Consumers are paying for television's new golden age

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVTo be a true snob, one must deny any knolwedge of television programming outside Downton Abbey. Even then, the true snob must emphasize that this PBS soap is a guilty pleasure that's just too delicious to resist ... kind of like a video banana split.

I'm not a snob. I watch television. Importantly, for the statistics-keepers, I also pay a hefty fee to do so.

Therefore, when the FCC issued its 15th Report to Congress on the status of competition in the market for the delivery of video programming—a title worthy of the report's 185 pages of statistics, drivel and opinion—I was not drawn to the statistics but rather to a statement from FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai commenting on the report.

"While many fondly refer to the period between 1948 and 1959 as the Golden Age of Television, there is no time like the present for those who savor quality content," she said.

I agree. When it comes to television, there's nostalgia and then there's common sense. Today's TV still has enough unfunny sitcoms, plotless dramas and so-called reality shows to keep the snobs sniffing but it also offers a larger share of excellent entertainment across the entire spectrum than the previous Golden Age of TV. Even snobs should (and most privately do) recognize this.

This plethora of quality programming is rarely a part of discussions about pay TV competition. Deliberately or not, MVPDs have focused the latest conversations on broadband speeds and the availability of "content" from the Internet rather than the availability of high quality content available via IPTV, cable and satellite. Partially that is because, as the report notes, most MVPDs have access to the same programming but can compete on speed.

But by diverting attention to broadband, pay TV providers have opened the door for the likes of Netflix, which strolled through with quality programming that is now being recognized by traditional TV awards presenters and which, ironically or not, can only be accessed by someone paying for an MVPD's broadband connection.

To its credit, the FCC, an organization only a wonk could love and many despise, recognized the growth of non-traditional TV programming delivery sources like Netflix and the value of the programming these alternate sources bring to the consumer mix.

"Our report today tells a parallel tale," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in her prepared comments. "Traditional video models are still strong, but new ways of watching are gaining a toehold."

The tale that is not told on the surface—but with the depth of detail in the report it's likely in there somewhere—is that there is only so much money to be shared to pay for this programming. If Netflix is gaining, someone is losing. If the broadcasters are holding their own, it's because MVPD subscribers are paying higher bills for retransmission fees in a delicately balanced dance between MVPDs and networks.

The conclusion I reached after skimming the report and considering the commissioners' comments is that this might the golden age of television because consumers are willing to dip into their pockets for the gold to fund that television. How long those consumers will continue to do so and who will benefit as they pick and choose among the quality programming, will likely be a big factor when the 16th annual report is released next year.--Jim