Wednesday column: Apple, Amazon, Google work to shift TV profits to them, while offering same, dull programming
“I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom.” – Newton Minow
The speech given by the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton N. Minow, to the convention of the National Association of Broadcasters on May 9, 1961 has gone down in history as the Wasteland Speech. Yet it is funny, and frightening, to consider that Minow gave that speech at a time when there were but three television networks.
In fact, I would describe television today as resembling the universe, in general. Yes, there are occasional offerings that are intelligent and entertaining, but the universe of television is made up a huge space between these offerings.
This is why so many television viewers have been looking for an alternative and are cutting the cords that tie them to their cable providers. Consumers who use the Aereo service, now outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court, are not disappointed because Aereo provided them with better television, but because its cost seemed to better reflect the value of the television they were receiving than does those giant cable bills.
Likewise, many consumers are hoping that one day Apple, Google or Amazon will grow their television services to the point where cable will be irrelevant. Don’t count on it. Apple, Google and Amazon are not looking to improve television content, simply to shift the profits Comcast and others are currently making on you, to themselves. In exchange, these tech giants want to make it easier to buy more programming, as well as other consumer goods.
Google today unveiled its Android TV inside a very lengthy Google IO keynote. The new product is not a new box top device, but simply a software solution that will be found inside new sets from Sony and others next year. (And, it should be added, has nothing to do with AndroidTV.com, which is owned by another company.)
During the presentation, Google demoed the system and point out how great its search is – and how easy it is to find a movie or program and then watch it. But that was a bogus claim – just like Apple, you’d need to buy or rent that program, it isn’t for free unless already offered for free in some on demand service.
What Apple, which added four more channels to its Apple TV yesterday, as well as Google and Amazon are doing is not providing some improved television programming, they are providing the same programming but with add-ons that allow you to spend more, quicker.
In fact, what the tech companies are doing is simply adding channels from content owners who can afford to pay for play. What we are not getting is anything remotely innovative, anything remotely better in terms of the actual television being watched.
For most Apple TV or Chromecast users, the best part of the devices is the ability NOT to watch the offerings from Apple or Google, but to stream their own pictures and videos to their televisions. Just like cable TV, there devices offer one or two channels that are used regularly, while the others clutter up the system menus. Will you really watch cricket on Willow TV now that is available on the Apple TV? For most Americans that would be as boring as watching the Google keynote. And besides, you have to subscribe to the channel to view it, and that means 30 percent goes to Apple.
In the 1950’s there was a huge payola scandal involving DJs demanding money to play records. Today, payola is simply part of the system being established that will create an alternative to cable TV. If you think we will come out of this television transition with something better than cable you will probably be disappointed.