From “The Sopranos” to “The Wire,” HBO’s original series are a big part of why many people subscribe to cable at all. Put that content online, the thinking went, and cord cutting would be rampant. With the launch today of HBO Go, the content is now online, but online for pay-TV subscribers, starting with customers of Verizon FiOS. The limited access to the popular channel is likely to provide millions of consumers with their first taste of TV Everywhere-like authentication. The grousing has already begun.
So the iPad is finally here, and the first impressions are a bit mixed. Om thinks it’s the device we’ve been waiting for. But it didn’t quite make Walt Mossberg swoon, at least not yet. Dan Rayburn complains that he can’t prop it up to watch video, while Major League Baseball is all over it. My question concerns the total cost of owning and using an iPad. If you go for the 64GB version with 3G it will run you $829. Fair enough, but then you need a $30 per month ($360 per year) data plan, plus $9.99 a piece for apps, plus the cost of whatever content you buy. Pretty soon, it could start to look like your cable bill.
Comcast rolled out its TV Everywhere service nationwide this morning, which it insists on calling Fancast Xfinity TV for reasons no one can explain. Worse than the awful name, though, were the early reviews of the service itself. About the best anyone had to say, in this case All Things D media blogger Peter Kafka, was that the quality is OK so long as you don’t try to fast forward. According to former GigaOm scribe Chris Albrecht, the navigation is “cumbersome,” the library is “lacking” and the video quality “sucks.” Dan Rayburn, producer of the Streaming Media conferences and an expert on the technology was equally brutal, faulting the service for pixelated video, poor frame rates and endless buffering. Perhaps Comcast was rushing things a bit?
Comcast’s proposed deal to gain control of NBC Universal has brought predictable expressions of concern from public interest groups and federal officials in Washington about its potential to harm the interests of consumers, advertisers and competitors. Comcast itself has been quick to acknowledge that potential — up to a point, at least — and has moved to demonstrate its “good faith” in addressing those concerns with regulators by, among other things, promising to deal fairly with competitors and downplaying plans to raise paywalls around Hulu and other web-video services. One company not typically included among those that could be harmed by the proposed merger, however, is Apple. Yet if the NBC-Comcast deal goes through as proposed it could present a serious hurdle to Apple’s long-term plans to conquer video.
What do people like to watch on Hulu? Pretty much the same stuff they like to watch on TV, and therein lies the rub. According to the latest data from comScore, the video portal saw big spikes in unique visitors and streams in October, thanks to the start of the new TV season and the addition of ABC’s primetime shows to the Hulu mix. That has advertisers clamoring to get in on the action: Hulu’s ad inventory is nearly sold out for the fourth quarter. The good news for Hulu could be bad news for users, however. The increased viewership will only add to pressure to put some content behind a pay wall, or boost ad-loads to create more inventory.
While cable programmers are anxious to preserve their existing dual-revenue stream business model (advertising plus affiliate fees), and therefore share operators’ interest in discouraging cord-cutting, TV Everywhere also represents an opportunity for them to expand the distribution of their networks. And as Iger made clear, when content owners grant expanded distribution rights they expect to receive expanded payment for those rights in return.