Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Why the Future of TV Won’t Be Here Soon

This is the year for many big pronouncements about The Future Of TV, and we’re hearing the first round this week at the Consumer Electronics Show. Here’s how I’m sorting through the deluge: I’m ignoring almost all of it.

Instead, I’m focusing on the ones that promise to bring me the TV I want to see, when I want to see it, without charging me a fortune. And without making me pay for stuff I don’t care about.

Try it yourself. See? Things get quiet in a hurry.

All that other stuff that everyone is talking about right now — new ways to get Web video onto your TV set, new ways to chat up your friends while you watch TV, etc. — is sort of interesting. Maybe it eventually turns into something really interesting.

But none of it solves the problem that regular people have with TV right now. Because they actually like TV quite a bit, and watch tons of it every week, and they’re okay paying for it, too, even if they say they’re not. They just want to pay less for the stuff they want.

Making that happen will require a lot more than using AirPlay to throw video from your iPad to your LCD, or making it easier to search the Web via a Google TV. It means fundamentally overhauling the TV business.

And while it can look like the TV business is loosening up dramatically — look at all those shows the networks are putting on the Web, for free! — it’s actually tightening up considerably — it’s getting harder and harder to watch that stuff, it turns out, without paying for cable, or going rogue.

Even the most interesting stuff I’ve heard about — selling TV “over the top,” via the Web — still contemplates buying bundles of channels from the programmers, which means that over-the-top TV will look just like cable TV. Just like satellite TV and fiber TV do.

“I think there’s not a lot wrong with the business models,” says Myspace owner Tim Vanderhook, who wants to launch his own over-the-top service this year. I’m not at all confident that he’s going to pull it off, but I’m sure the programmers are happy to have a chat. They love the idea of more buyers ponying up for their stuff.

One interesting variant you’re hearing more about right now involves keeping bundles intact, but buying less of them. If you don’t pay for ESPN, then you’re not going to get anything from Disney, including ABC Family and the Disney Channel. But if you can live with sports or kids stuff, you could save an awful lot — or put the money into other programming you do care about.

That’s not nearly as sexy as The End Of TV As We Know It, but it is doable. And I’ll definitely holler about that one, if and when we see it.


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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo