The VoIP TV Squeeze
Having lately toiled in the world of cable television -- for the late TechTV -- I (Dan) know that one of the big struggles for a startup channel is simply getting the multisystem operators (MSOs, the flagship cable services like Comcast, Cablevision, and Time Warner) to carry your channel. The MSOs' digital makeovers and ever-improving compression technology have made it possible for the the systems to expand their channel lineups and for new programmers to gain access to carriage. Thus we have our four (at least) flavors of ESPN and multiple offerings from outfits like Discovery and The History Channel. But a couple new industry reports show that startups, like TechTV and its successor, G4, have a new challenge to face: the MSOs romance with VoIP.
One of the reports, from Kagan, says that over the next decade, it's likely that digital cable will reach every U.S. household. Normally, that would be a boon for new channels. But Kagan notes (in a release for its "Cable Network Start-Up Strategies & Business Models 2005") that that's not the case now because the MSOs have prioritized new bandwidth for their consumer broadband and VoIP offerings.
Not great news for people who want to start new cable channels. But on the other hand, occasionally I'll take a spin through the several hundred channels listed on my DirecTV guide. Whatever the reason -- maybe my taste is getting narrow, maybe I don't have enough time to give all the new stuff on TV a chance -- it's amazing to me how little there is out there that I'm really drawn to. And of the stuff that I am partial to -- I'll admit to "Law and Order" and "CSI" (original Las Vegas flavor) fixations -- existing channels cover the bases pretty well. I also have a feeling that true niche programming -- the kind exemplified by TechTV/G4 and others -- is going to find a more cost-effective way of finding an audience in the coming years through the Net or other IP-enabled media.