CES 2012: The content issue

Content is king: the most over-used, hackneyed and clichéd phrase in this industry? Probably. The biggest truth in said industry? Absolutely.

Informa’s IP&TV session at CES saw panellists from Cox, AT&T, YouTube and Sony all debating the future of TV, and what different players in the value chain can gain from partnering with each other. But the big unspoken truth was that wholesale change will be slowed by one group in particular – content producers and owners.

This is something that will not change for as long as the likes of Disney continue to be handed cheques the size of the one they recently received from Comcast. The deal will probably see Disney content disappear from free-to-air OTT outlets like Hulu, ands puts it future in the hands of the old guard more than ever before.

The most remarkable thing about the Disney-Comcast deal is its ten year length. Given the mammoth changes that have happened to TV in the last ten years and that will probably happen in the next ten, it’s a huge vindication of the current model.

Much is made of Google’s ability to disrupt the content game, fuelled by its announcement of a $100m investment in original content late last year, but Francisco Vaerla of YouTube claimed that its content ambitions were much more modest. Its aim, he said, was to create different types of content that did not try and compete against the sport and movie-rich offerings of the likes of AT&T and Cox, and which would not fit in a Pay TV environment.

It seems the most likely disrupting content force, then, will not be a deep pocketed player from any part of the value chain, but from punters themselves. Should enough people start to become disinterested in the big budget fare of HBO, ESPN et al – or at least disinterested enough not to pay through the nose for it – and consider the free, more niche content of YouTube to be a suitable alternative, then the current model would be on shaky ground. It’d be an enormous shift change but lest we forget that, not so long ago, most of us only watched two or three channels. Stranger things have happened.

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