Let’s Fight the Internet TV Axis of Evil

I’m not going to get all George Bush Jr. on you by actually insinuating that something is evil and naming names. But we all know there are a few highly organized entertainment corporations out there actively working not to serve their customers, but to screw them over to keep a dying industry alive.

This sounds familiar, since the music industry did the same thing at the beginning of the millenium. After a bunch of organizations today prematurely warned readers that Hulu will (update: might, someday) require cable authentication, many angry commenters were quick to draw parallels. Why take a step backward by requiring that people who choose to watch TV on the Internet also pay for a technology they’ve abandoned? Forcing customers to buy records did not help the music industry gain favor or profit, but instead directed them toward piracy. But the situations aren’t the same, because we are in a different era – one defined by consumer empowerment and creativity.

When I’m not writing on this blog, I’m at my day job, which is at a modern branding agency that does a lot of high-level positioning work with some of the world’s biggest brands. I’ve become so used to brands carefully monitoring what their consumers are saying online and using that information to service them better, that I’m always shocked to see a brand like Comcast actively sneaking fees into my bill without explanation or apology.

It’s not just the brands we work with, but an active change in how capitalism works in a digital society. Whereas selling a product used to be about having a sexy spokesperson, stretching the truth about the power of your product and finding new ways to sneak money away from customers, that doesn’t fly anymore. Thanks to social media and the Internet in general, brands can’t afford to build that kind of negative reputation anymore. Right now, cable TV services are in a funny situation – Comcast reigns with old-fashioned practices, serving resentful customers, and none of its competitors are big or innovative enough to challenge this. If a company came along and presented fair prices with perks for the customer, instead of hidden fees, Comcast would be in trouble. Instead, technology worked around the stagnant industry in the form of Internet TV.

The problem is that cable’s real challenger – Hulu – is partially owned by Comcast. Hulu is a joint venture between NBC Universal, News Corp and Disney-ABC Television, and Comcast owns 51% of NBC Universal.

We can and should use our voices on the Internet and fight to make this the new territory of TV, rather than just threatening to pirate all their content, which won’t convince the Rupert Murdochs out there of anything. Here are some simple ways to fight for the streaming TV you love:

1. Point out that television content is a type of mass media that everyone is entitled to. TV and the radio weren’t created to sell advertisements, they were created to build a more informed populace. Everyone deserves at least some level of access, and we’ll all benefit from finding new ways to get more people tuning in.

2. Be less cynical about what companies can do for you. Instead of just threatening to pirate all the shows you like, be a conscientious consumer that rewards brands who work with you rather than against you. Help brands innovate their services for the digital age by sharing your feedback and thoughts with them. (And torrent on the side.)

3. Show large companies that we don’t rely on traditional institutions to create media anymore. The last decade has been a revelation of what really motivates people to make music, as the traditional paths of finding success and fortune have faded away. This will happen with the next generation of people who want to make TV, too. Technology makes them less and less reliant on traditional studios.

If Hulu creates these new terms, don’t go out and buy a TV to subscribe to cable channels. Trust the nerd geniuses on the internet to make sure they pay.

-Becky Lang