Suddenly, several powerful Silicon Valley tech giants are aggressively pursuing deals with media companies to replace how TV is discovered, shared, recorded and, most of all, delivered -- over the Internet, rather than through the cable providers.
Apple, for example, is rumored to be working on a deal with media cable companies that would pay those companies each time consumers skipped a commercial. Apple would offer a regular tier with commercials, plus a premium tier commercial-free. Apple would take some of the extra money paid for the premium option to compensate media companies for the lost ad revenue.
This sounds farfetched, but it’s essentially the same service Apple already offers. When you subscribe to a TV show season or buy an individual show, you’re basically paying more for that show than normal viewers because the download has no ads.
It would be expensive for Apple to do this and an unappealing disruption to the existing business model for media companies. Specifically, they would have to confront all their advertisers with the news that viewers most likely to pay for stuff won’t be seeing their ads. (Consumers willing to pay more for zero ads are exactly the demographic advertisers are trying hardest to reach.)
But the biggest reason is that Apple itself is a major advertiser. The last thing it wants is people skipping Apple commercials.
So Apple’s commercial-free option may be unlikely. And if it does happen, it could be a bad thing for viewers.
The widespread acceptance of ad-skipping would incentivize studios to radically increase their use of product-placement advertising -- embedding paid commercial content into the programming itself.
Apple is already the leading maker of streaming video boxes. Apple TV has 56 percent of the market, while the number-two player (Roku) has a distant 12.5 percent, according to a report published this week by Frost & Sullivan. (Surprisingly, the onetime leader in the category, Tivo, is down to just 6.5 percent.)
That same report concluded that the main reason people buy Apple TV boxes is that they can stream HD content from Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad.
Apple isn’t the only Silicon Valley giant wooing media companies.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Google is talking to media companies about a TV service of its own to run on a new box reportedly demonstrated to some of those companies behind closed doors.
Google is in an interesting and unique position for TV content. For starters, it’s already got its Smart TV service integrated into TVs from major manufacturers.
Second, Google is a video-content studio itself, of sorts. The biggest threat to Hollywood and the studio system itself is Google’s YouTube. Google has been aggressively expanding YouTube by encouraging content creators with subscription channels and even a Hollywood studio.
Third, Google is starting to own the best pipes for TV. The company is installing ultra-high speed Internet in a growing number of cities with its Google Fiber initiative.
With its radical integration of everything into Google+, it’s possible that TV shows could be shared virally on the service and watched directly. Shows might also be shared socially. In fact, this feature already exists in Google+’s Hangouts feature, which enables up to 10 people to watch YouTube videos at the same time and interact during the shows. This capability might be especially compelling during “event” television, such as the Oscars, Superbowl or breaking news events.