Television Tribulation

You-know-who is out of the bottle.

“Cutting the cord” has been the buzzword for television viewing in recent years as customers cancel cable subscriptions with their bundles of prescribed channels and view select networks and programming via the Internet. This pattern of content consumption mirrors two decades of developments in music as consumers eschewed physical CDs and predetermined albums (another form of product delivery), picking and choosing songs digitally. Music marketing morphed from sales of songs and albums to streaming entire catalogs for a monthly fee.

Technology has allowed the digital files comprising TV shows and movies to be manipulated like the far smaller files required for songs—online, on-demand, started and stopped like VHS cassettes (for those who remember yet another bygone physical medium). It should be hailed as a triumph for the marketplace; yet, streaming presents disadvantages for consumers while it specifies programming, as The Washington Post reports (Article: “How the dream of cheap streaming television became a pricey complicated mess”).

Audiences face a vast array of content apps, a content delivery method familiar in the mobile era. Each app provides a menu of programs along with its own price tag. Some companies like Netflix offer original works along with content from other producers. Others like HBO and CBS emphasize their unique shows, such as “Game of Thrones” and the reboot of “The Twilight Zone.” Disney is launching Disney+ as a streaming platform for its decades of cherished content including the Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios libraries.

The P for Place strategy at work is direct distribution between producer and consumer, the model e-commerce made ascendent. Intermediaries—cable companies like Comcast and aggregators like Netflix—are bypassed, just as the intermediary represented by brick-and-mortar retail has seen traffic decline. Cheering the elimination of the middleman predates the digital age; however, value is lost.

“You’re entering a dimension of bewildering content choices and unexpected costs…”

Efficiency results from using channel partners. As The Washington Post points out, deleting the middlemen of TV viewing has made customer experiences more complicated and expensive. As scripture points out repeatedly, prudence and an appreciation of consequences are vital.

Just like “I Dream of Jeannie” streaming on Vudu, you-know-who is out of the bottle (yes, I aged myself). Consumers are demanding the flexibility of streaming, watching programs on multiple wireless devices as well as the flatscreen in the living room. Cutting the cord may unleash myriad content providers and a pile of subscription fees to rival the one-time cable bill, but consumers enjoy choice of programs and viewing opportunities (you can watch Barbara Eden cross her arms and blink while you’re standing in line at Starbucks).

There will be winners and losers, the story of every marketplace. Some will be producers. Some will be intermediaries. Some will be consumers. In the words of Rod Serling in his own genie story, “The Man in the Bottle”: “Be careful what you wish for, wishmakers.”

Isaiah 43:19 NIV
[19] See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

What is consumer empowerment? How can Christian marketers ensure such empowerment as streaming media grow?

Will the complexity and amassed costs of streaming drive consumers back to traditional media intermediaries? If so, how should these companies receive their “prodigal customers?”

Cable box image: WiNGHK Cable TV Settop Box 2005VersionCC BY 3.0

Rod Serling/TV screen image: The original uploader was Fabiopao at Italian Wikipedia., Serling, modified by Jason Karpf, CC BY 2.5, RicktertoFlat Screen, Combined with other image by Jason Karpf, CC BY-SA 4.0

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