Steve Jobs Played His Card


When Steve Jobs previewed Apple TV, he demonstrated the “one-click” video push system of moving content to other screens. Jobs had outmaneuvered the incumbents. Many multichannel providers who either already had the same feature working on an engineer’s bench, or were preparing to roll it out in 2011, must have watched in disbelief.

I think that handing consumers the capability to move video content from their mobile phone (or tablet) with one click onto their home television screen is today’s holy grail. This “one click” should not be confused with TV Everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, Web-delivered and browser-viewed content is a huge white space. But the real meat of it all is to give consumers control so they can move video around at will. You can bet money on it that Nielsen Media Research is going to have their work cut out for themselves in this environment.

In my opinion, the “one click” also means consumers will be properly motivated to bundle up all their registered devices so that the experience works. This is the important takeaway I remember about the Apple TV relaunch presentation. It’s almost as if the Apple retail stores have been slowly transforming into these training centers where consumers can learn how to link all their devices in anticipation of the “one click.” Just as it’s difficult to justify changing a triple-play bundle, Steve Jobs is doing the same except that he is coming at it from the device.

Jobs is not alone in his thinking. Brian Roberts previewed Comcast’s tablet integration at the Cable Show. Verizon just demonstrated similar functionality with a tablet a few weeks ago.

Tangentially, many multichannel providers are also beginning to build content delivery networks (CDNs), perhaps partly as a competitive response to the perceived threat from Apple as its new $1 billion data center is currently being built.

I think the tug of war for television content is not really about cable pipes or even the Internet. To me the battlefield seems to be about fine-tuning demand-side logistics in order to get consumers to switch providers as they permanently migrate into a multiscreen environment.

How quickly these new hybrid CDNs can get operational, and get distribution through multiple devices, is where the battle will be won or lost. The competition seems poised and ready. Today Apple outsources its manufacturing overseas to Foxconn International and its one million workers. Inside Apple’s 280 retail stores, probably over 100,000 consumers each day, I estimate, are being educated on how to self-install Apple’s device ecosystem.

Multichannel providers, on the other hand, employ tens of thousands of installers that drive out to each and every home to manage set-top boxes. Apple made its equipment so easy to use most consumers can self-install. Will we see cable companies adopt a tactical approach in encouraging self-installs, while also getting more strategic in how they deploy people in the field?

Many think cable companies currently have the advantage by way of robust libraries of tiered content and favorable agreements. As far as I am concerned, a lot of that content is available today via a la carte viewing on the Internet. The real struggle then is in how all these well-financed competitors can grow their multiscreen subscriber base. With victory will go the spoils of exclusive content.

It is easy to see, then, why Jeff Bewkes appears to be so confident inside this incredible marketplace disruption. After all, Time Warner is one of the distributors of TV content at the center of this epic conflict. As multiscreen TV content finds an audience, eventually new revenue streams for many in the food chain can finally be realized.

I wouldn’t be surprised if local broadcast TV also morphs into a hybrid CDN technology simply by leveraging the spectrum one step beyond current mobile television efforts. Today Sezmi, to some degree, is doing an outstanding job of filling this void. Struggling new media entrants might want to figure out how they can make their technologies fit within this “one-click” paradigm — especially now that Steve Jobs just showed all of us his hand.

Michael Kokernak is the CEO and President of Across Platforms, Inc. Across Platforms, Inc. is a multiscreen technologies consulting firm.  Michael has written about Steve Jobs and the wider threat technology presents to broadcast television. Michael is also the founder, and past CEO, of Backchannelmedia. He can be reached at [email protected]