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The Golf Channel, the Masters and the Cord Cutter

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I was getting ready to slam the Golf Channel again for making the Masters hard to stream. After all they still require cable credentials to access the live stream. But in the case of the Masters tournament that restriction doesn’t matter much. As outlined in this excellent sbnation piece there are plenty of other live streaming options including masters.com which does not ask for a cable subscription password.

Tiger Woods at Augusta courtesy Mark Levin flickr

Tiger Woods at Augusta courtesy Mark Levin flickr

 

Well the Golf Channel might be shooting themselves in the foot. It turns out that without Tiger Woods this year ratings are down 28% at ESPN. The Golf Channel, owned by NBC Universal, is a weird entity and much less than it could be.  One might think that the Golf Channel is the first place to turn to catch any of the majors but not so.  Other networks seem to take over for these highly viewed tournaments.  The Golf Channel would be great as a Roku channel but there is no hint that is going to ever happen.

Meanwhile if you enjoy the Masters, be grateful that your viewing options are many this year both online and over the air.


Posted in cord cutter, golf channel, Roku, Uncategorized

Mohu Channels Kickstarter Campaign

Based on a tip from frequent Cord Cutter Guide contributor Len, I am pledging $79 toward Mohu’s Kickstarter campaign. For that I will receive the Mohu Channels product when it ships in June.  The Mohu product promises to do  something that has been lacking in other STB solutions: integration of over the air and web content into a single channel guide.

Example of a personal Mohu Channel Guide.  Courtesy kickstarter.com

Example of a personal Mohu Channel Guide.
Courtesy kickstarter.com

One of the main advantages of a Cable subscription is the channel guide.  The passive experience of channel surfing is enjoyable when you really aren’t sure what you want.  Having to switch between inputs and various menus makes this experience hard to replicate for a cord cutter.

Mohu Channels will let you create a custom guide based on your own preferred  ”mash up” of channels.  The most important new feature here is the integration of OTA and OTT.  That in itself should at least eliminate one nuisance – having to switch from  ”Antenna” to “HDMI” on your TV’s input menu.

The future of Mohu Channels  is entirely dependent on how easy that guide is to use.  One thing I have some qualms about is the remote control which is a full QWERTY keyboard. One of the design challenges here is that of making the interface easy to use without slowing it down. I agree with Mohu that on-screen keyboards are slow and painful.  But will this two hand  keyboard be intimidating to consumers?  I’ll withhold further judgement until I get one in my hands.

There is one obvious big  feature missing here — the DVR. I’m sure techy type cord cutters can assemble various combinations of Simple.TV, Channel Master, Aereo etc, but that kills the idea of having one simple box and interface. Something tells me there is another Mohu kickstarter campaign in our future.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Breaking: Comcast announces A la Carte Plan

PHILADELPHIA PA

In an early morning press conference Comcast unveiled a new cable plan that will allow the consumer to pick and choose exactly which channels they want . Expected to go online by the end of the month, the new “my lineup” plan will offer basic channels at $1.00 per month each, and premium sports channels such as ESPN for $2.25 per month.

“Cable is just too damned expensive” , said Brian Roberts, CEO of  Comcast. “Why should the customer have to pay for all of those channels they don’t want or need?”

For more information visit comcast.com/mylineup

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

SNL Kagan: Pay TV posts first full year decline.

According to a recent  SNL Kagan press release 251,000 households became cord cutters between Q4 2012 and Q4  2013. This is the most relevant statistic, as it includes all three type of providers: Cable, Satellite and Telco.

Traditional Cable/MSO operators (Comcast, TWC etc)  are the biggest losers and Telco type providers (AT&T U-Verse, Verizon FIOS)  show the biggest gains. The total share of the market breaks down  as follows:

  • Cable      54.4 M
  • Satellite  34.3 M
  • Telco       10.7 M

Much of the debate on whether cord cutting is “real” or not comes from how these kind of statistics are interpreted. The churn factor – e.g. people jumping from TWC to U-Verse –  is irrelevant to that debate. AT&T has been aggressively  taking customers from Cable for years now. In my area AT&T offers a $49 package of TV and internet for 12 months, PLUS a $100 gift card. If you are paying over $100 per month  for Cable why not switch to save money? (I can think of one reason: AT&T customer service is the worst).

AT&T U-Verse intro offers creating churn. Photo mrbill flickr.

AT&T U-Verse intro offers creating churn. Photo mrbill flickr.

Taken as an aggregate, 250 thousand cord cutters represent only about  0.25 % of the total 100 million active Pay TV subscribers. An investor would probably call that performance “flat” , not a major loss. Or in other words, cord cutting  is real, but still just an early adopter phenomenon.

OK so cord cutting is real, but will the trend continue? That depends….

The churn numbers (people switching to cheaper introductory deals) are actually much larger  than the cord cutting  numbers. If Pay TV providers would offer a la carte  plus internet at a fixed  monthly price of under $50 per month I think the trend would reverse.  Of course Cable has been fighting the demand for a la carte forever so don’t hold your breath.

In the end today’s Cable prices are just too high relative to the value. Something will change. Stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized

March Madness and the Cord Cutter

If you are a true NCAA basketball fanatic and a cord cutter know is the time to make friends with a cable subscriber. It turns out that  like so many other content sources  lately,  NCAA  basketball is stream friendly — just not cord cutter friendly.

Reading “March Madness Live to provide more than 150 hours of enhanced coverage” we learn that:

“Fans will have access to all games airing live on TNT, TBS and truTV by logging in with their TV service provider information, and all games broadcast on CBS with no registration required.” 

JMR_Photography Flickr

JMR_Photography Flickr

In a recent post I argued on ethical grounds,  against borrowing a password to access HBO GO. But that was before  I read in this Boston.com blog post that  HBO’s CEO doesn’t care if you share your password! Well if HBO doesn’t care than go ahead and share away. The next time I want to watch the Golf Channel via HBO GO it will be with a friend’s password. Of course I’m extrapolating HBO’s position to the NCAA and to TNT, TBS and truTV for now. Stay tuned for updates on this password sharing controversy.

March Madness  starts Sunday March 16th.  Click here for a complete TV schedule.

Posted in Uncategorized

Where will Comcast find 3M TWC Subs to Divest?

The word on the street is that the Comcast  acquisition of TWC marches forward and will be completed by the end of 2014.  TWC  sent a letter (email) to subscribers last week, signed by  CEO Robert D. Marcus, promising that the “merger” will benefit existing customers:

“The combined company will innovate faster and deploy even better products and features, including a superior video guide, faster Broadband Internet speeds and even more WiFi access points so you can access the Internet wherever you go. “

It would have  been more comforting if Mr. Marcus had put in a word about rates staying the same – he did not.

Part of this “merger”  requires that Comcast divest itself of 3 million subscribers in order to stay under 30% of the whole market. Some of  today’s customers will have to be sold off to another provider and this may be one of the most challenging parts of the deal. How will Comcast select 3 million subs and who will take them?

TWC vs Comcast by Mosaik Solutions and  NYT The Comcast-Time Warner Deal, by the Numbers

TWC vs Comcast by Mosaik Solutions and NYT The Comcast-Time Warner Deal, by the Numbers 2-13-14.

TWC has major operations in Texas,  Southern California,  the Midwest,  and the Carolinas. Comcast surely will try to keep these systems whole, especially since they can be combined to adjacent Comcast entities.  For example Comcast has most of northern California, and operates in Houston.

The  easiest candidates for divestiture might be the existing TWC systems that aren’t part of the major metro clusters that Comcast will desire. Here some candidates with numbers where I could find them. If I don’t have TWC numbers I give “households”.  Assume TWC cable subscribers will be some small fraction of this household number.

TWC Kansas City:  970,069 households.  KC is isolated but oh it’s right there in Google Fiber land.  TWC might hesitate to walk away from the heat of the battle.

TWC Hawaii (Oceanic):      350,000 subs.  There is no dispute that Oceanic is isolated by all that Pacific ocean between LA and Honolulu.  TWC Oceanic has a reputation for being the rogue of the family and might not mind reverting to just Oceanic Cable.

TWC Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio: 750,000 subs. This  would mean undoing the 2011 Insight acquisition.

TWC Lincoln Nebraska:  103,546 households. This might be one of the easier choices.

TWC Maine: 196,669 households in Portland Maine MSA.

TWC  Dothan and Enterprise, AL: about 32,000 households combined.

TWC  Coeur d’Alene, ID: 18,395 households.

To get to 3 million Comcast might have to “cut the cord” so to speak on some existing Comcast subscribers.  Comcast has some service areas in the middle of the country that might be sacrificed. Places like Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Little Rock. Even so I’m not sure these can add up to 3 million. And if they don’t Comcast will have to make some more drastic sacrifice of a major metro area.

Who will take them?

Some have speculated that  a new company could be spun off. If so this  new operator  of 3 million would be the 9th largest just behind Cablevision. But that seems complicated and unnecessary. There are cable operators  that don’t mind having disparate systems around the country. Once Comcast assembles the list they will probably go up for sale to the highest bidder.

Conclusion

This is no easy exercise. I do think Comcast will look to keep the major metro clusters together, especially  Texas and the coasts. It will be fun to watch – stay tuned.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

ABC to join 21st Century with Official Live Stream of 2014 Oscars

This year is different. ABC seems to have gotten the memo that some people watch TV over the internet.  The official stream is very limited unfortunately:

  • Requires a Pay TV subscription.
  • Only 9 providers participating.
  • Only 8 markets included.

Boston you’re out of luck, but Fresno is good. I suspect that these geographical limitations are business issues and not technical ones. After all the Super Bowl was live streamed everywhere and  attracts more than twice the the viewers than what is sometimes called “the Super Bowl for women”.

photo: RCB on flickr

photo: RCB on flickr

Of course the great irony is that where the stream is available you probably don’t need it – just put up an antenna. An even greater irony? If you have cable credentials why do you need the stream?

Which got me to wondering. Exactly what are the scenarios where one might have internet connectivity but no ABC over the air? Let me know if you can add to the list:

  • Apartment dweller with no Cable or antenna feed.
  • Out of range to the nearest ABC affiliate.
  • Living outside of the USA.
  • Anywhere outside your home with 4G or WiFi access.
  • You are at home but away from the TV room.

In any case the remedies are the same as last year.  And as s usual, I’d love to know how you will watch and  if you even care.

 

LIVE UPDATE:
There are some  unofficial streams that work:

http://www.ilive.to/view/46476/watch-live-ABC-streaming-channel-for-free

http://www.twitch.tv/mirmix1983

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Netflix Traffic Jams and the Cord Cutter

The Netflix’release of  season 2 of House of Cards  on Valentine’s Day was met with huge success. Suddenly reports of “binge viewing” were everywhere. Now even though I’m a cord cutter I tend to be a late adopter of hit TV series. I  had just started watching the FOX series  24 when it was on it’s last season.  So I figured it was time for me to check out House of Cards, season 1 episode 1

photo: nayukim via flickr

photo: nayukim via flickr

Easy enough, I thought. All of season 1 is still there on Netflix. I queued it up on a weekday night at about 9 pm  PST. But what’s this? About 2 minutes in that dreaded Netflix red  ”loading” status bar appears and stalls everything for a couple minutes. Annoying.  This happens a few times at least.

According to Speedest.net  my download speed is  10 Mbps, and Netflix only requires a  1.5 Mbps connection so  what’s the problem?  The problem is I have a 10 Mbps connection only from my home  to TWC’s server, not all the way to Netflix. Next comes news that Verizon FIOS customers are being throttled when it comes to watching Netflix.

These recent slowdowns could signal hard times ahead for cord cutters by the way of price increases. All the  happy House of Cards binge viewers paying  only $7.99 per month may be living in a golden era.  Netflix has certainly shown us they can evolve as a business but the next change may be more painful.

When Netflix started losing content that they didn’t control, they reacted by adding their own exclusive programs: House of Card, Orange is the New Black and more.  Very smart. But now CEO Reed Hastings may find himself in a battle not for content but for internet bandwidth. Unfortunately for Netflix the solution might be a bit more expensive or drastic. Either pay for more bandwidth or build out your own network. Or some even worse scenario.

It will be interesting to watch Netflix’ next move.  In any case I hope it’s merely a coincidence that Netflix’ biggest hit ever is called House of Cards.

 

Update 2-24-13Netflix cuts deal with Comcast to speed service

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Comcast, Time Warner Cable and the Cord Cutter

 

Why do consumers hate big companies?

 

Coming back to Los Angeles?  photo: MoneyBlogNewz flkcr

Coming back to Los Angeles?
photo: MoneyBlogNewz flkcr

 

If you are a cable subscriber in the US it’s likely your cable provider is going to be a much bigger company by the end of the year. The Comcast offer to buy TWC for $45 billion is expected to fly. Comcast executives are already mulling over which 3 million of Time Warner’s subscribers they can divest to stay below the 30% mark required by the FTC in mega mergers. (The inside joke is that if Comcast doesn’t move fast enough TWC will lose 3 million just from natural attrition.)

 

 

 

 Customer Service Anyone?

According to this recent WSJ article the following are the 10 most hated companies in the US:

1. McDonald’s
2. Abercrombie & Fitch
3. Electronic Arts
4. Sears Holdings
5. DISH Network
6. Wal-mart
7. JPMorgan Chase
8. lululemon
9. BlackBerry
10. JCPenney

Contrary to recent comments I’ve read around this topic, neither Comcast nor TWC makes the cut. But a much bigger Comcast – I predict they’ll drop the Time Warner Cable moniker – would probably yield a bigger unfriendlier entity for the average consumer. (I personally think AT&T should be on here due to their really terrible customer service.)

But what other ramifications are there to this mega merger?

Cost of Pay TV

The average channel lineup won’t go up in price right away. Comcast won’t have a true monopoly and still competes with Dish, DirecTV,  AT&T’s U-Verse, and Verizon’s FIOS. The bad news is that subscription costs  won’t go down either. Expect the rates to continue their slow annual increases.

 

Cost of Broadband

This is a different story. Internet access already varies in price around the country depending on competition. Consider the impact Google Fiber has had on TWC in Kansas City.  Where Comcast is the only player in town there will be nothing stopping them from raising rates. If you don’t have U-Verse, FIOS, or a regional telco in your area expect to pay more for broadband.

 

Cord Cutting

There are some scary scenarios to consider when combining the recent loss of net neutrality rules. Mainly, could a super-power MSO/ISP tweak the system to make over the top viewing more difficult? In theory they could.  Consider the nightmare possibility of being charged special fees to view Netflix, YouTube, or Amazon Video.  But I don’t think the consumer along with these competitors would stand for this.

 

The Big Picture

It’s hard to believe that at one time AT&T had a virtual monopoly for land lines across the entire US. If you are old enough you may remember paying different rates for local, regional, and long distance.  Ma Bell had dozens of different ways to ding you on your bill and there was not much you could do about it.  Then came United States v. AT&T the Internet, cell phones, and land lines are hardly relevant anymore.

Cable MSO’s started as small regional companies. Over the last 20 years these small companies merged rapidly. Talk to someone from TWC, Comcast or Charter and they’ll take you through a genealogy of employers that maybe six or more names long.

Technology and service providers tend to start small, merge, and become super powers until some disruptive force comes along and wipes them out. Cable in the sense of Pay TV may be getting close to that disruptive phase. And if a true disruption happens, paying $100+ per month for Cable  may someday become as antiquated as paying 10 cents per minute to dial outside of your area code.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Breaking: Comcast buying TWC

Stunning.

Word on the street is this one will fly, and be closed by end of year. Update this weekend.

 

Posted in Uncategorized
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