Why the TV industry won’t go the way of newspapers and the music business


Do a growing number of “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers” mean the TV business is about to be battered like other traditional industries? Media investor Terry Kawaja doesn’t think so.

Digital forces blew billions of dollars away from the music and print advertising industries, and many predict the TV business is in for the same fate. Terry Kawaja, a well-known media and advertising consultant, isn’t among them.

Speaking on Wednesday at a BrightRoll event in New York, Kawaja described terms like cord-cutting and “a la carte” channels as “interesting flash words” that don’t reflect how the TV industry actually works.

He argued that the players in the TV industry, including the new digital entrants, are intertwined and interdependent — which means the business will be sheltered from the disintermediation and economic battering that befell newspapers and the music industry.

Kawaja pointed out that over-the-top tools like Roku or Apple TV are indeed taking over the living room; however, traditional TV companies are also making their presence felt in the new world of mobile devices through services like TV Everywhere.

Kawaja sees another bright sign in how TV and digital platforms are together eating more and more of the overall advertising pie, and will soon account for 70 percent of overall ad spending. At the same time, he noted that new entrants to the TV business are backed by well-heeled venture capital firms and also compromise giant companies like Google, Apple, Intel and Microsoft. Together, they are coming to the game with billions in their pocket.

All this cash, Kawaja said, will reinforce a co-dependent eco-system where the advertising industry hands over fistfuls of money at upfront events to lock down access to high quality content. While the ecosystem will include disruptors like Aereo and comedian Louis CK, who find new ways to bring content directly to consumers, the basic equation won’t change.

“Premium quality content is a killer defense mechanism for television,” said Kawaja, arguing that mass amounts of money will continue to flow for high quality content creation. More of this, he said, will come from automated advertising, and pointed to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s prediction this week that online video ad-buying will soon be a $100 billion market.

Kawaja also downplayed so-called “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers,” who include a generation of college kids for whom buying a cable subscription makes about as much sense as purchasing a Betamax. He acknowledged that the overall number of pay-TV subscribers is declining for the first time ever, but predicts that the drop will only amount to 1 or 2 million a year — not enough to change the game.

Kawaja did sound one note of caution: YouTube’s dominance in the digital viewing space, if it continues, could hurt the growth of TV.

“Ecosystems do better when there’s a balance,” he said, adding that Facebook is the “best hope” to open up a mass new viewing platform.

Finally, Kawaja noted that the TV business will still be subject to sweeping changes such as the replacement of TV clickers with smartphones, and “black swan” moments such as Google’s possible acquisition of NFL rights (a theory floated this summer by media writer Peter Kafka and investor Mark Cuban).

The bottom line here, if you believe Kawaja, is that the industry TV is in the midst of a large scale transformation but one that will allow the incumbent players to stay in the game even an new entrants come in and money sloshes around in different ways.

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