Two articles describing seemingly contradictory trends caught my eye today. The New York Times talks about the success of postseason baseball broadcasts on cable and Wired shares an report about growing number of viewers watching TV on the internet. So is cable growing or dying?
The Times said that aside from a handful of games that were shown on Fox, the only broadcast channel, the rest of the postseason games were shown on Fox Sports 1, the MLB Network, TBS and ESPN. “In this shifting sports business landscape, the money that Major League Baseball can amass from selling rights to multiple cable networks trumps the convenience of remote-armed fans — or even their ability to have access to some channels.” So every playoff evening the question shifted from “is there a game?” to “where is the game on?” and finally “do we have access to that online?” Irritating for fans yet profitable for the MLB.
The Wired article discussed recently released viewing numbers by Adobe and said that “total TV viewing over the internet grew by 388 percent in mid-2014 compared to the same time a year earlier—a near-quintupling. And the increase is more than just a few diehards binge-watching: the number of unique viewers well more than doubled, growing 146 percent year-over-year.” The Adobe report only “covers TV-watching by viewers who are paying for cable, it’s hard to read the results as a sign that more cord-cutting is coming.”
An interesting twist to these numbers is that one of the contributing factors to the growth is credited to the World Cup. “ The World Cup was an especially strong lure because the internet was the only way to watch so many games that traditional TV lacked the bandwidth to show. […] Once viewers came for sports, they stayed for everything else.” Interestingly, the ESPN site and the WatchESPN app allowed Comcast broadband subscribers to watch all the World Cup games (I personally tested this) without requiring a cable subscription. Great for fans, great in building a fan base for soccer, seemingly not so great for ESPN, who paid $100 for rights to broadcast the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
The latter approach to sport broadcasting surprised me as sports seem to be the last type of broadcast that viewers prefer to view live, surely it was worth more than “free?” After all, ESPN paid for the rights and they’re not in business to be kind to fans. Well, it turns out that “ESPN3 is the network’s bet on the future. The company charges internet service providers a per-subscriber fee for the right to carry its streaming media, just as it charges cable carriers for its TV channels, and the programming is then free to users of those ISPs.” This, coupled with the recent announcements that HBO and CBS are planning to offer Internet only plans, is a good sign that content providers are beginning to listen to the growing number of cord-cutters.
Now, if we could only get the MLB to listen. Perhaps in a few more years when parceling out games to different cable channels becomes unprofitable…
In the meantime, go Giants!