Unbundling TV…Are We Ready Yet?

Throughout fall of 2014, there has been a lot of talk surrounding the unbundling of TV services. One article even compared it to the music industry and how download services allowing consumers to purchase singles has crippled the gross revenue of the industry, fearing that this will only allow the same thing to happen to television services. Another article from Wired simply offers an explanation of what television networks are beginning to offer, and how it might affect consumers. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of unbundling, you should read about here.

To give a brief explanation, unbundling of television services simply means that it will be possible for consumers to select the networks they want, individualizing their television experience, instead of offering the usual cable bundles that may soon be of the past. It also means that you might be able to purchase specific network subscriptions online…whoa.

Now that you’re familiar with the idea of “unbundling,” let’s talk about it. The article mentioned in the beginning of this post heeds some warning about the excitement surrounding this idea. Although it might be wonderful for HBO subscribers who really only pay for the cable bundle to watch Game of Thrones, it might not be so good for everything else included.

First, unbundling would possibly allow all television networks to offer online streaming services that you would have to pay for individually. This could potentially mean that you have to have multiple subscriptions to multiple networks to get the shows you want. Instead of one library for *most* of your favorite television, you now have to visit multiple websites to get the content you want. For the past three years, I have been an extremely satisfied Netflix user, and I would honestly be kind of bummed if the television shows offered there were removed and put on their networks service.

I’m a college student, soon to be grad, but let’s be honest, we’re all still poor and just trying to make ends meet for the time being. I don’t pay for Netflix and Hulu—it’s one or the other. So if unbundling meant that in order to watch How I Met Your Mother and Parks and Recreation I had to subscribe to two different services…well bye-bye to one of those shows! The same goes with a multitude of other television shows and movies offered on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant; if unbundling happens, we might say goodbye to our big catalog of TLC, The WB, The CW, CBS, NBC, and Fox television shows. And let’s be honest, that would be a sad world to live in—same goes for all of the different production companies that have their movies on those services…bye-bye simplicity!

For that reason alone, I don’t think unbundling would be successful. I think consumers would find it extremely frustrating to use 3+ sites to watch the content they want.

On a different note, the benefits of “unbundling” might be that consumers would be able to watch television in real time, something that isn’t currently offered via online streaming. Sure, you can watch it the next day, but what if you’ve missed out on all that real time drama? What if you’re only 10 minutes late to the game? What if you want to watch it, but an hour later and don’t want to commit to a service like DVR? Then unbundling solves that. Issie Lapowsky, author of The Great TV Unbundling Has Begun. But Be Careful What You Wish For, mentions “If content providers continue to launch their own platforms, as HBO and CBS have done, the future of internet TV will not just be unbundled. It will be deeply fragmented.” And to that I say, indeed. There are already too many apps on my phone and too many ways to get all sorts of information. This just seems like another thing this simple girl doesn’t need in her life.

That being said, I feel like there might be some common ground. If consumers were able to pick packages from cable companies that allowed them to only purchase specific channels they want, then maybe the idea of “unbundling” could work. But it would still be a bundle, right? Right. Cable companies could offer a certain number of channels for certain price points, and then you get to choose which channels, or networks, you pay for. Sure, some networks could be more expensive, but it might work.

Most television networks currently offer free online streaming for the current season of their television series, and I think it would be a bad move for the networks to individually offer consumers to pay for these services. I’m pretty willing to sit through five commercials every 7-10 minutes of television I watch for free online rather than suffer through jumping through the loops of paying for another streaming service—even if it meant having access to all seasons of commercial free television.

Overall, I see consumers being dissatisfied with unbundling. I think the initial idea is appealing—especially for those HBO subscribers—but the more television networks that take this route, the more consumers will have to pay. And that leads us to the question, well, what’s the point? There isn’t one. In my mind, it will put us in a circular pattern. It might catch on at first, but then I see consumers wanting to get all of their content in one to three places…like it is now. Unbundling is definitely a way to force consumers to pirate television and film, and I think it would definitely affect the gross revenue for television networks.

So unbundling…is the world ready or not? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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