Let’s talk a little bit about the future of watching football. Most of here are primarily spectators, and we often go to great lengths to follow our favorite clubs. That often means shelling out big bucks for cable or satellite sports packages. Being a soccer fan means giving DirecTV an extra $28 a month for the top selection of European matches. NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers give almost as much ($300/year) to fill their autumn Sunday afternoons with football.
That’s why it annoys me more than it should to read about the number of people canceling their cable and satellite TV service in favor of Netflix.
Today, nearly 3 million users access Netflix’s instant streaming service, watching an estimated 5 million movies and TV shows every week on their PCs or living room sets…
Netflix, which lets subscribers hold on to movies for as long as they like, was cheaper, easier, and more convenient for consumers than building film libraries; DVD sales have plummeted as Netflix has grown. And while his streaming service would seem to present a similar threat to cable companies, (Netflix CEO Reed) Hastings argues that their real challenge comes from the Internet in general, not just Netflix. “I mean, will people disconnect their cable over time?” He shrugs. “Potentially.” Hastings may undersell the impact of his service, but some of his partners don’t share his gift for diplomacy. “Our goal is to have everyone cancel their cable subscription,” Roku’s (Anthony) Wood says.
Well, that’s sounds awesome. What if you’re a sports fan?
I mean, if all you watch is baseball, then sure, you can get that through the Roku Player, which my parents can’t stop praising. But how many sports fans watch only baseball?
Cable and satellite companies have us by the balls, because they have all those ESPN and Fox Sports channels we need, and if we want to watch all the games at home, we have to shell out for it. The WWL probably isn’t interested in changing this model, either, given that it makes $4.3 billion a year from all cable and satellite subscribers, including those who don’t watch ESPN.
Does that change if millions of people cut the cable in favor of Netflix? Given that about 98 million homes still have cable or sat TV, losing a few million here or there wouldn’t change much. ESPN would have to see their subscriber revenue cut in half before they did anything drastic, and even then, they would still be a behemoth. Plus, ESPN is owned by Disney, which benefits plenty from the current TV system.
On the other hand, Steve Jobs is on the board at Disney, isn’t he? And he has this little device called Apple TV that’s languishing in obscurity at the moment. If there were a way to get all the WWL channels on there, wouldn’t it make that gadget just a little more compelling? If you could pay monthly for the sports channels you want, then pay a la carte for everything else and get all the free podcasts and YouTube vids you can handle on top of that, would you?
But of course, why pay a la carte when you can get it all on demand from Netflix, right? Roku’s got that. What if their set-top box, which has Netflix and Amazon video-on-demand, also offered all the sports channels you wanted in HD, plus over-the-air digital TV, YouTube and video podcasts for a low monthly fee, with all manner of on-demand and PPV items on top of that? Would that not make it an even more compelling device?
Alas, how would they deliver those sports channels? Over the internet? You think cable and telephone companies will let you use their pipes for that, when they’re all trying to sell their own TV services? Satellite? Yes, it’s getting cheaper to launch sats these days, but designing the right technology for them is still a huge upfront expense, and even then, you can’t predict the weather. Whitespace broadband? We’re not there yet, and the National Association of Broadcasters will scream bloody murder when we are.
So Netflix and Roku can talk all they want about getting everyone in America to cut the cable and dump the dish, and yes, they’ll get plenty of customers. They will not, however, get us football fans, because they can’t give us what we want. We’re the ones who get the honor of keeping the cable and satellite companies in business for a long, long time to come. And they know it.