I know that it seems strange for a preacher to weigh in on the predicted demise of cable and broadcast television. Yet given the prognostication on the web today in the wake of Apple’s announcement regarding their TV product (the hockey puck) I have heard all sorts suggesting that cable’s days are numbered. And I confess that more and more I find myself sitting with my I-Pod Touch catching up on the latest episode of Rescue Me via that Netflix app. We went through a period right before we moved where it seemed like all of our TV consumption was via Netflix on our Wii, so I completely get why many folks think that the days of multichannel, real-time television is over.
And yet, in spite of the variety of on-line options available to us, we still shell out cash to Comcast monthly to access their system. Why? Well one might imagine it has something to do with the limitations of live event streaming, which still isn’t as stable and high quality as a broadcast signal. And yet, as networks like Leo LaPorte’s TWIT network are proving, live streaming is a possibility, and as bandwidth increases that should only improve.
For me, however, the central reason that cable/broadcast still has power is that it offers the last bastion of semi-professional “local” coverage.
Now I know that some dude could start a live streaming on-line network focused on local coverage tomorrow, and yet at this point in time it is only the national networks that seem to be able to garner a large enough audience to make a living. And the fact is that when a tornado blows through the area a national Weather Channel doesn’t cut it. I need our local folks zooming in on neighborhoods in my neighborhood to tell me where the storm is going to hit. And the national channel isn’t willing to cover things like city council meetings, or local crime and traffic. Yet, in the broadcast realm (which carries over to cable to to carriage laws and franchise agreements) there seems to be enough critical mass to justify an operation that can look at things on the local level.
Some of this, of course, depends on how one gets one’s news, and being the tech nerd that I am I get the vast majority on-line through RSS subscriptions. And yet, more often than not, I find that it is the local TV station’s site that is providing me the news I need, and in the middle of a local crisis I turn on the TV to see what’s happening. Local coverage is something too valuable to give up, and I have this sneaky suspicion that there are many like me who will add a Roku box or an Apple TV AND keep at least a basic cable connection so as to access local programming. The former will be used for entertainment purposes, and the latter will be an informational connection.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the possibilities with these new connectors, and hope that they might put some pressure on cable to drop the rates through true competition. I’ve been thinking about a Roku box for a while (and in comparing it to the Apple, think it is still a stronger product with more services to draw on) and might have gotten one if the Wii hadn’t stepped in to fill the bill.
But I think cable isn’t going away that quickly. There continues to be a need for local, and until someone figures out a way to make a living on providing streaming local coverage, I think cable/broadcast will be here for a while.