Americans may remember watching the Olympics on television. : (“And .. the agony of defeat.”) : This was a collective experience. : There was the theme music, the graphics, the odd sports shown at odd hours. We paid for this experience indirectly, by watching the ads, but anyone with a working tuner could watch the Games over the air. You didn’t need a cable subscription.
Look, I’m not suggesting that we go back to rabbit ears. But in light of the news that Americans will be consuming the 2012 London Summer Games with the aid of a linkup between Facebook and Comcast, it’s worth reflecting on what all of this means to the average person.
Comcast “aggressively outbid” Fox and ESPN to pay $4.3 billion (more than a billion more than the next highest bid) for the TV rights to the Olympics through 2020. For 17 days following the entry of the Olympic torch into the London stadium, people who can prove they’re subscribers to accredited cable or satellite packages will be able to watch Olympics programming online. Comcast will aggressively cross-promote Olympics content across all of its content properties – MSNBC, CNBC, NBC Sports – on all screens.
The reason for all this cross-promotion is to drive everyone and everything into the TV Everywhere umbrella. That’s the idea that “online video” is what you get online when you’re already a cable subscriber.
The basic notion is that Comcast is a distributor of information through its giant digital pipes – say 250 “channels” of content or more. Some four of those channels are devoted to Internet access. Independent online video providers (say, Netflix) might like to use those pipes as a highway for their own material.
But imagine the most beloved content possible: : the next tiny Romanian gymnast battling against tremendous personal deprivation. Imagine that incredible global human story is available online or through your smartphone or tablet. Convenient! Imagine, finally, that you show it online only to people who subscribe to cable. All: those cable subscribers will get used to the idea that online video is “free.” It’s free as long as you’re a subscriber. That makes Netflix or any other “virtual” programming distributor that tries to charge for its stuff look expensive, additive, luxurious, unnecessary.
Now, with Facebook, the whole story gets even better. Think of Facebook as the ESPN of the Internet. It’s like a cable channel; it just happens to have been born online. Now your friends (the friends of 900 million people) will be filling your newsfeed with chatting about events you can’t see unless you subscribe to cable.: The addictive, cross-promotional, shiny, unavoidable inevitability of the whole thing is just dazzling. Right now you may be able to live without Mad Men or Newsroom or The Veep, promising yourself that you’ll see it later online somehow, and gritting your teeth to avoid signing up for a really expensive cable package.
But can you afford to miss the Olympics?
This is just one angle of a huge story. The cable providers have decisively won the market to provide wired information access to American homes. For most Americans, their only choice for wired access at the speeds they’ll need for 21st century life will be the local cable operator. Those operators don’t face any real competition.
And now they’ve got Nadia.