Live streaming network TV is not easy. In this age of ever-increasing entertainment options, streaming TV has become a huge draw for consumers. Yet, cable networks seem to be having a tough time keeping up with the changing media landscape. Huge television events have become the labs in which cable networks experiment by expanding into live streaming.
Let’s take this year’s Super Bowl as an example. Overall, viewership was down by 7% compared to last year’s big game despite the greatest offensive performance in NFL history. Yet, Super Bowl 52 was streamed to a record-breaking average audience viewership of 2 million people via NBC’s Sports app, NBCSports.com, and the Yahoo Sports app. Those are awesome numbers, but there was one catch: several commercial breaks were filled with nothing but static. Talk about a HUGE missed opportunity! What’s even more amazing is that people were legitimately mad about missing the commercials on their live streams.
It is stunning that NBC wasn’t able to maximize its revenue by showing all of their commercials to the streaming audience. However, it is not surprising. With cable networks struggling to adapt, hiccups along the way are inevitable.
One smart decision by NBC was to broadcast the Super Bowl for free across its multiple streaming platforms. This decision allowed them to make up ad revenue for the dip in network audience ratings and gave people more options to watch.
So then, why isn’t the rest of the cable TV industry taking NBC’s approach with free live streaming for major live events like the Oscars? That’s a good question with a murky answer. Let’s take a look at why watching actors win awards and give weird acceptance speeches on TV is so difficult.
The Media Landscape Has Changed – Dramatically
For one thing, the way in which we consume our entertainment media has dramatically changed over the past decade. The way in which we consume media has splintered due to the advent of streaming subscription services like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu. Netflix now has almost 118 million subscribers globally.
This shift has primarily affected the old studio and series model pioneered by network TV but has yet to revolutionize the live event model.
Cable companies want to protect their remaining valuable content, so they put up barriers in order to protect the profits they generate off ad and subscription package revenue for live events. In order to watch the Oscars live on ABC’s mobile streaming app, you need to have an existing cable provider subscription. That means there is no (legal) way to watch the Oscars live for free.
Cable Companies Have Risen Rates in Order to Compete
You have to feel a slight amount of pity for cable companies. They’ve been consistently ranked as some of the most hated businesses in America. They’re hemorrhaging millions of subscribers in only a matter of months. Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu are running laps around them in terms of quality programming and cheap options. And as a result, in some good news—for cable companies—your cable bill is going to be raised! In fact, cable companies have risen prices for TV service almost twice as fast as inflation.
(Actually, after reading that you might not have much sympathy for these media titans, but hang with us.)
Arguments about raising money for corporate profit aside, there are legitimate reasons why your cable bill has risen so much. First, sports have become way more expensive to carry as of late. There has been more competition from the likes of Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter. As these companies have started creeping into the sports entertainment market, they have driven prices up for the right to televise games. North American sports have gone from raking in $11.6 billion from broadcasters in 2012 to $18.4 billion in 2016, according to USA today. That price increase is reflected in your cable bill, unfortunately.
Second, prices have risen because there simply aren’t as many subscribers as there used to be. Thus, cable companies have to raise their prices on their current customers in order to make up for the loss of customers to cord-cutting.
Lastly, networks have to pay for high-quality TV series in order to compete with the ever-increasing quality of shows on Netflix and Hulu. These costs are then passed onto the consumer via higher bills.
How Can I Watch Major Live Events Like the Oscars?
Cable companies are not only raising your bills, but they make the process of watching major live events like the Oscar strenuous at best. Currently, you can only livestream the Oscars via ABC.com or the ABC Go app. Not to mention, you cannot even livestream the Oscars unless you live in a handful of major markets in the U.S. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through, but it is even more difficult if you are someone who doesn’t have a cable subscription. If you want to watch the Oscars for free, just follow this “easy” tutorial to see how difficult it really is.
This is a HUGE missed opportunity by ABC. If the Oscars were livestreamed with the full commercial breaks included, ABC would not be missing out on any revenue. They could simply calculate the number of people who watched and then adjust the prices for commercial spots accordingly. The added benefit is that people couldn’t DVR the live event via live streaming, therefore they are more likely to actually watch the commercials.
Many people do not want to cut the cord to their cable subscriptions because of the quality content, local news, and live events they would miss out on. If a cable network were to take the reins by offering online streaming on their major live events, then they would dominate the cable TV market. In fact, most people find that cord-cutting still doesn’t beat the cable bundle. The most popular live TV streaming service, Sling TV, markets itself by saying it provides cable network channels. People still want to watch network TV and events like the Oscars. They simply want more viewing options.
The good news is that cable companies are innovating and making changes, but the real question remains: is it too little too late?