2029: The End of the World As We Know It

If you follow my blog you know how I feel about the NFL rights deal.  But this is not another rant about the NFL.  Now that the deal is done we can do what the industry loves to do after a major rights negotiation concludes:  begin speculating about what it all means. And predicting what will happen in the next deal.

For this exercise I’m going to borrow lyrics from two of my favorite bands. 

“It’s the end of the world as we know it,” Michael Stipe and R.E.M wrote.  I thought of this song when I read about the seven year option in the deal.  What will the media landscape look like in 2029?  There are lots of predictions, but no one has a crystal ball.  Clearly the owners and their media partners aren’t sure what the future will bring, but they didn’t want to wait ten years to find out.

We will learn a lot about the network’s views of the future by the way they manage their NFL rights in the next few years.  How aggressive will they be about promoting their streaming platforms?  Will local affiliates, who foot a good portion of the bill, feel the squeeze as more viewers are pushed to the streaming platforms?

Will Comcast, Charter and the other traditional pay TV providers still be in the video business in 2029?  If I had to guess, I’d say yes.  But as the traditional ecosystem crumbles does it become more consumer friendly and cost efficient for them to partner with Roku or Amazon Fire to deliver video? Will the weight of the rights fees cause ownership changes at one or more of the broadcast networks? Will Comcast sell NBC if Peacock fails? Will Fox get gobbled up by a larger player before 2029?

As I wrote before, the NFL clearly wanted to make one last big score from the traditional players before the end of the world comes.  They’re banking on the arrival of 5G – to improve digital delivery of their product – and the emergence of more streaming players beyond Amazon as active bidders for their product.

Which brings me to my second lyric I thought of when I read about the deal.  The great Pete Townsend from The Who wrote, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That line is from the band’s iconic anthem to middle age cynicism, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”  So at the risk of sounding like a middle aged cynic, I will predict that for all the changes to come in media, in one very important way 2029 will look like the present.

The bundle isn’t going anywhere.  Many have enjoyed bashing the wholesale packaging strategy that the cable companies used with great success.  They say the bundle is not consumer friendly and out of step with an on-demand world where consumers can watch what they want, where they want, when they want. 

However, the reality is that bundling is actually a sound consumer oriented strategy.  Too much choice can overwhelm people, generally we want easy.  You’re seeing it now in streaming, especially in the OTT space where aggregators are emerging.  The old cable bundlers may not be part of the mix in 2029, but my guess is the new ones won’t behave much differently.  The new bosses will spread the costs for expensive sports rights across their customers.  There will be those who complain they get stuck paying for expensive sports they don’t watch, but it’s hard to imagine access to live television will ever be offered a la carte.

There are lots of unknowns between now and 2029.  But with apologies to R.E.M and The Who, here’s one thing we won’t get fooled again about, if it is the end of the world as we know it, the NFL owners will feel just fine.

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