retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB talked about "Zero TV Nation," the some five million US households that do not pay for cable and/or satellite TV service, don't use an antennae to get free TV service, and who watch TV shows on devices such as computers, tablets or smartphones. Among other things, I wrote, this trend illustrates 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.

One MNB user responded:

I am not technically one of the Zero TV Nation members, but I couldn’t agree more with this.  I quit paying for satellite TV 2 years ago, it was ~$85 a month at that time.  Cable was no cheaper.  I did my own research and found only a handful of stations that we watched where we couldn’t get the station over the air.  I installed an antenna in my attic and connected it to the outside where the cable signal comes in, splitting it there ( is a good place to start for antenna research).  I receive the high definition antenna signal on all my home TVs.  I also have a high speed internet connection with a small older computer I rebuilt, added a wireless keyboard, and connected it to our TV in the living room.  On that I watch TV programs I missed (or couldn’t get previously) by going to the station website (ABC, CBS, TNT, WB, etc…) and watching them there – no need for a DVR.  The other thing I did was get a ROKU box (actually a few of them) and connected it to the TV.  With that I get Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu, etc… (hundreds of various “stations” where most are free).  A lot of them aren’t too good, but you get to pick what you want to have.  Plus you can watch several years of shows on Hulu Plus if you want, or get caught up on several episodes in a single weekend.  I now pay Hulu and Netflix $7.99 each per month for a total of $15.98 / month.  Vudu has a lot of recently released movies that I can just stream to my TV without having to go anywhere to check them out.  With the price of gas, even dollar rentals cost more than just a buck.
The one thing you won’t get very well is the various live sports feeds – so that has to be taken into consideration.  My wife and I enjoy watching our favorite teams and if they aren’t on the local stations, occasionally we may make a “date” night of it and hit a local sports bar.  I know that can add up, but getting out with the wife on a date night and doing this makes her happy, so I figure I’m ahead there.  You can get ESPN3 streamed for some of the sports games, and the signal is just as good as regular TV.  There are several other ways to get online feeds from the various sports venues that broadcast live sports.  Of course with Roku, you can also purchase the sports packages if you are really into it.  I am aware of other feeds online, but I stay away from those. 
All in all, I figure I have saved over $1500 in the past 2 years, by not having some things convenient with a single remote access.  A bit of an inconvenience, but not worth the extra cost of subscription TV.  For the station list, I downloaded the TV Guide app to my phone so I can see what is on at any given time.  I have had several people ask me about what I have done because they see their monthly bill and are also tired of paying for it every month, especially for stations they don’t want to watch.  BTW, that is also one of the main complaints I had with my subscription service.  I joke with them that I need to start a consulting service to show people how to set things up.  The main thing is to do your research.  BTW, I am not a young techie.  I am in my mid 50’s and was just tired of paying out so much for the handful of stations I could not get over the air. 
Whenever my wife and I walk into a Sam’s store or some other retailer where a satellite company is trying to sign up customers, they invariably hit up my wife.  She sends me over to talk to them and when I start telling them what I did, they tell me nicely to have a nice day and shoo me along.  I joke with them that I can meet up with their customers and discuss options with them, but pretty much get a “no thanks, not interested” reply.

From another reader:

One aspect of the Zero TV households that doesn’t seem to be addressed is those that don’t watch that content at all, in any manner.  Not necessarily as a value judgment, but just a case of “not enough hours in the day.” When televisions switched to digital we considered whether or not we should buy a new set, and decided that since ours was primarily a DVD player (when turned on at all) it wasn’t needed. My pub quiz trivia team knows that when it comes to questions involving television shows, don’t even look at me.

And MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

Appreciated this article…

13 years ago…disconnected landline.

6 years ago gave TVs away.

I have my IPhone…that is my connection to friends and family and the Internet.  Soon to have iPad Mini…

MNB yesterday took note of a Bloomberg Business Week piece about Jeff Bezos' decision to invest $5 million in a six-year-old news start-up called Business Insider, and how it reflects his belief in the disruptive influences affecting traditional business models.

"Bezos’s investment in the scrappy news site is perfectly aligned with his overall philosophy about changes in the media business," Bloomberg Business Week wrote. "He believes the intermediary layers or 'gatekeepers' of traditional media are being threatened by tectonic shifts in the economics of content creation and distribution, and Amazon is investing heavily to accelerate the transition and profit from it.

And I commented:

Gatekeepers are irrelevant when everybody has a set of keys, a blueprint with all the secret and not-so-secret entrances, and an invitation to come on in.

MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

I can’t say I agree with the sentiment of this item. Gatekeepers, whether biased or (seemingly) objective afford a filter for news. The imprimatur of the journalist gives credibility to the article. A sense that someone qualified to evaluate the veracity of news has taken the time to review it and publish it. Sort of a “Good Housekeeping Seal”.  And while I acknowledge that standards in journalism have eroded in the competition for TV ratings or to outdo online sources, the role of the gatekeeper continues to be vital. Even Fox News was forced to overrule Rove as being hopelessly biased in his assessment of the last Presidential election.

I agree with you ... to a point. There are gatekeepers everywhere. is a kind of gatekeeper, though one with a more democratic - small "d" - view of the content universe. Hell, MNB is a kind of gatekeeper, though I prefer the word "curator."

But I think the Bezos belief is that traditional gatekeeping entities and institutions are losing their primacy, and that it is worth investing in the alternatives.

MNB also took note yesterday of a New York Times report on how "a dozen or so state legislatures" have responded to videos shot by animal rights activists - showing acts of animal cruelty that resulted in federal investigations and the loss of business by some suppliers - by proposing or passing "bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups.

I commented, in part:

This is a crock.

This kind of legislation is created by people who never read the great quote by Louis Brandeis, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, who believed that "sunlight is the best disinfectant." Or, it is created by people who believe that sunlight is their enemy.

I am not saying that every video produced by an animal rights group is accurate, nor that every animal rights group is above reproach. But I am saying that to criminalize the shooting of such videos, and to suggest that all the people who produce such videos are terrorists, is an affront to common sense and, in its own way, dangerous because it diminishes the threat of real terrorists.

Give me a break.

It is hard for me to believe that such legislative efforts will hold up to challenges based on Freedom of the Press. But you never know.

One MNB user responded:

This move by legislators really is ridiculous. It's like making it criminal to hold potential criminals accountable. Treat animals humanely and they should have nothing to worry about.

Another embarrassing aspect of misguided government.

We had a piece yesterday about the growth of online shopping and same day delivery, which prompted MNB user Andy Casey to write:

This may be a threat to local retailers but right now I'm just not seeing it -  if I'm the Staples CEO (or even the manager of the local Staples store) I'm pretty sure I can figure out how to do local delivery faster than 9 hours and cheaper than $11.97.

Baby steps. They're all going to figure this stuff out.

We reported yesterday about how photo studios operating in Sears and some Kmart stores are closing down, yet another victim of digital technologies that also sent Kodak into bankruptcy.

In commenting on this story, I simply quoted the old Queen song - "Another one bites the dust."

MNB user David Peterson wasn't impressed:

Wow!  Your view was very mature and insightful!

And MNB user Mitch Hill wrote:

Thanks, now I’ll have an ear worm all day!

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

I read your comments today about the use of watermarks and QR codes in advertising and wanted to add this story:

Our younger son is the editor of his high school's yearbook and has devoted yeoman hours during this school year to ensure that the product is delivered accurately and on time.   He has worked hard to organize and streamline their production processes in an attempt to bring them a little closer to the 21st Century.   I often find him doing editing work from his laptop in our home and I have been following his work over the course of the year as they are nearing their final production date.    With only 14 of 160 pages left to submit, he took me through his work the other night page by page and we compared notes on how he is able to do so much of his composition work electronically to the extent that the printing company has almost nothing to do other than turn his webpages into paper and ink.    It has come a long ways from the days that we had to use typewriters for copy and paste up page layouts that were sent via US Mail to the printer. 

On several pages of the yearbook appeared a QR code......recognizing them, I asked him what purpose they served.   He went on to explain that the QR code takes the reader to a website that hosts additional video content that supplements the page.   For example, the QR code on the pages illustrating his school's Prom takes you to video of the "Grand March" held at the high school before the Prom.   The yearbook staff surveyed the students and found that the vast majority now own smartphones or iPods that can read QR codes and there was considerable interest in the access to the supplemental videos.   I asked the obvious question and wondered aloud why the entire yearbook wasn't being delivered to students in electronic form........seems students still want a printed yearbook so that they still have the ability to exchange best wishes and signatures on paper.

These are the folks creating our future.

I am impressed.
KC's View: