Kabletown and You
February 14, 2014
It's not apparent that the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal is a radio story at first blush, because it isn't. While I wrote an analysis of the massive cable TV transaction on Thursday for Nerdist (you can read that here), though, some things became apparent to me about the deal that involve radio and, really, all media.
First, let's just get all the television stuff out of the way. Ownership concentration, vertical integration, retransmission consent disputes... yeah, whatever. A lot of those are short-term concerns. Long term, so much of video is moving to on-demand that the real issue goes to the Internet side of the equation, which involves the issue of net neutrality (or lack thereof) and whether the deal will be conditioned on keeping Comcast's version of the Internet open to all and unthrottled for competing content providers.
That's where radio starts to come in. Radio's one of the content providers that needs an open and unthrottled Internet, as do pure-play streamers and podcasters. Having a dominant ISP in 19 of the top 20 markets able to erect a toll gate and exact a little something extra if you want to pass through is not something you're going to want if you're trying to reach your audience.
Yet, even that's not the key. In considering the impact of the deal and of net neutrality, I thought about streaming and about customizable audio and exactly how people will get their audio entertainment in the future (and how, increasingly, they're getting it now), and... well, you tell me, do you listen more on your computer or on mobile devices? Are you sitting in front of the computer when you listen or are you using apps on your iPhone or Android phone to listen? If there's general agreement that the latter is the direction in which the industry is headed, let's face it, Comcast isn't going to be the gatekeeper. Mobile Internet is the primary concern, which Comcast isn't buying... yet.
Still, for the percentage of people who rely on broadband at home for streaming and downloading audio, having a single gatekeeper responsible for a sizable percentage of most of the major markets in America is a concern. I imagine Comcast has bigger fish to fry -- Netflix and competing cable and broadcast TV networks, among others -- but it's not inconceivable that it could get around to doing some form of streaming or customized audio service at some point. Would that be enough impetus for the company to play around with your access and bandwidth? Maybe not, but that there's a possibility at all should be enough for you to keep an eye on this deal as it wends its way through the regulatory process. And the whole thing is a reminder of how the real action isn't in owning transmitters and licenses so much as it's ownership of the pipes that deliver content 2014-style -- Internet more than cable and way, way more than broadcast transmitters -- and ownership of the content.
Hmm. Ownership of the content. Interesting. Maybe we'll talk a little more about that in another column. Once again, we get reminded that there is a future for what we do, but that it's going to look a little different. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
This is the point at which I tell you every week about All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else, all here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Do you listen? Apparently, yes, because I see plenty of traffic to the site and Twitter. Wait, you haven't gotten into the habit? Do it. And while you're here, read "10 Questions With..." Scott Fisher, the longtime morning guy who's started a syndicated show, "Extreme Genes -- Family History Radio," about genealogy, something that you'd figure would have been the subject of a show a long time ago, but hasn't been until now. It's interesting to read about how he got into it and how the show came about, and the stories about people discovering their ancestry.
Happy Valentine's Day, by the way (especially to one Fran Simon of Rancho Palos Verdes, CA). Also, it was nice to see everyone at Talk Show Boot Camp in Dallas last weekend, and sincere thanks to Don Anthony and Gabe Hobbs for their hospitality and for not calling hotel security to have me removed after my panel appearance. Don't know what I said? You shoulda been there. Next year....