Television as we know it is fading

As Disney streams ABC broadcasts to mobile viewers and a senator pushes for cable unbundling, the business soon won't be the same.

By Jonathan Berr May 14, 2013 10:15AM
Watching television (© image100/Corbis)Walt Disney's (DIS) ABC network is releasing an app that will let people live-stream its programs on devices such as tablets and smartphones, according to The New York Times. It's the latest sign of TV's changing face.

The app, dubbed Watch ABC, will be available first to viewers in New York and Philadelphia. The company expects to bring it to the six other markets where ABC owns TV stations later this summer and is in talks to widen that to 200 more, the newspaper says.

Watch ABC will be available only to subscribers of cable and satellite services. It comes as the networks continue their so far unsuccessful fight to block Aereo, a service backed by mogul Barry Diller that takes broadcast network signals and streams them to consumers without paying retransmission fees to the broadcasters.

Media companies have threatened to convert their networks to cable if Aereo is successful. But that move would probably cost them billions in lost advertising revenue.

Meanwhile, the pay-TV industry has another fight on its hands in Congress. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently introduced a bill to end the practice of bundling, whereby popular cable channels such as ESPN get packaged with less popular ones such as Shalom TV. His Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 also would take away the licenses of any broadcast network that converts to cable.

The cable industry has fought against a la carte pricing for years, arguing that it would drive up costs and harm consumers. Even though McCain's bill stands little chance of passing, some commentators wonder whether media companies may lose the bigger war.

"By turning program bundling into an inside-the-Beltway issue, McCain has given a green light to politically obsessed editorial boards and pundits to take sides," executive editor David Lieberman wrote. "That will present a public relations nightmare over the next few weeks for the Big Media companies that require people to pay for channels that they don't want."

Cable service providers are starting to raise similar arguments. Earlier this year, Cablevision (CVC) filed suit against Viacom (VIA) for bundling its popular channels such as MTV and Comedy Central with less well known offerings such as Tr3s. 

It's likely just a matter of time before bundling ends, meaning the current multichannel universe will shrink as customers start paying for only the channels they want. They'll also get to view TV when and where they want as more programs move to their portable devices.

One thing is for sure: The TV business of tomorrow will look nothing like it does today.
Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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May 14, 2013 10:51AM
Can't come fast enough.    Big media and their cable is only alive because of sports.   Without ESPN and other sports networks, the majority of people wouldn't pay for cable and that's the bottom line.
May 14, 2013 1:08PM
I must get 50 channels in Spanish.  Don't speak a word!  Why am I forced to pay for channels I can't even understand?
May 14, 2013 1:25PM
Streaming is the future of TV, it gives you more choice and costs less. Satellite and cable do nothing but repeat everything so you have hundreds of channels and there is nothing to watch.
May 14, 2013 12:56PM
I am stuck with ESPN and the Golf Channel as well as some hunting show that I never watch and I doubt I am alone
May 14, 2013 1:55PM
I am so tired of the Hillbilly reality shows.  They are cheap to make.  They make America look so tacky and ill mannered to the rest of the world!  I want to good sitcoms come back.  Most of the shows I watch are on PBS, anything British and the History Channel.  American TV has become so reduntant! So much untapped talent out there!   Give them a job!  States need to give more tax incentives to the studios so they can move around and film quality shows!
May 14, 2013 2:43PM

If Congress ever passed legislation disallowing bundling (questionable) they would make the effective date 2 to 3 years into the future thus giving all networks pleanty of time to figure out new ways to screw the consumer before the law went into effect.


Trust me, the networks and subscription TV providers won't stand for losing any money.


If you want proof of this, look no further then your latest credit card statement.


May 14, 2013 2:02PM
I realized things had changed when I had to explain the concept of a TV channel to my sister's 7-year-old and 4-year-old.  To them, TV is something that is queued up - movies or TV shows come from Netflix or Amazon Prime.  They were asking me why I couldn't pause the baseball game, and they didn't understand the concept of "live TV".  How things change!
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