Saturday, March 1, 2008

Where will we get our entertainment in 2013?

I’m of a generation that got its musical entertainment from the radio or from an assortment of changing media that included records, eight-track tapes, cassettes, and then CDs. When we liked a song or album well enough, we went to a mom-and-pop record store or Woolworth’s and bought it. In my little hometown, the hardware store sold records! Later, most of those places were replaced with chain record stores like MusicLand, Sam Goody’s, or Oz.

Clearly things have changed rapidly the last few years. My grown kids think it is only natural that they download songs from the Internet and play them back on their computers or iPods. Many kids don't know what a vinyl record is and fewer and fewer are familiar with CDs. My daughter managed several Sam Goody’s stores…until they all closed. She changed careers. She’s a nurse now.

I ran across some interesting research this week. Last year, one million fewer consumers bought a CD than in 2006. Many of those who quit buying their music on disks were teenagers. Almost half of all teenagers failed to purchase a single CD last year, and that age group has traditionally been the most consistent buyers of recorded music. That was a whopping 10% fewer teen CD buyers than the year before. At this pace, teens will no longer buy CDs at all by 2013.

On a related note, can you name the largest seller of pre-recorded music? It’s WalMart. But a solid number two is iTunes. Here’s an interesting fact: iTunes sold more than 20 million songs on Christmas Day 2007! Not an album or CD among them! 20 million individual tracks!

Overall music spending last year dropped 10%, and that’s a very sour note for the music business. Peer-to-peer music sharing is obviously taking a big bite out of music sales, but there is another reason numbers are down and I've already alluded to it. When we went to MusicLand and bought music, we bought an ALBUM. It contained ten or twelve songs, most of which we didn’t really care for, but if we simply had to have those two or three tracks we liked, we had no choice. Now you only download the tracks you want, a la carte, and only pay for the music you really desire. What if we get used to only buying the entertainment we want and no longer have to pay for what we don't?

There is already rumbling in Congress about forcing cable systems and satellite TV providers to allow customers to choose and pay for only the channels they want to receive. Would you continue to pay for Univision and Brigham Young University TV to get HBO on DirecTV if you didn’t have to? Or cough up money for all six HBO channels just to get the main one?
I suppose the big question is can the cable companies and DirecTV/Dish stay in business without their tiered-pricing business model? Or will they go the way of Sam Goody’s and MusicLand? After all, we will soon be able to order up whatever movie or TV show we want to watch on the Internet, piped directly to our HDTVs. And we can already watch many episodes of our favorite shows on our computers, mostly without commercial interruption, and do it anytime we want, not just when the network shoots it down to the affiliates.

Who needs the cable guy anymore?

Don N4KC


Anonymous said...

Hi Don!

I enjoyed this topic very much!

As you know, I am a direct-to-user maven of the first degree, what with my e-mail subscription and Pay-Per-View short story Web site at

This business model for receiving our entertainment direct from the originator (or as close to that as possible) works for me and I know it works for many others.

I am a lover of classical music. Until she retired from the concert stage, my mother was a well-known pianist, a master teacher, and lecturer on classical artists like Debussy and Chopin. Why tell you this?

Today, I get my classical music fix, not only from my extensive CD collection which resides in a Sony 400 CD "jukebox," but I recently have been enjoying the More Music feeds from my Time Warner cable provider via my brand-new Sony HDTV. That is MY take on the i-Pod.

Last week, my wife and I saw a film in a state-of-the-art Marcus theater on an Ultrascreen (3X bigger than a conventional multiplex cinema screen). I learned that I could also partake of my love of opera via that same theater experience. The New York Metropolitan Opera now broadcasts live in High-Definition and stunning digital sound right to that movie house! Almost like being there.

Soon, Hollywood will begin to imitate independent filmakers and go straight to digital instead of using costly and damage-prone celluloid film stock. THEN, we will be able to view first-run films direct via satellite in the multiplex, just like that opera stuff I mentioned. Pretty neat.

I have been a lover of independent and "foreign" cinema since late high-school days. Trouble is, this is a niche market. What to do?

Why, of course, I pay EXTRA for the privilege of subscribing to the Independent Film Channel (IFC) and Robert Redford's Sundance Channel, both perfectly tailored for my niche viewing enjoyment.

Would I lobby for a la carte on cable? You bet! Would I enjoy watching that long-hair opera stuff on my laptop? Probably not.
Would I miss all the visual pablum that passes as network television if it finally gives up the ghost as more and more viewers seek out their own niche entertainment? No way!

Adapting to change is the battle cry for those who are savvy consumers of state-of-the-art media choices. The rest (unfortunately) will be left in the white noise of the past.

Well, time to get off my high-tech high horse for the moment. I see another announcement for a marvelous film with subtitles, an actual plot, and a killer soundtrack by a Euro techno-band! Talk about choices!

Wayne, K9YNF

Anonymous said...

Wayne, all good points. Truth is, we want what we want when we want it, and we may even be willing to pay a little more for it. I remember well when we had two network TV stations in my town. And three or four radio stations. When that third TV station went on the air--it was a UHF so we had to go outside and erect a weird-looking antenna on top of the mast just to get a blurred picture--we were estatic. Wow! The variety!

But like you, I just today got the HD satellite receiver and upgraded to DirecTV's HD package.

Wow! The variety!

Now, once I get used to the picture quality, somebody better show me something entertaining or I'll be right back where I was 50 years ago. No choice. Or, as one of my favorite singers, Bruce Springsteen, says, "57 channels and there's nothing on."

Maybe the answer is that anyone with a video camera and a web server can put a "TV station" on the air. Just like anybody with an iPod and a link to the web has a worldwide radio station. And anybody with a computer and a website has the capability of publishing his or her writing in a way that it is available instantly worldwide. That means there will be a staggering amount of drivel and self-indulgent dreck telecasted, broadcasted, and published. Somewhere, though, in the midst of all that mess, there will be inspiration.

What would Gutenberg say?

Don N4KC

Anonymous said...

Hi again, Don!

What would Gutenberg say?

He would probably point us to Project Gutenberg's free e-book Web site at

There you can find more than 100,000 downloadable titles. It's free and easy. I just downloaded Franz Kafka's haunting story "Metamorphosis" at

I would say that ol' Johann would heartily approve of where technology has taken his invention of "movable type." Movable indeed!


Wayne C. Long, K9YNF