Aereo is a service that skirts copyright law by renting a physical TV antenna to New Yorkers and digitizing all content received by that antenna. It then allows customers to stream that live TV conveniently to a myriad of devices. Naturally, broadcast TV networks are really, really angry and sued Aereo. Fox threatened to become a cable-only network to thwart Aereo. This week CBS CEO Les Moonves said something similar. From The Verge:
Now he’s [Les] saying that he could make the switch in as little as a few days “if we are forced to.” By taking free CBS broadcasts off the airwaves, Moonves says, “about 10 percent of America will not get our signal and I don’t think they will like that.” Aereo sells people access to individual TV antennas on its premises, letting paying subscribers watch the free broadcasts they capture online.
I don’t think this is anything more than chest puffing, but let’s step back a second and look at this situation. It’s insane from all sides. CBS is a (largely) free TV network that makes a lot of money because it’s one of a few networks with rights to use the airwaves to forcibly broadcast content into the homes of millions of Americans. The government (aka us) license these airwaves to CBS. In the old days before cable and satellite the only source of revenue for networks like CBS was from advertising. Cable introduced a new revenue source. Customers monthly fees go to the local cable monopoly (Comcast, Time Warner, etc.) and are then shared with the networks. From an advertising standpoint the allure of TV has always been a large, captive audience that can’t turn away. VCRs and DVRs have eroded that classic relationship a bit. I can understand CBS being weary of another service helping viewers avoid commercials, but how is jettisoning 10 percent of the CBS audience a good plan to impress advertisers? They want a large viewership!
There’s a bigger question, though. Why in insert-diety’s-name-here does Aereo even exist? Why did someone have to come up with this service? Why isn’t CBS running this service? Why isn’t NBC? Hulu was cute, but it’s an uncomfortable, inflexible beast to use and was abandoned prematurely by most networks. Entertainment wants to be flexible and mobile.
I have a 60″ HDTV in my living room. I get CBS in glorious HD on a cable subscription that I pay for. I almost never watch it. Why? Because I’m sitting at my computer and I want to watch TV right there. I have two 30inch monitors and can’t figure how to work a TV in to the mix. What’s the difference between TV signal coming from a coaxial cable and an ethernet cable? Why are we still having this discussion in 2013? What is wrong with ad salesman and the innovation teams at all the major advertising agencies that they haven’t demanded that networks also make their content easily watchable online with ads inserted? I sit at my computer watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother that I downloaded on a torrent site a few minutes after the show airs. The show is in full HD and is without commercials. I could have watched it in the other room when it aired, but by waiting I get to watch it where I want it. I get to watch it in a media player window and not an awkward streaming browser window. I can do other work while it’s on. I live in what I like to call: the future.
Forget 2030, how is it that a disjointed network of end users can provide a better TV experience than a major TV network in 2013? This isn’t new stuff anymore. Downloading TV has been a more efficient viewing option for nearly a decade. Here’s what the TV experience should look like and why advertisers and networks should rip their heads out of their own asses, embrace it, and profit from it.
I’ll use How I Met Your Mother as an example. The show airs on Monday night. At the very least it should stream live (a la Aereo) online with the exact same commercials as when it airs on actual TV. The web allows for some awesome additional features like the ability to click over to an advertiser’s site directly from the stream. Why aren’t advertisers demanding CBS provide this? It’s a killer feature. I see a cool new Samsung phone and I pause my show to see more about it and then come back.
By sometime Tuesday How I Met Your Mother should be available to stream or download on CBS.com in a format playable in common players like iTunes and Windows Media Player. Why download and not just streaming? Streaming is uncomfortable for anything other than shorter videos. It also makes the file portable. It can be played in a separate and re-sizable window while doing other computer work and moved to a tablet or phone for viewing on the go. Streaming is also an an awful experience and there are a million places where even a WiFi connection isn’t a guarantee that a stream will work. Ever been at a hotel and tried to share a crappy DSL connection with 400 other business travelers for $30 a day? Exactly.
This digital (streaming and downloadable) How I Met Your Mother should have all the original ads that were aired in the show the night before. I’m ok with networks trying to disable ad skipping, but I honestly think there’s plenty of times where I would watch the ads even if I could skip them. Why? Because ads are pretty good these days. Maybe I’m just an advertising nerd, but I love a lot of ads that i see on TV. They’ve become little sketch comedy videos and their own form of entertainment. By providing these options, CBS addresses the fact that no one wants to be tied to their living room anymore and kills the desire to illicitly download their show.
There’s a lot of amazing benefits advertisers can get from this. Better analytics is just the obvious jump off, but why couldn’t networks replace advertisements after the fact just like they would on a re-broadcast of the show. When How I Met Your Mother re-airs over the summer hiatus it doesn’t have the same Samsung ad it had when it aired the previous February. It has the current advertisement. Whenever I download the show under this system it should have the same evolving ads. If I download right away in February my files should have different ads than if I download in June. Download options could disappear after the next season starts to maintain DVD sales.
Let’s say CBS ignores my file download idea and simply sticks with only streaming. NBC does this with Sunday night football. Normally, instead of watching football on my TV (where I pay for it by paying the cable company) I want to watch it on my computer. To do this I find an illegal stream from somewhere like Germany and stream the game to a small window on my screen in less than HD quality. It’s glitchy and not ideal, but it lets me watch football how I want to watch it. It lets me work and watch. Because the only difference between my computer monitor and the TV in the other room is semantics and arguing semantics is for third grade know-it-alls not adults.
These NFL streams that I steal from Germany always have commercials built into them. It’s arguably the same as broadcast. Flip over to NBC’s site and they are the only channel to stream their games online. The service is great. The picture is great and some of the additional stats, camera angles, and Twitter integration really enhance the game. Here’s what doesn’t make any sense at all. There are very limited advertisements. 80% of the ads shown on TV are not shown on the stream. During TV commercial breaks the online stream might show an ad from, say, Microsoft, but then just sit there with dead air until the game resumes. What? What the heck is going on at the networks and at advertising agencies and brands? Are they clueless that this is valuable advertising space? Why in the world can’t this space be sold? Why isn’t it more valuable than a traditional TV spot? The folks consuming content over the web like this are the cutting edge, young demographic. Advertisers want them, right? Why don’t the same exact ads air online that air on TV? (Yes, I understand there are some regional FCC requirements, but Google is smart enough to tell I’m accessing their site from a server in Chicago so I’m sure regional ads could be correctly directed to the right viewers on a given stream.) Figure it out. Why isn’t this being monetized?
CBS shouldn’t be suing Aereo. CBS should be Aereo. It’s insane that because networks and advertisers are so incredibly inept with digital media that a company like Aereo with a seemingly preposterous business model of renting physical antennas can exist and profit. Les Moonves ought to quit cutting off his nose to spite his face (as my mom would say) and buck up and deliver entertainment styled for this decade.