retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Call them "Zero TV Nation."

They are the five million US households that "fall outside the traditional definition of a TV home," meaning they have "stopped paying for cable and satellite TV service, and don't even use an antenna to get free signals over the air. These people are watching shows and movies on the Internet, sometimes via cellphone connections."

The Associated Press reports that the number of Zero TV households has more than doubled from the two million that existed in 2007 ... just six years ago.

According to the story, "The Zero TV segment is increasingly important, because the number of people signing up for traditional TV service has slowed to a standstill in the U.S.

"Last year, the cable, satellite and telecoms providers added just 46,000 video customers collectively, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That's tiny when compared to the 974,000 new households created last year. While it's still 100.4 million homes, or 84.7% of all households, it's down from the peak of 87.3% in early 2010. Nielsen's study suggests that this new group may have left traditional TV for good. While three-quarters actually have a physical TV set, only 18 percent are interested in hooking it up through a traditional pay TV subscription."

There's one business component to this trend that calls out for attention from traditional businesses of any ilk and in any venue: "While show creators and networks make money from this group's viewing habits through deals with online video providers and from advertising on their own websites and apps, broadcasters only get paid when they relay such programming in traditional ways. Unless broadcasters can adapt to modern platforms, their revenue from Zero TV viewers will be zero," the AP writes.

It strikes me that this is just one of several stories this morning that share a theme - how traditional businesses are being made irrelevant, slowly but surely, by empowered consumers equipped with technological capabilities that give them unprecedented strength in the balance of power.

In this case, it is consumers who do not need traditional networks and televisions to watch the programs they want to watch. (This story does not mention it, but there's the dovetailing trend that has new competitors, like Netflix, getting into the content business, offering their wares via new technologies.)

Below, you'll see stories about Jeff Bezos is investing in content companies that are looking to bypass traditional "gatekeepers"; how the digital world has claimed yet another traditional business victim; the potential power of same-day delivery when provided by companies like Amazon, Google or Walmart; and how Costco is allowing - encouraging, even - its customers to use technology to access more and more information about its products.

Remember that moment, early in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones turns around and sees that giant boulder bearing down on him?

That's a terrific metaphor for what is happening right now. This very minute. No matter who you are, no matter how safe you think you may be, no matter how strong you think your business advantages are or how unassailable your business model may be ... this is your reality.

Deal with it. Eyes wide open.
KC's View: