Disconnecting cable TV and switching to the new "common medium"

It took some research and courage, but 2010 is the year we disconnected from traditional cable television service. While Cox Cable in Omaha remains our valued Internet Service Provider and land-line telephone provider, changing family media use made this possible. We continue to believe that Cox is a model cable company, but broadband Internet use now defines our household. It is this high-speed connection, or "common medium," that the government now says will define the decade.

News podcasts, weather updates and even some live sports are now offered on-demand and provide a direct challenge to the traditional broadcast model.

While Web-based services, such as Hulu and YouTube, offer more rich media than user time permits, the change also is being driven by our adoption of social media. We're sharing more media on facebook with our growing and vibrant online communities. We're connecting on twitter with communities of interest inside and outside of Omaha. We're even watching foursquare for its possibilities.

The Federal Communications Commission has pronounced that by the end of the decade, broadband will be "the common medium" for U.S. media users. The New York Times calls the FCC's plan for wide-scale adoption "ambitious," controversial among service providers and tied to the desire to repurpose broadcast spectrum for digital media use.

One way to recognize the change is to look at my iPhone screens. The first screen, much like the first punch button on an old car radio, demonstrates which content is most important to me.

It shows that twitter and facebook updates, The Weather Channel, stock quotes, news services and Internet radio now compete for my attention from my first cup of coffee in the morning to the time I reach for a bedtime snack. For example, the CNN iPhone app is simply more convenient and timely than waiting for news on cable. When news breaks, live video also is made available.

The most difficult break was to leave ESPN and SportsCenter behind. Currently, ESPN makes SportsCenter available through my phone only as audio on ESPN Radio. Cox, however, offers its Internet subscribers ESPN 360 on the Web. Here, multiple live and recorded games are available to me 24/7.

Additionally, the MLB season pass offers access to all Major League Baseball games live and on-demand, and an additional iPhone app feeds these to the mobile environment. All of this can be purchased at a fraction of the price for annual basic and bundled cable television. There, we did not have the choice to opt out of unused channels.

Cox is in the process of seeking its second renewal of the 15-year franchise, and I am told that they and the city are clinging to the old bundled cable television model. Cable companies have been slow to offer subscribers per channel rates, and regulators have failed to pressure them to switch. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that a decade from now media will be anything but unbundled, digital and mobile.

It is time for us to Think Mobile about our media and make decisions based upon new operating principles rather than tired and withering assumptions.


Craigslist founder and the urban newspaper myth

If "video killed the radio star," is craigslist killing U.S. newspapers by choking off valuable classified advertising revenues? Craig Newmark, founder of the popular listing site told David Mathison (at right with UNO students last week) of Be The Media that the claim has "become an urban myth."

Newmark's response was to my question on Mathison's new blogtalkradio call-in show, and you can hear the archived interview. About 39 minutes into the March 3 program, Mathison relays my emailed question: "Did you know you'd be so successful driving people away from newspaper classifieds and on to craigslist?"

"Well, I have to challenge the premise there," Newmark said. "I've spoken to a lot of newspaper editors and publishers who say that the extent of our effect on the newspaper business has been pretty exaggerated." It's at this point that Newmark adds, "It's become an urban myth."

For sure, craigslist is one of many factors impacting the revenue decline. Realtors, auto dealerships and other major newspaper advertisers have discovered the social media lesson. It is far cheaper and often more effective to market directly to customers through email, websites and other means.

"As for an effect, I mean the real effect," Newmark added in his soft voice, "I had no clue as to anything that was going to happen, no clue at all."

Newmark told Mathison that his "focus is basically customer service and generally serving our community." It's a model that Newmark has cutlivated for 15 years: "the deal is to figure out what needs to be done, do it, and then listen to the feedback and do more of it." If only our local newspapers had learned earlier to follow Newmark's lead, they would have been quicker to respond to change by listening to all of us.

Do more of what customer feedback says. "That's what I think about," Newmark said.

Mathison last week visited the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a talk that was sponsored by the School of Communication and the Omaha Press Club. Here are data supporting Newmark's comments.

March 3, 2010