Apple’s big, device-based assault on the TV business keeps not happening, despite years of confident predictions by analysts of all stripes. So speculation around the imminent disruption of the pay-TV ecosystem seems to be moving on to Intel.
The anticipation began rising last year with reports that Intel was working on a set-top box that would use facial recognition and other technologies to deliver targeted advertising to individual viewers as part of a virtual cable TV system (more on what may be inside that box, and on Intel’s broader media plans from Janko Roettgers here). Then, over the weekend, came breathless reports in Forbes and TechCrunch suggesting a launch is imminent, with a formal unveiling coming perhaps as soon as next week’s CES, where Intel is scheduled to hold a news conference.
Alas, the Wall Street Journal is out with a piece this morning throwing cold water on the whole thing. Not only will there be no announcement of an Intel TV at CES, the Journal reported, there may be no announcement this year. The hold up? The same reluctance on the part of TV programmers to license the content rights needed to disrupt the pay-TV ecosystem that held up Apple’s plans. And Google’s. And Microsoft’s. And Boxee’s, Yahoo’s, Netflix’s, and everyone else who has ever thought about trying to disrupt the pay-TV ecosystem.
Sense a pattern here? The pay-TV ecosystem is not going to be disrupted, displaced or even seriously degraded by recreating it at a discount online. It simply is not in content owners’ interest to let that happen and the nature of the content rights system gives them an absolute veto over whether it does. If it’s going to be disrupted it will happen because the pay-TV business blows itself up, by driving wholesale carriage prices up to unsustainable levels (I’m looking at you, ESPN), or because online platforms like YouTube and Netflix become meaningful sources of high-quality content that can lure viewers away from the networks rather than merely an alternative delivery system for what the networks are already producing.