Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Will Internet TV Kill Cable?

What happens when content is separated from the means to distribute it? Your cable company would rather not find out.

  • May 3, 2011

Today the CEO of Netflix said something kind of crazy and probably true. On the smart TVs and set-top boxes of the future, he said “Your cable provider will be an app.”

Here’s why that matters: History has taught us that at the moment at which the means of distribution are separated from the content they distribute, old monopolies break down, assumptions are thrown out the window, revenues tank, giant companies crash and burn and from their ashes are born entirely new ones.

We all know what happened when the internet replaced the newspaper as the primary source for written news – and just as importantly, the many forms of advertising that used to accompany it. Now news-gathering outlets realize that the fourth estate had always been subsidized, and the failure to find an alternate source of subsidy means that the contraction in that industry has been profound.

The same thing is about to happen to cable networks. Actually, it’s already happening: In 2009, Time Warner and Time Warner Cable split, which means the HBO and all the other Time Warner studios are no longer owned by one of the companies that controls the physical infrastructure to deliver them. Comcast, on the other hand, still has significant stakes in a number of content creators.

So if cable becomes just another app on your TV; another icon on your Google TV-enabled set-top box or Roku or Apple TV or Android-powered Samsung whats-it, the monopolistic connection between the owner of the distribution infrastructure and the provider of the content that populates it will be broken, sort of.

This is just one of the reasons why ‘net neutrality is under constant threat, by the way: Because cable companies are also delivering the overwhelming majority of the broadband internet service in this country, it’s in their interest to privilege their own content, and especially to make sure that it doesn’t become just another app, indistinguishable from all the other on-demand content on our televisions.

God forbid that content should have to compete on its own merits. Can you imagine what that would look like? The money would flee – more for Google and its successors, we can suppose. More amateur content, lower production values, a fragmented audience. In other words: Television would finally start to look like the web.

Keep up with the latest in Apple at EmTech Digital.

The Countdown has begun.
March 25-26, 2019
San Francisco, CA

Register now
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print + All Access Digital.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.