Adobe has confirmed what many suspected about the digital television revolution with a report showing that many people watching movies or television shows on their smartphones, tablets, PCs, and other devices are doing so with applications offered by television’s old guard.
The report states that online video consumption through “TV Everywhere” services – those allowing cable subscribers to watch videos on the devices listed above as well as set-top boxes and game consoles – rose by 246 percent between 2013 and 2014. Tablets saw the smallest viewership increase (16 percent), while game consoles grew the most (123 percent) and smartphones sat in the middle with a modest bump (48 percent). Other devices weren’t listed in the report.
This means that even though consumers are being entertained with mobile devices and game consoles more than they were in the past, many are using the devices to watch the same stuff they could watch with a good-ol’ cable box and television set. The only difference is that they have abandoned traditional cable boxes in favor of mobile applications, Adobe claims, as the number of videos watched on Android and iOS devices continues to rise year after year.
Taken together, this means that the number of consumers watching videos through services included as part of their cable subscription and the number of consumers watching videos on applications dedicated to just one content or cable provider are rising alongside each other. As the New York Times notes, the similarities show that many people are choosing to extend their cable subscriptions to new devices instead of cutting the cord and relying on other services.
Pando contributor Kevin Kelleher noticed that this trend last spring, suggesting that new companies like Netflix were unlikely to be unable to combat this trend, writing:
Content owners like TV to be fragmented into different channels or providers because it serves them well. In an 11-page essay released after the company’s strong financial report, CEO Reed Hastings painted the online TV industry as a long-term work in progress. In time, apps would replace channels, leaving a lot of companies offering video content. But Hastings also noted that “content owners always want another bidder, and never want one bidder to become too strong.”
After trying to changes the rules of the digital-TV game, Netflix seems to have settled on a less ambitious approach: In order to stay in that game, Netflix has chosen to play by those rules. It’s the same old fragmented TV landscape we’ve had for decades, only instead of channel surfing we’ll be app surfing. But that model remains waiting for someone to come along and reinvent it. Perhaps Hastings has some secret plan up his sleeve, but right now Netflix is not looking like it’s ready to reinvent online TV.
Adobe’s report, combined with the knowledge that some of the most well-regarded television is coming from companies that require a cable subscription (like HBO, for example), reinforces Kelleher’s point. The shift away from cable boxes and towards game consoles — or away from channels and towards applications that closely resemble them — hasn’t changed anything. We are still, by and large, watching the same shows from the same companies that we’ve been watching forever.
Turns out that what we thought was a television revolution may end up simply being the old guard’s steady march to new territories.