FreeCast CEO William Mobley, one of the pioneers of streaming media, has sat down with Duke Hillinger for an interview to talk about the toughest topics facing the medium of television.
Mobley founded MegaMedia Networks, a company that developed the first on-page, no-download streaming video, way back in the 1990s. The company had deals with major motion picture studios like Sony Pictures, Miramax, and Warner Bros. to stream movies when Netflix was still in the business of renting DVDs by mail.
Now Mobley is the CEO of another web media company, FreeCast. Since 2012, the company has been tackling some of the more modern problems faced by a television industry that is quickly moving from reliance on decades-old hard-wired infrastructure to a web-first model.
This creates confusion among consumers, who can no longer find the shows and movies they love to watch. Unlike cable television which made all content accessible via a single device and interface, consumers must now navigate a patchwork of apps and services with varying compatibility with different devices.
This is a problem for networks and content owners as well, who now struggle to reach consumers. While national cable networks once provided reliable access to target demographics, many of those viewers have abandoned expensive cable TV packages and rely exclusively on web-based television from a variety of different providers.
As the exodus from cable television continues, networks who depend upon cable retrans fees see their revenues fall as well. A big question for network executives at the NAB Show in Las Vegas this year is how those lost cable revenues can be recouped in the online space. Mobley speaks from experience on the front lines of streaming video for the past two decades. Many of his predictions over the years have come to pass, he’s still doling out advice for colleagues in the television industry.
One of his key points is that consumers want access to everything, and that the multitude of isolated apps and content libraries are becoming too cumbersome and costly to manage. In response, FreeCast has been working on technology that breaks through those content silos.
“If you’re pushing the consumer in a direction of only you, you’re pushing them away.” Mobley says of content providers that don’t play nice with rival networks.
Unfortunately, as Mobley and Hillinger observe, the TV industry incumbents have not been as responsive to consumers’ preferences for affordable and easy-to-use solutions. Their refusal to cooperate in any meaningful way has resulted in dozens of apps and websites, each of which requires a monthly subscription to access.
This can become as costly as cable TV, or even a car payment, as Mobley jests. It’s also a hassle to manage, and presents a security risk in an of hacking and security breaches at major websites.
According to Mobley, what consumers are looking for, and what could solve the TV networks’ revenue woes as well, is à la carte television. The ability for consumers to pick and pay for the channels they want to watch. Mobley suggests that networks could charge 3 to 5 times their cable carriage fees, putting prices for consumers at under $4 per channel for all but a handful of networks, while off-setting the much of the revenue lost from the typical bundled agreements.
By not making the experience easy for consumers, Mobley warns that some could be pushed towards media piracy, not because they’re unwilling to pay for legal access to content, but rather because the user experience is often better. And when legal viewing options are spread across so many different and disjointed sites and services, finding a specific show or movie without encyclopedic knowledge of the network on which it once aired, the studio behind it, or which streaming service is licensing it this month, becomes a daunting challenge. Mobley has preached for years now that à la carte pricing is the key to the television experience of the future. His company, FreeCast, has been working to build the digital infrastructure to make that possible, and will be meeting with TV executives at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.