There’s a peculiar thing I’m learning in this whole “Cord Cutting” exercise. It is about Marketing and how some media companies are “defending” their Cable / Satellite “turf” and in the process, IMHO, damaging their brand. Others are extending their brand into new territory in ways that look much more effective to me. In particular, the Financial News shows are damaging their brands. (Though various sports, movies and other channels are doing much the same thing).
The basic “set up” is that folks with Cable and Satellite companies rake in a bundle on bundles and fees. It’s on the order of $100 / month / household. You are stuck with their choices in the bundles and in the case of AT&T, any change (even a repair order on your internet…) can find you stuck with a 2 year “lock-in” and exit fees. Now, in my experience, anywhere you must PAY to LEAVE is a TRAP and is to be avoided at all costs. For that reason alone I’m dumping AT&T / DirecTV when my present contract (shoved on me by surprise) expires in a couple of months.
I’ve had DirecTV since it first came into existence some 20? or so years ago. Generally, until now, they provided great service to the customer and very few issues with “corporate attitude”. You would think after all that there would not be any “minimum lock in” service fee, but there it was, post AT&T. AT&T: Just Say NO!
So I went off to explore the alternatives. We’re now signed up for several things. Some by decision, some by historical accident. Some by effective brand management and marketing. I’m going to give a brief rundown of some of those choices and what I’ve discovered along the way.
First off, DirecTV (and by extension Cable Companies):
I’m done with that whole “Pay $100+ single fee for stations that what THEY choose to sell me”. The “bundle” is dead. I’ve got a few dozen “channels full of nothing” on the satellite that we never watch, but pay for. I have HBO, but the last movie we watched on it was a year or so ago. Once you are used to ‘on demand’, setting down to watch a movie and finding you missed the start by 1/2 hour doesn’t cut it anymore. I’d “kill it” and get something else, but then a new 2 year lock-in would start. Instead it will just die on the vine. I’ve got a load of “music” channels we never listen to, a bunch of “local” stations I can get for free with an antenna (that we also rarely watch anyway), a bunch of BET and similar PC narrow market segment channels that are not of interest. Substantially, I watch a lot of news and financial programming, the spouse watches several CBS Series and a bit of some other stuff, and we share a movie and some of the series from time to time. Is that worth $120 / month? Nope.
Now, first thing I did was buy a couple of HDTVs. Until now we’d been regular res… Then I equipped both of them with a ROKU device for internet TV. At this point, the satellite feed is still 480 P and now looks a bit grainy compared to the other feeds. I’m NOT going to be buying and installing a replacement antenna for HD satellite, replacing the 2 x satellite boxes and taking ANOTHER lock-in. Not going to happen. The “why” is interesting. With the Roku, and just with exploring it, the DirecTV feed was essentially left unused for a couple of months. Just wasn’t anything compelling to get me back to it most of the time. We did keep recording NCIS LA as we were busy when it was on. But even there, the low res and recording artifacts were, um, ever more annoying.
The Roku has some-odd-thousands of channels on it. Most of them free, and worth every penny ;-) but some of them are real gems. We also had Netflix “on occasion” especially when traveling via laptop and a login on the Son’s account. Well, on the HDTV and with the direct Roku feed, it was well ‘worth it’ to pony up for our own Netflix account. IMHO, that’s a Must Have expenditure as it gets you 90% of what’s worth watching in the movies and series space. On the Roku, I found more than enough channels of News to keep me busy and happy. Some, like Al Jazeera and RT, are basically identical to the versions on the Satellite (when they would carry them on the Satellite – it would vary sometimes…). Others, like Sky News and Reuters, were only on the Roku and were a real treat as a free addition to the cycle. Others more, like Fox and CNBC, tended to be “log in with your cable credentials” to watch them, so since I’m ditching my “cable credentials”, I just stopped watching them. Turns out it was easier to walk away than I’d thought, what with all that other stuff to explore.
Then I found the Pluto TV channel. It is laid out like a cable guide with a bunch of ‘music’ channels and more, but also with a block of “movies” if you go up one menu level and look around. On it, I was, at first, thrilled to find my financial news channels. Bloomberg, CNBC, and a new one Yahoo!. No Fox Business though. Yet also on the Roku are discrete channels for Fox Business, Bloomberg, etc. etc.
Gee, an embarrassment of riches? and choices? Well, it seems not…
You see, in order to Defend their Cable Franchise Fees, they decided to make this a “different product”. Hobbled in various ways by the different players. At first, I just noticed the layout of the screens was different. Then that the not-quite-real-time tickers and such were missing. Eventually noticing that for some shows and stations they were time delayed. Now, I ask you, of just what use is late time delayed news? “Yesterdays news” anyone?
So for the Pluto Bloomberg, it’s essentially a useless product as a financial news show. No tickers, no graphs to speak of, and it looks to me like it is mostly “yesterdays news” as a TV show. The Roku Bloomberg App is only slightly better. It seems to be a live feed of the TV portion of the Bloomberg that’s on the Satellite dish, so minus the price information, tickers, news text on the right side, etc. Interesting, but not the Real Deal.
Similarly, the Fox Business Roku App gives you a sampler of the shows on the real Fox Business, plus “live financial news” for something like an hour or two about 11 AM. Um, what? Yeah… a broken hobbled useless sampler teaser sort of thing.
The CNBC feed on Pluto looks to be similarly hobbled. It looks like a subset of the actual shows on some kind of semi-loop without the actual news and ticker information.
So, I ask myself, “What use are they?” and answer came there none…
I can get the live data and current news on my computer, so that’s what I’ll do. Essentially, for Financial News I’m being driven away from the TV. In an attempt to “defend” their brand, they have cheapened the product on the internet and driven me away from them. (This also leaves open an opportunity for competition…though I suspect the monopoly on ticker price information by the exchanges may be part of why it is omitted – they likely don’t have a contract that lets them put it on a TV feed there.)
But there’s a bigger effect here. I’m in a modestly unique position of having BOTH contexts to compare for several months. Many many folks, especially the next crop of audience, will start on the internet feeds. They will look at these broken hobbled products and just say “Feh, find something good” and move on, never to return. They will not know the Cable versions are any different or better. In short, these networks are training a whole generation that their product is inferior and not worth watching or buying. That is damaging the brand. A Lot.
Sidebar On Movies & Series
Along the way, we picked up Amazon Prime for the shipping cost benefits. That came with “free” Amazon TV. FWIW, I like the product. Not as much as Netflix, but good enough. Has the Startrek Movies in total, along with the series (or maybe the series are on Netflix…) and a bunch of decent other shows. While visiting the kids & Florida Friend I got a look at Apple TV and IIRC Hulu as well. Very similar products in some ways, very different in others. Apple tries to keep an upscale image by leaving out anything as tasteless as all the Roku “free” channels of various junk (like the Lacrosse channels and the Lodi City Channel and the slightly RtoX questionable channels) while Hulu looks like a Netflix Wannabe mostly. Amazon does a LOT of “upselling” with a sample of the first season of a series, then you pay up for the rest, where Netflix tends to give you the whole thing for your binge watching pleasure. Why I advocate Netflix over Amazon – more is included and they don’t treat you like a Rube At The Circus to be Fleeced…
So what happened? Well, for a few months the spouse and I have basically watched all sorts of series and movies on Netflix and Amazon TV. Essentially, there is so much so good that it sucks up most of the time available for the TV. Beyond that, I grab a bit of news from the dozen or so free Roku channels (and with much better international coverage with a broader range of Political Spin than the all left all the time USA sources). I even cycle through the ABC, NBC, CBS news set on the Roku.
Then every so often I’ll pick one of the lesser of the 375 or so Roku channels I selected as “Free and might be interesting” and try to figure out if it is a keeper or a tosser. I’ve collected a bunch of “keepers” that I watch sometimes. From the “Virtual Irish Pub” to the “Cnet” channel for tech stuff to the Yahoo and YouTube channels sometimes and more. Old Westerns, some bad but campy Sci-Fy from the 1950-60s, etc. etc. But usually only about 2 or 3 shows a week. Netflix and News leaves little itch unscratched.
The self-made series on both Netflix and Amazon TV are generally quite good, and I’m interested in a few of them, had I that much time for the tube…
How to Extend Your Brand
Then there’s an honorable mention for one player who seems to be doing things right. Extending their brand. Keeping quality high in the “free” bits so you want to buy the up-sell. That’s CBS. Yes, stodgy old CBS. They have extended their brand via CBS All Access
Their free news on both Pluto and the Roku (as a dedicated app) is good, current, and substantially the same as their broadcast news near as I can tell. They understand that “yesterdays news” isn’t news.
Partially due to that, partially due to the fact the only things we were really still watching from the satellite were CBS series, and partly to be ready to watch the new Star Trek series, I signed up for their CBS All Access channel. Tepidly starting with the $6/month ‘limited commercials’ instead of the higher cost no commercials. I can upgrade later if desired.
So first off, our favored series are mostly there, and many with full ‘from the start’ sets. NCIS LA only has one season up (23 episodes), but we can now fill in a couple of shows we missed. Blue Bloods has what looks like all of it (160 something episodes?) Interesting to note that they have a Movies section too, with lots of movies we want to watch, and they have a retro section with things like Twilight Zone and other old TV shows. They also have a ‘live’ tab, that when selected, pops up the live feed of my local CBS Affiliate. Nice touch, that. So I can watch it live if I want, or catch shows on the saved series portion for some of them. Oh, and of course, they have the full compliment of Star Trek…
So, let’s recap:
The “free” bits of CBS Internet are high quality and NOT hobbled. They let me see a good product that I’d like to have more of. The “paid” comes in a 1 week free trial, then two levels of pay, both affordable. The paid product has a depth and variety that is well worth it (though having the whole library of series up would be an eventual very nice end state…) and they even get me my local product without need of antenna or other stuff.
All along the way, the experience is positive and with “positive surprises” instead of the “negative surprises” of the FOX, CNBC, Bloomberg folks. Hmmm….
They are not damaging their brand at any point. They are not “defending” against some unknown threat, they are extending their brand into a better and more complete online product. They are showing me value for money and in exchange, I’m willing to send them money. Golly, what a concept…
Where at first I resented that the new Star Trek would only be on the CBS All Access channel, I’m now quite happy I bought it, as there is much more “there there” than I’d expected. It isn’t a Netflix yet, but I’m looking at our selection of shows from the combined set of Netflix, Amazon TV, CBS All Access and misc Roku + Pluto; and frankly, I’m seeing a smorgasbord of way more high quality stuff to watch than we could ever managed to watch. The total price? About $20 / month (figuring the Amazon was a ‘freebee’ given we didn’t know the TV came with the Prime account when we bought it…) There’s an ocean of “lesser lights” available for all sorts of niche players on the Roku, more than I can ever imagine even cataloging, so any specialty or quirky interest can be met. Then the YouTube and Yahoo and other channels bring that sea of stuff for free.
“Someday” I might try signing up for Sling TV or maybe Playstation Vue as my “cable provider” to get more of those legacy service channels, but frankly at this point I can’t see why.
Not only are those channels not worth an added $50 (or even $25) a month, as I have had no issue just walking away from them, but now I find I must ask an additional question:
Since the Channel on the Roku is different from the one on Pluto is different from the one on the Satellite: Just how do I KNOW what “channel” I’d be getting on Sling TV or Playstation? You see, once you damage the brand and tell the customer sometimes your bottle has fine wine in it, sometimes water, well, the customer just doesn’t take the risk of buying it again…