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Front Page » September 17, 2013 » Opinion » Done in by the dongle?
Published 214 days ago

Done in by the dongle?


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

It's a silly word, dongle is. But it could mean the end for cable television as everyone has known it for the last 35 years.

And could broadcast over the airwaves television be making a comeback. It is free, after all.

The television industry is very concerned about what is happening to them. So are cable companies. They are losing customers to the ever growing satellite television industry and to the fact many people are now streaming

In another development, NBC recently fell to fifth place in the Nielsen ratings behind the other two legacy networks, as well as Fox and Telemundo this past summer.

Locally KSL, which used to lead in all kinds of ways, particularly in news, has fallen behind KUTV.

Changes galore.

In explanation, a dongle is a small device which plugs into an electronic device, typically a computer, and alters its functionality. Common examples include wireless modems, software copy protect devices, and adapters. Some USB keyboards and mice include USB to PS/2 adapter dongles, enabling their use on machines with PS/2 ports. (This definition is from Wiktionary).

Okay, dongle doesn't exactly apply to cable television, and what is happening to it, but it comes close. New boxes, streams and devices are changing things quickly.

Dongles and boxes, boxes and dongles. Will it all come down to the fact that people will not only be able to stream Netflex, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other web based video for very small cost, but will they also be able to get real time broadcasts such as news and sports at high quality?

And if this all materializes it will be done without a dish on your house or a cable running off a pole into your living room (other than possibly for your internet connection).

The advantage? Well, for right now cost. Cable and satellite systems often range between $40 and $100+ a month. The alternatives to those presently are not perfect. But $10 a month for Netflix, streamed through your internet sounds pretty good to most people. Of course you are limited in what you can watch, but who saw every Law and Order put out from 1990 to 2001 anyway? In watching them by streaming, they are no less enticing.

There are a growing number of people in the country that the cable industry call "cord cutters." These are people who are disconnecting the lines to their house and using streaming instead. For network news and other local programing they are putting up HD antennas which bring very clear pictures into homes without any monthly cost.

Yes Virginia, airwave broadcast television still exists, and it looks nothing like the days of analog TV with rabbit ears on top of the set.

There are also the "cord shavers" who are eliminating all the premium stuff from their cable and supplementing it with on-line services.

Most importantly for the future of cable television, there are the "cord nevers." These are mostly young people under 30 who will probably never get a cable or satellite service installed in their residence because they get everything on their phones, pads and lap tops.

The cable industry is also concerned about those who are "Zero TV" viewers too. These are people who don't use any kind of traditional service. The trend of not having broadcast or cable television at all in a home is growing; a movement few expected only a few years ago. At that time people who didn't have television at all were considered, well, kind of weird to the average person. Not any more as their numbers grow. In fact in some crowds it is proving rather fashionable to read books and do hobbies instead of sitting in front of mindless hours of programming that you may have paid for, but don't really want.

For years many of the cable providers have been taking pot shots at newspapers and what was their seemingly downward trend. They lauded their own broadcasts of local television and were saying they were the future. They said the day of newspapers and their internet sites were over. The said that the tech generation of young people and internet gurus would never be interested in anything newspapers would (or could) do.

Interestingly enough, this summer Jeff Bezos, the guy who started Amazon (and has made it into one of the biggest profitable internet companies) bought the Washington Post and some of its smaller subsidiaries. The week before that John Henry bought the Boston Globe. He owns a lot of investments including the Boston Red Sox. Last year The Orange County Register was bought by 2100 Trust, led by Aaron Kusher who made a fortune in the internet industry. Over the past few years other major newspapers have been purchased by heavy duty and savvy investors or other millionaires who made their money on internet driven companies. It seems a trend. What do these people see in what many termed an industry that is dying? Are they only looking for a loss write off?

I don't think so.

What they see is the future. Regardless of the fact that they bought most of these newspapers at bargain prices, a great price is worthless if you can't make something of it. A one-hundred-year-old-plus newspaper has a great deal of value in many ways, some of which these people have obviously imagined, and many of the rest of their contemporaries can't fathom.

The other trend that is interesting is that new small newspapers are being started in lots of places, some of them by previously only electronic media companies. What is the reason for this if they have the markets locked up, or say they do? Interesting too that not long ago some of those same companies were saying newspapers were dead horses.

There are always a lot of mysteries out there when dealing with business. The fact is that newspapers have readership, they have tradition and they have a franchise on markets that other media sources often have a hard time breaking into. Most newspapers have good websites and themselves are moving into other parts of the world of electronic media. Video, formats for mobile devices and news broadcasts by newspapers are emerging all over the place, even in community papers.

The world of media is changing, but not in the way that many thought it would only a couple of years ago.

And where it goes from here, no one knows.

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