By Daniel Frankel
Call 2014 a table-setting year for the cable business. From mergers to big online programming launches, a lot of groundwork was laid this past year, the fruits of which won't be known until we get well into 2015.
Take pay-TV's two giant mergers, for example. The antitrust issues that initially placed seeds of doubt regarding the regulatory future of AT&T's (NYSE: T) proposed acquisition of DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) don't seem to have grown into much of a concern. But media investment analysts tracking Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC)--who were so sure the deal was a regulatory slam dunk back in February--are slightly less sure today.
What happens if the merger of two of the biggest video and Internet service providers gets the FCC's blessing, which is still likely? Probably quite a bit. We can expect to see programmers look to correspondingly bulk up next year, in response to the newly created pay-TV behemoth's market power.
What happens if the FCC shocks the world and curses the publicly unpopular wedding? Again, probably quite a bit. We can expect powerful operatives like John Malone to circle back around on TWC, as Malone himself stated he would.
Other big cable industry news stories that hatched this year are also incomplete. What will happen if HBO's standalone streaming service, announced in October, is a big success when it launches next year? Will every programmer suddenly launch an a la carte product? Similarly, what if Dish Network's (NASDAQ: DISH) launch of an online pay-TV service targeted at millennials catches on? Will we see pay-TV operators quickly follow down the skinny-bundle streaming path, too?
This year, we saw cable companies put aggressive deployment strategies in place to quickly build their Wi-Fi networks into forces with the kind reach necessary to compete with cellular. By the end of 2015, carrier grade cable Wi-Fi will be far more realized technology, but only if operators like Comcast can continue a controversial deployment strategy put in place in 2014--that is, piggybacking hotspots in the homes of residential users.
Meanwhile, 2014 was also the year that media analysts and researchers stopped wondering if online video was hurting the linear TV business and declared that it actually is. The nascent statistics promise to be much more damning and pronounced next year.
So without further ado, here in the list below are five topics that we think were among the cable industry's most relevant in 2014 … and will have the biggest impact going forward into 2015. And while you're at it, please also check out 2014 Year in Review features from FierceWireless, FierceTelecom, FierceOnlineVideo and FierceWireless:Europe.
P.S. FierceCable will take a publishing break for the holidays. We will be updating the website with any breaking news, and our newsletter will be back in your inbox on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. Enjoy the holidays and have a Happy New Year!--Daniel