Centralized MSOs struggled under the heavy demand on a big night in sports, frustrating subscribers.
Saturday night was big in the entertainment industry, featuring two of the biggest sports events of the year: Game Seven of a tight series between the Los Angeles Clippers and defending NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs, and boxing’s most anticipated matchup in decades featuring Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Sports fans tuned in, and in record numbers. But the MSOs or multi-system operators that are trusted to deliver every second of the action dropped the ball. The social media accounts of Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and Charter each erupted with consumer complaints as network outages interrupted the basketball game and even delayed the start of the boxing match. While the cable companies did their best to mitigate the service issues, frustrated postings on social media indicate that many customers still missed out on their big games.
Sports occupy a special place on our televisions. They’re one of the only types of content that viewers insist on watching live, as it happens. They’re also one of the only things keeping many customers subscribing to pricey pay-TV bundles. In fact, the cost of sports programming is one of the reasons that cable bills continue to climb so high. The price that customers pay, along with the time sensitive nature and fast-paced action of sports puts the pressure on distributors of this content to get it right. An interruption of even a few seconds can be all it takes to miss a key moment of a game. And as Saturday night showed, those distributors are not always up to the task. That’s the risk of centralized MSOs like the cable and satellite TV providers, as well as virtual pay-TV products like Dish Network’s Sling TV and upcoming products from Verizon and Sony.
Until very recently, there hasn’t been a better way, as the delivery of content has relied upon the physical infrastructure of the television providers. But now that we’re deep within the digital age, and just about everyone has both bandwidth and a variety of devices able to access content via the internet, opening up new possibilities for content providers to make their content available to the masses. Those content providers would be wise to take advantage of these opportunities for a multitude of reasons. First among them is the declining relevance of the traditional MSOs, as more consumers seek to purchase content directly from its source rather than paying for a bloated and expensive package from a TV provider.
Media Aggregation Platforms like Rabbit TV Plus are the MSOs for the next generation, but while they may seem like a virtual equivalent of terrestrial MSOs, there’s one key difference: Media Aggregation Platforms are decentralized. Each individual content provider is responsible for hosting and delivering their own content, while the MAP delivers an audience to it. Traditional MSOs do the opposite, delivering content to the audience via cable or satellite signal. However, network problems can often knock out all content for large numbers of customers at once. MAPs benefit from their decentralized structure, making such a scenario impossible. If one content provider experiences technical difficulties or extraordinary demand, others are not affected. Content providers are also better prepared to estimate demand for their own content, and plan to accommodate that demand accordingly, in order to avoid disruptions. With a decentralized model, consumers are also aware that they’re getting content directly from its source, and that those content sources are the ones responsible for delivering it. With traditional MSOs, it can be hard to tell whether it’s the content or the TV provider that’s having problems. But as the collector of a high monthly bill, the TV provider almost always takes the blame and fields the complaints.
As more consumers turn to the web for content, the challenges faced by MSOs could only continue to get worse. Virtual pay-TV providers like Sling TV in particular face a rough road, sticking with the centralized structure of an MSO but using the web to deliver content. During the March Madness tournament, many Sling users reported problems both signing up for and using the service. Consumers have shown an appetite for these types of affordable television products, but if the services buckle under heavy demand, they aren’t of much use to anyone. They could quite literally become victims of their own success, as more subscribers hurts the quality of the service and may eventually make it unsustainable. Even the TV providers who don’t rely on the internet aren’t totally immune to this problem. Just ask Charter, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, and others who struggled during the Mayweather Pacquiao fight.
As consumers shift to the web, so too will content. That’s not to say that it won’t come without some growing pains, but there are a plethora of reasons why the web is a better venue for content than traditional pay-TV from the cable and satellite companies. Consumers and content providers all stand to benefit from cutting out the middle man and taking responsibility for many of the tasks that normally fell on the TV providers. From customer service, to billing, to the reliability of services, the cable companies have checkered reputations at best.
Currently, most pay-TV customers simply care about their shows, and not the cable provider or even the network that delivers it to them. But while the TV providers are largely seen as a lost cause, individual networks that can build quality OTT products that deliver a good customer experience can start to build some brand loyalty of their own. CBS and Time Warner’s HBO are great examples of networks doing just that, and many more are expected to follow their lead. When they do, Media Aggregation Platforms like Rabbit TV Plus will serve as an ideal marketplace, connecting consumers to the content that they want to buy, without interfering with it in any way. That’s exactly what consumers, and increasingly, the networks want.