Wow! New York Times Actually Writes About What the Comcast Deal is About

Friday, December 4, 2009

I must admit I’m stunned.  This Comcast deal will have a huge impact on American culture, but so far the media has only provided us with useless details that shed no light, The New York Times being the most prominent offender.  But today The Times ran a front-page story that clearly explained what the deal is about: fear of cutting the cord, or cable castration or whatever you want to call it.   Of course, the article only regurgitated the industry’s talking points. and did not mention the gorilla in the room: piracy.  Perhaps the studios think that because they have successfully shut down The Pirate Bay and scared Mininova to going legit, that piracy is a thing of the past.  That’s like saying that if you bust a pot-smoker’s dealer they will never smoke pot again. No, it juscomcastgrafismt means that that he or she will have to find another source.   Piracy is here to stay because people like doing it and a lot of people don’t have money now

I wrote in my last post that Comcast might screw around with Hulu.   Soon after, NewTeeVee ran a story quoting Comcast COO Steve Burke suggesting they had no major plans to change Hulu--that it was “complementary” with cable:

“Right now, NBC Universal is distributing a lot of their broadcast content on Hulu, and they have been quite careful not to put too much of their paid-for-cable content out for free over the Internet,” Burke said. “We think both those strategies are smart and appropriate… and we would see after the deal closing, lots of broadcast content going to Hulu and being available for free, and cable content that cable customers pay for, that cable companies and satellite companies and telcos pay for, being on TV Everywhere.”

But soon after, he called to refine the quote, leaving himself a bit more breathing room.  And in today’s Time story leaves no doubt that things are indeed going to change.  They quote Hulu’s Jason Kilar saying that all options are on the table.

Read my lips: Hulu is going to change.  A lot.

This is going to backfire.  People like Hulu exactly the way it is.  If anything, they want more movies and TV.

This is war.  This is a war against what consumers want.  This is an attempt to forestall the new business model which will eventually come no matter how hard they try to stop it: which is that people will be willing to pay for things they want, as they do with HBO, rather than forcing people to pay for what they don’t want, as cable plans do.   Premium plans on Hulu?  I think a lot of people would be happy to pay for that if they could watch without ads. I sure would.  I can pick up the phone right now and tell Time Warner I want Showtime and it’s there, and my bill goes up accordingly.  Or I can cancel. 

Why can’t I watch a few free episodes of “Glee” or “30 Rock” and decide if I want to subscribe to them?   I go on my computer, select them and am billed. 

The possibilities opened up by such a system are unbelievable, if you just take a moment to think about them.  No one would have to program anything against “American Idol,” because all the shows that aren’t live can be watched at any time.  More cult shows could stay on the air.  Channels could decide to give up censorship and not let HBO take all the Emmys year after year.    There could be revenue-sharing between the festivals and the filmmakers.  And on and on.  

The thing about this system is that it gives people a motivation to pay for culture. 

It’s hard to imagine the opportunities of the future if all your energy is spent trying to keep it from happening.  And that’s what wrong with the media’s stories.  The journalists write them by interviewing the people who lack imagination. In fairness, Steve Jobs doesn’t give interviews.

I wonder why.  I realize that secrecy is vital to the way Apple operates, but I’m not talking about giving away details on specific products.  Jobs could talk about his vision of the future until he was blue in the face and no one in the industry would listen to him.