what else? In the new economy, disposable is the new affordable. You’ll sell way more movie rentals at $2.99 than you ever will at $4.99 on impulse buys. And remember, all your stuff is on The Pirate Bay anyway, so you’d better give people a really good reason to give you their money. Forget the bells and whistles: Get the premium content to the masses online because that, dear readers, is where people are willing to do a quick transaction to get what they want.

So, local cable provider, you may have kept me for 2 more hours because you gave me Thor, but I haven’t watched my first episode of "House of Cards" on Netflix yet, and that’s on tap for tonight. Best start moving a lot faster to catch all those crazy people running with scissors.

This article appears in the 2014 Streaming Media Sourcebook as "Time to Change the Channel."

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It's time for online video ninjas to overthrow the established order of broadcast television. Streaming Media's publisher offers an introduction to our annual Sourcebook.