retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

It was just last week that HBO announced that it would for the first time make its programming available via a streaming service - at first only available on iTunes, but soon to be available on other web-enabled devices. HBO Now, the company said, would be part of the revolution in how people watch TV; people will now be able to see "Game of Thrones" or "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" without having a traditional cable service and an HBO subscription, but rather by paying an al a carte fee of $14.99 a month.

It took less than a week for a traditional cable company to get in on the action.

Cablevision yesterday became the first mainstream cable company to announce that it will also offer the service to its internet customers when it becomes available in April.

At the same time, Variety reports that Apple plans to offer a TV service later this year that would offer a number of traditional broadcast networks and cable networks, but in a smaller package than the hundreds generally offered by the cable companies. The goal is to keep the cost down ... and this is a category in which there is enormous movement, with a number of big companies having announced or reportedly planning to announce similar initiatives.

Add to this the report that "Seinfeld," the iconic sitcom that already has made millions in traditional syndication, may get sold to an online video service for a price of something like a half-million dollars an episode. (There are 180 episodes.) The bet here is that such availability, both to new viewers and people who have memorized every line and seen every episode countless times, can generate significant revenue when made available to cord-cutters.

"Seinfeld" was always positioned as a show about nothing. But it has turned out to be a show that almost certainly about making a fortune.

There are two Eye-Opening points here.

One is that technology is making it possible for long-term consumption habits to change in fundamental ways ... and it would be foolish for any consumer-facing business to assume that this cannot happen in their space.

The second is that almost all the changes seem to be happening in a way that gives the consumer more power, not less. The vast majority of what is available on my cable service is stuff I absolutely have no interest in ... and these kinds of services are going to allow me to pick and choose what I want, and eventually have all these products available to me on whatever device - TV, iPad, iPod, iPhone, laptop - happens to be closest at hand.

In other words, what I want ... how I want it ... where I want it ... at a price that I think seems appropriate. In essence, to use a "Seinfeld" phrase in a different context, we all want to be masters of our own domains.

I cannot emphasize this too strongly. This will happen in every space, to every business. Some will take longer than others, and in some cases, the changes will begin as a trickle and quickly turn into a deluge.

Attention must be paid.
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