The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a great opportunity to sit back and watch the technology industry and its mass delusion. Every year it is something new that is trendy — the same thing that eventually ends in tears and lost opportunities. This year’s “what the hell are they smoking” award should go to any and every company that is trying to chase Netflix (s NFLX) and Amazon (s AMZN) Prime in the streaming video business. Here are some of the recent annocements.
- Verizon is going to offer a streaming service powered by Redbox and it will launch in March 2013.
- AT&T is going to offer a streaming service called Uverse Screen Pack.
- Intel wants to do streaming video and has teamed with Comcast. (FYI, Last year Comcast came up with Streampix, but it is still not clear if that is a failure or a middling success.)
- Sony is jonesing for the streaming video business as well.
Given the torrent of announcements (and I am pretty sure I missed a few), what I am not missing is this feeling of deja vu, all over again. (Hat tip, Yogi Berra.) A few years ago when digital download music was all the rage, thanks to Apple and its iPod/iTunes, we saw a similar scenario play out. Industry players including Cingular, 7-Eleven, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Verizon and AT&T lost their collective minds and in the end were spanked by the marketplace in their derrières with a wet bamboo cane.
In 2007-2008, it became fashionable for companies to offer video downloads. Wal-Mart was going to crush Apple and in the end, it hightailed it out of the market. AOL and Google, too, had to bow out of video download movies. The reason those efforts failed and the reason why none of the new efforts are primed for a pole position is because they don’t solve the problem of people.
They are part of some bureucratic decision and a corporate checklist that allows management to say: hey, we are trying something new and innovative — even though, in reality, it is a terrible execution on ideas that are not original. The members of the new streaming video herd are going to be hard to distinguish from each other. AT&T, for example, is starting with about 3,000 titles from a handful of studios. When I compare them to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, I don’t see any advantage to switch to them.
Netflix is a great casual viewing package for me. Sure, it might not have the latest movies, but neither does TBS or TNT channels. Amazon Prime is actually a great deal — it is free because I pay for Amazon Prime delivery service. Between those two and occasional downloads via the Apple store, I am pretty well taken care off from an online video watching perspective.
If I am Intel, I should really focus on trying to actually get mobile chips out that can compete with Qualcomm (s QCOM) and Mediatek, rather than screw around with video services. How this video service helps the company’s core business is hard to understand.
AT&T and Verizon — well, they shouldn’t try to do consumer services because frankly they exist to punish their customers. Sony? Given how Samsung is eating its breakfast, lunch and dinner, shouldn’t they focus on making great televisions instead of making online video services? I often wonder why the companies that are under most duress often try and do things that distract from the problems that are eating away at their core.