Monday, July 08, 2013

Free TV in Jeopardy?

I have written often about the changes in how many of us are consuming TV.  With the proliferation of wireless hand held devices and the expansion of high speed broadband networks, we can now cut the cord or should I say cut the cable.   The shift to some of these new technologies enabling us to view our favorite American Idol or local weather and sports when we are on the move may bring about some other changes.  Those changes may not be so good for the consumer.

Free over–the-air TV has been around since the late 1940s in this country.  Even with the explosion of pay cable and satellite services in the 1980s and the advent of digital TV in the late 1990’s, most of us could still watch many of our favorite programs using a TV and antenna without reaching for a wallet.  In fact recently there has been an uptick in the use of traditional over-the-air viewing since digital TV is capable of providing many more channels than the old analog system. Here in the Cincinnati area it is not uncommon to receive more than 25 channels of programming over-the-air without paying a dime.

Free broadcast TV may be going the way of free air for your tires from the corner gas station.  Recently in some larger cities, ABC provided free transmission of its local station direct to smart phones.  So while commuting on the train or bus you could watch Good Morning America on the way to work and local news on the way home.  Now after a trial of about six months, ABC has now announced that in order to watch on your phone you will have to be a subscriber to a local cable service and pay a monthly fee.   While this does not affect the reception of the local channels using a standard TV, it does begin to take ABC toward a pay model for all or at least some of its more popular programs.

With over 85% of all TV viewers already paying for cable or satellite some argue that free TV is already a thing of the past.   Sporting events, especially baseball and boxing disappeared from free TV years ago.  Highly acclaimed series like The Sopranos have never been available on free TV.

The big players like Time Warner, Disney and Comcast have been broadening their holdings and control over new platforms of delivery.  Even internet-only services like Hulu, Netflix and YouTube are attracting suitors from the traditional media giants. 

Content is king so as more quality content switches to the pay model, we can look for a more mindless reality programming available free of charge.   All of a sudden “Free” doesn’t look so good.

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