Cutting Out The Middleman In TV

A world without cable or satellite providers

As I wrote in my previous article, I am spending the week in Cooperstown, NY, at a baseball tournament for my 12-year-old son. His team has been fundraising for months for this trip and it is really about the kids. They live in a baseball village on the grounds of Cooperstown Dreams Park. I, my wife, younger son and four other families have rented a big, old house about 3 or 4 miles from the park. The house has great wireless broadband, but the TVs are vintage1980 models and cable is basic. Plus, in a five-bedroom house there are only two TVs. This presented a real challenge to a TV junkie like me.

I thought this would be a great time to see just what you can get by with using TV available over the Internet. I went down to the Walmart (30 minutes away) and picked up a 32-inch LCD TV for just $200 dollars. I use it as a portable, taking it from living room to bedroom, depending where I am spending time. The cable here is analog, so attaching it to the TV where available is not much of an option. Instead, I have plugged an HDMI cable from my laptop to the TV.

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Netflix goes to the edge of the Internet

The other 3 couples with us are not really tech people, so this whole watching TV over the internet thing is kind of new to them. I already have a Netflix account, so setting up that, Hulu and my Amazon Prime was pretty easy. This gave us a great base of programs to watch. The first day was spent watching old TV shows like Mission Impossible and Voyage to the Bottom of the Set. Then I introduced them to some net-only series like Lillyhammer starring Stephen Van Zandt of the Sopranos and E Street Band. That went over real big. Now, we have started with movies from Google and HBO Go. While all of this is pretty old hat for me, I will tell you that it is a revelation to the rest of the people with us.

For me, the eureka moment came this morning when I was jonesing for some live news. I logged into CNN and watched CNN Live. Watching live TV over the internet was a big step up from watching old, recorded shows.  

This made me think about the future of TV consumption. If we can get our programming directly from the producers via the web, why pay the ever-increasing ransom that the providers charge? It would seem cutting out the middleman is a natural. 

This is a natural for the web. We have seen it make traditional stock brokers, travel agents and countless other industries obsolete. They have to adapt or die. This is exactly what will have to happen to the TV providers. I am sure that many tech companies are already aware of this. Apple has been looking for the missing link to do to TV what they have done to the music industry. If they don't do it (watching for announcements from the Apple conference today), someone else will. When they do, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish and the rest will be toast.

That day is still a ways off. Even today, most of the live stuff is still only available when you prove that you are a customer of an approved provider. So you can't get HBO Go or CNN Live unless you already subscribe to those channels via your cable provider. But the day is coming. You will have total control over what channels you subscribe to, with a lot more choices. The cable provider will not be able to dictate what packages you have to buy, which channels you will never watch that you will have to pay for.

I for one can't wait for that day. I am tired of paying hundreds of dollars a month for my TV.

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