Honey, where’s the remote? And why this is the next BIG disruption (and battle between Google, Apple and….)

PHOTO: ANDREW EVANS / THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

No, this isn’t about the new Bluetooth or RFID tag technology or even a new fancy universal remote/app. This is about the true merger of the TV/Digital universes and why we’ll need a better remote control.

This is what’s happening: we all know that cable unbundling and subscription-based services are gaining momentum every day (Google it or say ‘amen’, if you currently have a Netflix, Amazon or Hulu acct. — or more than one). Also, it’s really getting easier and easier to view this content at any time, on any screen, small and large, home or not.

Stream here, stream there, stream, stream everywhere!

So what does this have to do with the remote? Hold-on we’re almost there.

Let’s agree for a moment that as we continue to unbundle we’re going to be able to consume (buy) more and more individualized content. Across the entire TV, Digital, Social and ‘yet to be invented’ platforms. You get the idea.

So, if the distribution and viewing methods of the content become easier then we’ll consume more content, spend more on content and as a result, more will be invested in creating content. It just makes sense.

But there’s a problem. One that can’t be fixed by any technology today.

Our time is limited.

So we’re going to have to become very organized and disciplined when spending our viewing time.

We’ll need a way to manage all that content, those platforms, channels and subscriptions and our money too.

A remote control that works on anything, everywhere.

Let’s look forward 4 years from now, say 2020.

Here’s my sample channel/subscription lineup:

Netflix (I’m a big House of Cards fan)
Amazon (Prime offers a lot of extras)
Apple TV/iTunes (can’t ignore the 800lb gorilla)
NBC (with favorite local affiliate)
Food Network (I like to watch cooking stuff)
Bravo (one of my wife’s favorite)
NFL Redzone Package (only during the season)
CBS (especially for March Madness, maybe only during the season?)
National Geographic (I like their shows)
HBO (for Game of Thrones)
30+ Podcasts
Facebook Live stream of Coachella and other big music festivals
Howard Stern (maybe after his last Sirius contract ends)
AMC (for Walking Dead)
ESPN (for live sports)
NY Times (for both written and video channel)
YES Network (I’m a Yankees fan so maybe I’ll pay and watch a few games, unless included in above)
YouTube Red (for some live and original programming plus everything else it has)
Other Live Stream Providers (live will be huge. Trust me.
100+ other individual content streams (all based on my individual interests)

Obviously, I could go on and on and who knows if this will be the list, but I bet you understand where I’m going.

A lot of choices but limited time. I want to manage my budget but how the hell am I going to organize all of this?

This is where the battle begins.

If I’d have to guess, it’d be an app or even part of the major mobile OS’s (iOS or Android). Why? Because for now, it needs to run off your phone. Your phone is always with you, it can stream to the TV and sometimes it’s even the primary viewing device.

For some, it’s the only device.

On those occasions that you don’t want to use your phone as the remote, then the platform will be able to afford an inexpensive, durable alternative (think cheap tablet — $30 max). 
Easily user-programmable for little Johnny or Grandma Loo.

Here comes Google and Apple to the rescue.

There could be other big players involved including Microsoft, Amazon and IBM. And others with deep pockets as well who are going to have a say in this “Super Remote” and how it will work (think big cable and satellite like Comcast, Charter, Time Warner, telecom such as Verizon, AT&T/DirectTV, Advertisers, etc.).

Yes, let’s not forget about the Advertisers. They have a lot of money to spend and will have the opportunity to “unbundle” as well.

Also, while we’re at it, let’s not forget to mention the content creators because without them this whole discussion is moot. Everything’s about content.

Take a look around: everyone is trying to create content or someone’s trying to create something that helps create it (or at the minimum, distribute it).

Maybe, the content creators will be heavily subsidized in one form or another as the whole idea of traditional advertising pivots.

Maybe, it’s already starting. Native advertising? Everyone is creating content studios?

Oops, I almost forgot something. That’s my lineup based on my individual interests. What’s yours? Probably a lot different than mine. How are the content providers going to know what you and I want to watch? Of course, they’ll use data. The data is key.

Now I’m not talking about silly viral stuff like blowing up a watermelon on Facebook live, or the latest funny cat/baby/prank/illusion/nature video or even the “shows” of many who have a camera/microphone and opinion to share with the world.

I’m talking about content that I’m willing to pay for with my time and money. That content is very hard and expensive to make.

TV. Sports. Movies. Digital. Netflix is going to spend billions on original content EACH YEAR in the coming years. That’s more than some movie studios will spend annually.

Why is the NFL the most valuable TV property? Because it’s so popular and no one can replicate it. Why do you see tons of news and other publisher articles directly on Facebook? Because Facebook realizes that in order to keep your attention (and coming back), they need good content. And again, cat meme’s and the birth of your friend’s, college roommate’s, first cousin’s baby isn’t going to do it long-term. Instagram ditto. Snapchat and Twitter, ditto.

They all need professional and/or unabashedly real content. And lots of it to survive and grow. And quickly. Because we can consume it faster than they can make it.

Maybe the distributors realize it already as all of the major subscription services are investing billions into creating their own content. The cable companies are onto it as well as they continue to buy entertainment companies to help lockup the good stuff.

Add to that all of the money flowing into additional traditional TV, movies, digital series, YouTube, podcasts, Facebook live, blogs, and “platforms built for cameras everywhere” and the number of binging opportunities are going to be endless!

Welcome to the big leagues. Content is king. And everyone knows it.

Uh oh. But what happens if Netflix doesn’t have big hits like House of Cards every time. Or Game of Thrones ends on HBO? What will separate them apart, the rest of their catalog? They better hope so or maybe I’ll want to unbundle them too?

Hmmm… So take minute and think about what content you’ve viewed in the past, how you viewed it and how you’d like to view it in the future if it was all organized in an easy-to-use, customized-for-you, manner.

Now back to Google and Apple. Finally.

Why Google? Well they’re very good at organizing data and are at the forefront of artificial intelligence. Also, they have a vast application footprint and they’re one of the biggest advertising platforms on the planet.

Why Apple? Well, they’re very good at design with a devout customer base and have an installed foundation in iPhones/iPads and their robust app marketplace. Plus, they have a leading financial/payment platform. Lastly, they make huge sums of money.

It’s going to take a lot of money.

Money to create the content, distribute the content, manage the transactions. 
Money for the platform, the advertising and the new formats (virtual and augmented reality). 
Money for the reporting, analysis and everything else.

Money throughout the entire chain. The new chain.

How the money is divided is going to be a difficult question to answer as the percentages shift from distributor to publisher. Or maybe not, if the distributors become publishers? Confusing.

Does the middleman really get cut out?

Okay, let’s get back to the remote.

So what’s keeping it from happening? Well, a lot of things and they all start with the law. The first is the confusing myriad of licensing contracts throughout the content and distribution channels (i.e. who pays who, for what, for how long and nowadays, for what distribution on what platform). The second is the cable box.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks has been the cable box and the FCC. Basically, the cable industry has a monopoly on the cable boxes. Up until now, it’s probably made it easier for the FCC to control and manage what is broadcast. However, today, with the eventual blend of TV and Digital ready to happen, the FCC recently decided to attempt to mandate that the cable companies cannot have a monopoly of the cable box business.

The stage has been set for disruption.

Once I truly don’t need a cable box to easily buy all of the content I want, at a comparable price (or cheaper) then things will really change.

It hasn’t been made official but expect a big political fight. There is a lot of $$$ on the line: to the tune of $20 billion annually for the rental fees on the cable boxes alone. Probably a lot of jobs too.

But it makes sense for the consumer. There has to be a better and more efficient solution then paying exorbitant fees to rent a cable box that’s not all that technologically advanced. Plus, when Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, recently announced that they’ll offer TV via a Roku or Samsung Smart TV without a need to lease their proprietary box, well, then, the writing is on the wall. It’s going to happen.

But, wait, is it another cable box from Apple or Google? No.

It’s a product that I’m willing to share my privacy and viewing habits in return for the ability to watch the content I pay for, when and where I want.

I expect that my data is worth something and I will get something in return for it.

The data to the content creators, providers and advertisers is the pay-off. And Google or Apple (and anyone/everyone else involved) will take a cut.

Will there be more than one choice?

Let’s hope and pray so.

In the end, all I can do is speak for myself so here’s what I want in my remote in 2020:

I want my remote to be able to store and manage all of my individual channels and subscriptions.
I want to be able to turn-on or turn-off those subscriptions at will.
I want it to show me what my upcoming potential viewing schedule looks like.
I want it to alert me to interesting live programming.
I want it to record any of my programming.
I want it to show me what content is available commercial-free and commercial-paid.
I want it to recommend new channels and content.
I want it to alert my friends to join the viewing to share the experience.
I want it to be easy to use.
I want it to work anywhere and everywhere.

And now let’s add some more variables to the mix: radio/music, dual screen capabilities and picture in picture.

Hey, and with driverless cars around the corner what are we going to do with all of that additional free time? Sleep? Nah…

Let the battle begin.

In the meantime, I’ve got some couch cushions to look behind.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.