This has turned into a disastrous week for TV companies.
If you’ve been waiting for the TV Of The Future to arrive, that’s great news.
Wall Street appears to have decided that the TV Industrial Complex, which looked impenetrable for years, is finally crumbling under the weight of declining viewership, ad dollars and, most crucially, subscribers. That means TV programmers, who have successfully resisted changing their business in any fundamental way, may have to start changing.
And that means that things they wouldn’t have considered a few months ago may soon be on the table.
For instance: Last week, Disney CEO Bob Iger told CNBC it was possible his company might sell ESPN directly to consumers over the Web — just like Netflix or HBO. But it wouldn’t happen anytime soon, he said — not in the next five years.
Then yesterday, while Disney’s stock was tanking after the company announced it had seen “some subscriber losses,” Iger went back on CNBC and opened the door a little wider: “ESPN is fortunate that it is a brand that we believe ports well to any new platform — whether that is a smaller bundle, whether that is an over-the-top package of programming, or whether it is a direct-to-consumer business.” (Emphasis added.)
Selling ESPN directly to consumers would be a very big leap for Disney — much bigger than the move HBO made to sell its network directly. That’s because HBO has always been sort of an a la carte offering, and ESPN has been the cornerstone of Disney’s bundle of TV networks. But the concept has moved from “no way” to “one day, down the road” to “who knows?” pretty quickly.
TV’s troubles also make Web TV packages, like the one Apple wants to launch, much more interesting.
Apple was already making good progress toward a pay TV service, delivered over the Web. At one point Tim Cook and company thought they could introduce it next month. Now it’s looking like later in the year, or 2016.
But the service Apple planned on introducing was going to be evolutionary, not revolutionary: A smaller bundle of TV channels, delivered over the Web. More or less what you can buy now from Comcast, but perhaps cheaper, and with a nicer interface.
That’s because the TV networks didn’t want to fundamentally change the way they did business, and they didn’t have to: They weren’t the piracy-crippled music labels in 2003, who agreed to let Steve Jobs break up albums into 99-cent singles. They were happy to sell TV on the Web, as long as it worked the same way as cable TV, or satellite TV, or telco TV.
Again, the TV guys still don’t want to break up the bundle, because that’s the underpinning of their entire business model. And they’re not the music industry in 2003. But because they don’t want to get to that point, they might also be willing to consider stuff that’s in between what’s available today and a complete free-for-all.
For instance: In 2014, when Intel was trying to launch its own Web TV service, it wanted to get the rights to automatically provide on-demand access to any show that had aired in the last three days. Didn’t happen. A year earlier, Apple wanted a service that would automatically let viewers fast-forward through ads. Another non-starter.
So if I’m Apple media boss Eddy Cue, I’m using this opportunity to revisit my talks with the TV programmers and start asking for stuff that hadn’t been on the table. I bet they’re willing to start dealing.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.