I Have Seen the Future of Media, and it’s Terrible

My house is a “cord cutter” house. We don’t have cable at all. We subscribe to Netflix, have a big antenna on our roof for local channels, watch DVD’s and Blu-Rays and even buy an occasional movie directly from iTunes or Amazon. For the most part, it’s been great. That said, I think I see where all this is going, and it’s terrifying.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me writing this post was the news that Dr. Dre’s new album is going to be iTunes/Apple Music exclusive. Exclusive content is a nightmare and is about the least consumer friendly practice going in the media industry. Want to listen to Taylor Swift? Hope you don’t use Spotify for all your music. Want to watch WWE Monday Night Raw? Hope you subscribe to cable (not even subscribing to the WWE network will let you watch Monday Night Raw on Monday night, and Hulu’s version requires a subscription and is edited down). Want to see the latest episodes of Arrested Development? Hope you have Netflix. Want to watch the previously free backlog of South Park episodes? Hope you have a paid Hulu subscription.

At this point, you damn near need a spreadsheet to keep up with how to watch all the various content that you might be interested in. And live sports? Those are even more infuriating. SUBSCRIBE TO WATCH EVERY SINGLE MAJOR LEAGE BASEBALL GAME ON ANY DEVICE *except the ones from your local market team. You know, the only team you really care about. You can’t watch those at all unless you have cable and watch it via cable.

Nobody likes the cable companies. Nobody likes to pay for 300 channels when there’s only four they care about. There are options out there now like Netflix and Hulu, and people are moving to them. That’s great! The problem is that every content producer sees Netflix’s success and wants in. The most consumer friendly move would be to set up some kind of content exchange – HBO could offer up their shows to service providers like Netflix, Hulu, Apple and the cable companies for a price, and then consumers could decide if each piece of content is worth it (a la carte at the “show” level). The service providers would compete on, you know, service. And price. Things that would benefit the consumer. Instead, HBO started up their own streaming service that *only* has HBO content. WWE? Same thing. Showtime? Check!

As far as I can see, the way this ultimately plays out is terrifying. Before long, your $150 cable bill is going to be replaced by twenty $10 a month subscriptions, assuming you want to watch all the various “must see” shows. Even worse, you’re going to be dealing with 20 different companies with 20 different restrictions on when/how/where you can stream (service X won’t allow you to cache content locally, service Y doesn’t work on Apple TVs or iPads, service Z only offers the 5 most recent episodes). What could be an incredible future of any content you want on demand on any device you want is going to turn into a world of a whole bunch of barely working services serving up one or two things you want to watch each and a whole ton of crap you don’t. You’re going to be paying more for a worse user experience, which doesn’t seem possible considering the state of cable provider hardware. Remember trying to teach your mom how to use the DVR? Try teaching your mom how to use 5 different services, each with a different UI.

I’m hoping that the critical mass of people won’t go for this. They’ll subscribe to one or two services, and anything on the other ones will just go unwatched (or worse, will be watched via piracy). Maybe content providers will see what’s happening and decide to play ball. Maybe it’s not too late, and the market will correct itself. Or maybe big companies will continue to do big company things and mess up the long game because they’re too busy chasing short term profits. Your guess is as good as mine, but the smart money is on big companies continuing to be stupid.

Maybe we should all just switch to video games all the time. I hear there’s no exclusivity issues there 🙂

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