Photo: Associated Press
Television, like newspapers, magazines, and music, is due for some profound changes as technology and software invade the industry.Over the next decade, some of the most storied television brands will inevitably meet their end — or at least lose relevance.
Which will survive? Which won’t?
The role of the cable company will probably change a little over the next decade.
But even if a lot of video consumption shifts to the Internet, you still need to get bandwidth from somewhere. And as the largest U.S. cable company, Comcast is among the likeliest providers. (Also: AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable.)
Comcast has shifted a lot of its marketing over to the 'Xfinity' brand, but people won't forget that Comcast is the company behind it.
Apple is one of the few companies with the software, hardware, and content chops to really shake up the way TV and video entertainment are consumed. So far, it has called its 'Apple TV' set-top boxes a 'hobby.'
We wouldn't be surprised if Apple eventually starts selling actual televisions, with great software, an interesting interface, and a combination of digital video content and apps.
The connected television, after all, is just a big computer. And as the company that makes the most desirable computers, it's almost certain Apple will play an ongoing role in the living room.
Among TV clichés that are actually true, content is king. One of the reasons that Americans spend 5 hours a day in front of the TV is that there's actually some good stuff to watch on it.
HBO has long been one of the highest quality TV producers, and that shouldn't change over the next decade. Its format and delivery method may evolve, and it will face new and different competitors. But as long as people care about watching great television, HBO should have a place in the TV world.
Google's YouTube is already the top web video brand. Over the next decade, under Google CEO Larry Page, it's going to try to become one of the top TV brands, period.
Still unknown: If YouTube's latest bet on high-end, original content will be worthwhile. If the other content players will ever trust Google. If Google TV, the software platform, will ever become a popular OS for TV sets. Or if Google and YouTube will be able to capture a big chunk of the TV advertising market.
For a bunch of reasons, ranging from contracts to logistics, great sports coverage will be one of the hardest segments of the TV industry to disrupt.
Some leagues -- especially Major League Baseball -- have already started some direct-to-consumer distribution. But ESPN should still be a strong sports broadcaster in a decade -- especially because it is a top dog online, too, and is already doing smart things with live streaming.
TV is gradually becoming more social, and Twitter owns social TV.
Networks are advertising hashtags for their shows. Stars are live-tweeting during shows. Celebrities are obsessed with Twitter in general, half because it's another venue for goofing around, narcissism, and self-promotion; half because their publicists tell them they're supposed to be.
Facebook is trying to catch up with Twitter, and is worth watching here, too. But Twitter isn't going anywhere.
Netflix is getting a bad rap now because of the way it has handled its split -- DVD rentals on one side, under the new 'Qwikster' brand, and streaming video on the other, under the trusty Netflix name.
But you'd be an idiot to count Reed Hastings out of the future of television. Netflix has the subscribers, the distribution, and the beginnings of a content library to dominate the subscription streaming market for years to come. And Hastings is too good of an entrepreneur to give up now that things are finally getting interesting. Heck, people should be applauding him for pushing his declining DVD business aside.
The challenges for Netflix will include building out its content library to something more respectable, figuring out if it can make original content work, maintaining a great value, fending off Apple and the cable giants, and even just getting Hollywood to stream more of its best content.
Samsung and LG have solid TV businesses. But even if that gets disrupted, they're still responsible for the guts of many millions of LCD TV sets per year. These two aren't going anywhere. (And keep an eye out for some Chinese competition.)
It's lasted this long, so something has to be working.
The way we see it: Up-and-coming comedians and writers are always going to need a regular, paying gig, and it's going to be a while before YouTube can provide that. And people are always going to need something to watch at midnight on Saturday night.
The format and distribution may change. Heck, Netflix may own it instead of NBC/Comcast. But the way the New York Times brand will live on, whether it's a newspaper or an iPad app, we expect similar for SNL.
Microsoft has quietly plugged a web-connected computer into tens of millions of living rooms, via its Xbox 360 video game console. And via its Kinect system, it's now teaching people to control their TVs with voice controls and hand gestures. As a result, the Xbox has become a popular tool for streaming video, including apps like Netflix, ESPN, etc.
It's a long shot, but Microsoft really has a chance at playing a key role in the future of TV, via the Xbox.
Some of them will undoubtedly be around in a decade -- that's too short of a period for all of these storied brands to die off.
But we wouldn't be surprised if they started to consolidate or fold by then. There just isn't really a good reason for four different producers of the same mediocre content, increasingly lame news coverage, and forgettable web presences.
The big question is: Which will go first?
You know, Comedy Central, Food Network, TLC, A&E, etc.
These more niche- and lifestyle-driven networks are actually the types that eventually make more sense online, where they can dominate their communities but not eat up bandwidth in houses that don't want them.
The shift will be slow, and many of these networks and brands won't make it.
They will probably still be around in a decade, just out of inertia. Plus, they have pretty big audiences online.
But eventually, they will start to give way. Let's see what happens to FOX if Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly retire.
People are going to need to watch Nova somehow. But PBS local stations could have a tricky time riding out the next decade. PBS may be a website by then, or it may vanish.