Reading the news today about Cox’s decision to “disable” the fast-forwarding capability from its network-based DVR for certain popular ABC shows and ESPN football broadcasts, you had to wonder: What took them so long to figure this out?
While the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the announcement calls disabling the commercial-skipping functionality an “unusual condition,” given the current economics of the content-production business, protecting commerical-supported programming through whatever means necessary is anything but unusual. And the guess here is that despite perhaps predictable criticism from TiVo enthusiasts, Cox viewers (and eventually other cable customers whose carriers will follow suit) probably care more about having viewing choices than they do about having the ability to skip commercials.
What Cox and other cable providers might be seeing is that distribution of video content is on its way to becoming more of a commodity, from telco competitors’ IPTV offerings to straight Internet-based offerings, like Apple TV or Joost. Betting that its customers might want to watch programming when they like at the price of having fast-forward “disabled” is likely a sound economic wager, given that TiVo-type devices still haven’t become a must-have for the majority of viewers.
So far, early returns on IPTV viewership show that “catch-up” viewing of previously broadcast programs is one of the most-popular feature of providers’ video-on-demand menu. Until the long tail starts producing must-see TV, traditional content from the big studios is going to be what people want to watch most — so cable providers would be smart to find solutions that work for now, to keep viewers hooked on the remote. As we’re seeing, Internet start-ups are already working on ways to satisfy content creators’ desires to keep advertising connected; cable can’t afford to hit pause.