Why Traditional TV is the Real Walking Dead


 future of cable companies

For years people have been talking about the demise of traditional television, and now, it is finally here.

It is getting unbundled and attacked from so many different directions that there is no way that it can be around as is for much longer.

Let’s take a look how and why TV is getting unbundled, and what the future looks like.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon

Let’s start with the obvious ones – the asynchronous watching services that continue to grow. Netflix is the current king, with Hulu and Amazon making waves. Their value proposition is simple – binge watch at your leisure, for a few bucks a months. People are happy to pay for the content they want, without ads, and on their time.


YouTube has also been at it for a while, and offers a different kind of alternative. It is web native content, and it is fundamentally different from TV. It is bite size, funny, crazy, authentic, raw, perfect for mobile, – in short, it’s PewDiePieNigahiga, and Jenna Marbles. We can argue whether it is silly or not, but the fact is these shows have more audience than many shows on TV. So they are the future.


Over the past couple years I’ve seen many people tweet that the conversation on Twitter about a show is a lot more interesting than the show itself. I don’t agree with that actually. But I do agree that Twitter is a lot more interesting than many TV shows. It is different, but it is super interesting. And Twitter keeps getting more and more interesting, stealing more and more attention from TV.

Live Video

The live video is finally here and it’s pretty awesome. We didn’t quite get the early attempts at it, but it sure feels like between Meerkat and Periscope we are going to have a winner in this category and it has a shot at mainstream.

There is no question that it will work. It is already working for YouTube. It’s already working to the degree for live news. And people around the world are a lot more interesting than a couple of correspondents with the camera. My bet is it will self-organize and self-select into something really awesome. Sure, there will be a lot of low quality stuff, but much like YouTube has its heroes so will Meerkat and Periscope.

Twitch and e-sports

The internet has given rise to the multiplayer video games and e-sports. Instead of watching reality shows on TV, the new generation prefers to watch each other playing games. The leagues similar to NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, are being formed where teams of players battle each other. Except the possibilities are much broader. Amazon already jumped on the trend when they acquired Twitch, and this is really just the beginning.


And then there is just better TV than current TV. Vice came out of nowhere, and is now suddenly a 500MM company. What they do better than CNN? News. Vice is raw, authentic, smart, irreverent — just the kind of news we’d want to watch on CNN, except it’s not available there. Vice is a precursor to whole slew of new types of media companies that tap into authenticity and take advantage of generational shift.

One of them is Spoon University (Techstars ’15), which is a food brand for millennials. It’s exactly the opposite of current Food Network. Its crowdsourced via 3,000 students contributing content from across 60 colleges, and it has a very different voice when it comes to food.

What about the pipes?

Here is another Walking Dead – the cable companies. First, the fact that TV and internet are bundled was a hack, and it is about to be un-hacked. If the traditional TV is changing, and going away, the only thing that is really valuable for the pipes like Comcast and TimeWarner Cable is the internet. But wait, their internet products aren’t great and they won’t be able to compete. Quite literally, if the old pipes don’t have content to deliver they are out of tricks.

The new pipes are going to be optimized not for TV but for internet. Because after all, you can get TV, and a lot more over the internet. An example of the new kind of pipe is Pilot, a new ISP in NYC and another Techstars ’15 company. Pilot delivers 1,000MBPS-10,000MBPS internet, with 100% uptime guarantee, awesome customer service and software that optimizes delivery for every customer. I bet Netflix and YouTube are pretty awesome over this sort of channel and that’s not what TimeWarner Cable wants to hear.

So what’s next.tv?

Not all TV as we know it will die. First, awesome long form content will still be around because people love stories with twists and knives in them. HBO is the first to jump into this brave new world with HBONow, and networks like FX and AMC will likely follow direct to consumer play. As long as the content is amazing, people will pay for it, and it will work.

Live sports are the real last stand of traditional TV. DIRECTV has known about this for a while. The secret to their success is not awesome ads (which are actually really awesome), but killer sports bundles and packages. But even that may not last. Just like HBO, major leagues may go direct to consumer. After all e-sports went direct to consumer day one.

The small matter of $70 Billion

There is no question in my mind that the day of reckoning for traditional TV is here. This industry is following the likes of music, movies and newspapers. And this day is REALLY painful.

The reality is that TV ad spend is $70BN and CMOs of large brands are so used to it. Nielsen is “so great” at tying ratings to in-store buys. It’s hard for all these guys to accept that it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s a house of cards. It’s the Walking Dead.

Now the question is — where and how will $70BN be spend. If the history is any indication, and it typically is, the money will fragment and break. It will be spread in bits and pieces across different verticals from above. From YouTube, to games, to live video, to e-sports.

No one is likely to own the eyeballs in the way TV did, because the eyeballs don’t want to be owned anymore.


Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Jamiecat *

About the author: Alex Iskold

Alex Iskold is the Managing Director of Techstars in New York City.

Previously Alex was Founder/CEO of GetGlue (acquired by i.tv),  founder/CEO of Information Laboratory (acquired by IBM), and Chief Architect DataSynapse (acquired by TIBCO).

Alex routinely writes about entrepreneurship and startups at Alex Iskold.

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