Cable Execs Should Be Last Ones Put in Charge of TV Everywhere

Past Price Gouging and Shoddy Service Make Them Consumers' -- and Content's -- Natural Enemy

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Bob Garfield
Bob Garfield
TV Everywhere?

Not a problem. As smart phones and tablets continue to proliferate, there will be plenty of opportunity -- and, in time, plenty of wireless spectrum -- to stream all kinds of wonderful content right to your palm or laptop or tablet or, probably by the Consumer Electronics Show 2021, directly to your visual cortex.

The question is: By what route, exactly?

From Hulu? From Netflix? From YouTube? From whoever picks up where the Pirate Bay pirates left off? Direct from the producers, whether the NFL or a Hollywood production company? Where?

Here's an idea: Why don't we stay with the status quo and let all that swell content come from cable?

After all, everybody loves cable for all the obvious reasons. It allows us to choose and pay for only what we want from the content menu, and to disregard at no cost what we have no use for. It delivers the goods for pennies. And, when something goes wrong, how inspiring it is to see the speed and diligence with which it puts everything right! Cable is simply a wonderful institution that deserves our respect, our thanks, our loyalty and our money.

We should probably name our newborns after cable. We are so, so blessed. As I write this, I choke back tears.

Anyway, so the oligarchs seem, most delusionally, to believe. That's why Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time-Warner, and Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon, took the stage at CES to implore (read: beg) device developers to create unified software for authenticating cable subscribers in order to unlock the delivery of content to their hardware.

"This is the best room in the world to develop the innovation to make this happen," Bewkes declared, and no doubt he was right about that. What he is less right about is imagining that the co-conspirators who have strong-armed, disrespected and generally sodomized consumers for six decades or so will get any sympathy whatsoever in the desire to maintain a distribution oligopoly under more or less the same onerous terms.

Bewkes has previously called the TV Everywhere scheme "a natural extension of the existing model." Wrong. It is the extension of the existing unnatural model -- a model that makes very little sense in a connected, distributed world. What makes sense is the complete disintermediation of multichannel middlemen. What is unnatural is greedy producers like the NFL gouging greedy channels like ESPN who in turn gouge greedy multichannel operators who in turn gouge us. What is natural is producers selling directly to the audience at prices determined by the market, free of mandatory bundling, subsidized by ads or not.

Yes, content is king. Holding the king for ransom, however, is kidnapping. Nobody, but nobody wants to be the victim of a hostage situation.

That's why across America cable subscribers are gleefully becoming former cable subscribers, keeping their co-ax and fiber only to stream for free the very shows they'd been paying for at 100 bucks a month. The digital revolution isn't all pretty and no doubt it's wrong to savor someone else's bad fortune. But it's hard not to feel morbid satisfaction to see the erstwhile sodomizers, on stage in their $2,000 suits, begging for mercy in the process of becoming sodomizees.

Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
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