Imagine if all the people could see all the television they wanted to pay for, without reference to its means of technological delivery or receipt. Simple, uh ? Rather like shopping. Fanciful ?
The television industry is becoming a real market. Real markets do not operate as the television industry does today. Therefore, big change must be on its way – well beyond any envisaged by the industry, its regulators or the Government. The changes will benefit the consumer, level every playing field, eliminate most TV-specific regulation, change most companies involved beyond their recognition and drive major industry growth. And, over-hyped interactive TV will become a domestic fixture, as essential as the telephone.
The obstacle to this win-win for nearly everyone in the industry is an understandable desire, in a shifting world, to hold on to what you have; and incremental thinking blocking real vision. But the end-state is inevitable and beneficial; and the logic of its advent is this:
For as along as television has been restricted in its supply by very limited distribution capacities, the present structure of state-sponsored monopolies has pertained; first, payment-defined monopolies (licence and advertising); latterly, distribution-defined (satellite and cable). These restrictions need be no more: distribution potential far exceeds any known demand. A necessarily planned economy lies ready to become a real market.
But what does a real market look like? Perhaps the best example to use is groceries, where competing producers of foods and other products use open and common distribution channels to serve customers through the competing outlets, large and small. In this reasonably free market, the notion that Unilever (a major producer) should own or control the road system, or Sainsbury’s (a major retailer) should own the railways would be regarded as absurd (as well as being forbidden by the competition authorities). Equally absurd would be to find certain branded products available in only one supermarket: Colgate toothpaste in Asda only and Macleans in Tesco only, for example. Further absurdity would be in the Government allowing only 4 haulage companies to use the roads. These market “absurdities” largely define today’s television industry: producers owning or controlling distribution channels, exclusive rights and Government as gatekeeper to some distribution means.
A real television market would be defined by open access to all distribution channels; by rights – holders maximising audience and revenues through using all distribution and retail channels; by broadcasters competing on scheduling, presentation standards and own brand products, as radio does now.
A real market would mean today’s vertically, integrated companies choosing between being broadcasters, distributors and retailers; a single ITV; as many new “ITVs” as the market could support; the equivalent of a “road fund licence” for Government-owned per bit spectrum use; an end to exclusive rights; the unbundling to mutual owners of the DSL, satellite and cable distribution networks; open and forwards and backwards compatible global access standards and equipment for the home; and a new breed of television retailers