A Little Bit Closer to OTT

TabletWe keep inching closer and closer to the day when customers will have a viable access to real time over-the-top programming. The first company to make any progress in this area was Aereo who is sending the network channels to people’s cellphones and tablets in major markets. But Aereo has an upcoming day in court and the US Supreme Court could put them out of business.

It’s not like there isn’t any programming available on the web, because there are mountains of old TV shows and movies available on NetFlix and AmazonPrime and the many other companies that have deals to put content on the web. And many customers of the major cable providers have TV anywhere where the cable company lets them watch some of the channels they subscribe to on remote devices.

But what is still missing, and what will finally give a lot of people the impetus to cut the cord is when they can get the programming they most want in real-time on devices other than televisions. I have largely cut the cord and watch the programming available on NetFlix and AmazonPrime. But I would be very happy if I could buy ESPN and the Big10 Network a la carte. And maybe some news network like CNN.

There were two announcements this past week that inch us closer to an OTT alternative. The CEO of Verizon Wireless, Lowell McAdam announced that he has had discussions with content providers about launching an OTT service for customers using the Verizon LTE network and also possibly for those using other broadband providers.

The second announcement came from Dish Networks who announced a major deal with Disney that would allow them to distribute Disney and ESPN wirelessly. The agreement was complex and also resolved a number of issued between Disney and Dish for satellite carriage. Last week I reported on the spectrum that Dish has been buying, and this announcement demonstrates that they have plans to use some of that spectrum to offer an OTT product.

When the Verizon CEO was asked about the Dish Networks announcement his response was that he thought Verizon has a huge head start and that it would take Dish at least a year to construct a wireless network. So I think we can expect Verizon to roll something out soon to take advantage of the existing network.

Both announcements make it sound like customers will be able to buy the OTT programming without having to subscribe elsewhere to a landline version of the same channels. This would be the first time that such live content like sports has been made available this way. I wrote last year that there are only a handful of channels with enough market power to pull off OTT programming, and that very short list includes ESPN. I know that I would gladly pay $20 for ESPN a la carte rather than have to buy a $60 package to get it. And I don’t think I am that unusual. Just in the last week I have had conversations with several other sports fans who say the same thing.

I had cable service several years ago with all of the channels and all of the movies. And I found that I would go weeks, and sometimes even months without turning on the TV (especially outside of football season). I am really hoping that these announcements are the first little crack in the programming monopoly and that the first pieces of OTT are here. But I won’t believe it until I can buy it. It’s possible that Dish and Verizon Wireless will be forced to also sell bundles of programming including a lot of things I won’t want. But I can’t see them getting into the OTT business if they aren’t going to let customers buy the smaller packages they really want. I will be watching.

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