Is Hulu really killing TV?

Dish Network VP of Online Content Development and Strategy Bruce Eisen is asserting that Hulu is “destroying the television industry.” I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but I don’t agree with Mr. Eisen’s argument as to why.

His belief, according to an article by Janko Roettgers in GigaOm, is that “If I can watch Glee tomorrow morning and I don’t have to pay a pay TV service –- I think that’s bad.” Again, I don’t disagree, but the assumption in this kind of logic is that if you don’t offer Glee the day after, more people will be forced to watch it via the pay TV service. This is the kind of thinking that makes me cringe, because there isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest it’s true.

This is fundamental modernist, command-and-control stuff in a universe that is shifting power and control to consumers. Ask the record industry. Ask the people at South Park. Hulu may be a part of the overall death of the broadcast paradigm, but it is also a portal for opportunity, because content is being separated from its source almost everywhere.

This is why I also cringe when I read Mark Cuban. Here is a very smart guy who insists that if we just don’t play along, we’ll force people back to the old way. What this kind of thinking overlooks is that, in addition to being empowered, people today have choices, and there are just very, very few things that are so “must have” that people will bend to somebody else’s will to get at them. The laws of supply and demand are still there; the problem is the supply side has overwhelmed demand. People want control of their lives, and the days of being under the control of television programming executives are gone.

It’s the same kind of thinking that brings some TV stations to say, “We don’t have to be active on Facebook, because if people want our information, they can come directly to us.” Yes, they can, but they won’t, because they don’t have to. In the case of news, people are also discovering the secret that, oh no, they can live without it!

It’s also the same kind of logic that makes newspaper publishers think the iPad is a “do-over” for the mistake of “giving away content” 15 years ago. No, it’s not, because people have choices, and, again, supply is overwhelming demand. “If we just all got together and agreed that nobody could get news for free, then everybody would be forced back to yesterday.” No, because smart people who see the opportunity being presented will come in and cleverly steal your money.

So is Hulu killing television? It’s certainly one of the tools that people are using, but in the end, what’s killing TV is the same thing that will destroy every institution of the West sooner or later: the tools of the élite are in the hands of the laity, and power is shifting along with it.

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