CBS goes online: net neutrality to get a major boost

Internet service affordability will become the next big issue for regulators and government.

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CBS makes a big bang with a decision to offer an online service.

CBS joins the fray:

Hot on the heels of HBO’s announcement Wednesday that it will offer an online-only subscription service next year comes CBS with a similar move. The network unveiled plans on Thursday to offer its own streaming service with old and new shows such as The Big Bang Theory and NCIS in 14 U.S. markets at $5.99 a month.

β€œIt is an important part of our future. Our job is to do the best content we can and let people enjoy it in whatever way they want. The world is heading in that direction,” CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves told the New York Times.

The only thing surprising about CBS’s announcement is how quickly it came after HBO’s. The Vegas odds on other networks following are pretty good right now.

One of the biggest effects of this tide swell will be a shift in the structure of the battle over net neutrality. That’s the principle where internet service providers shouldn’t unduly interfere with traffic, especially if it threatens their own businesses:

Net neutrality supporters have till now had to count on Netflix as their corporate champion when it comes to spending the money on lobbying the proper authorities. But the streaming pioneer is about to get a lot of help – deep-pocketed, well-muscled help.

If the battle over strong net neutrality rules comes down to who has more clout and influence, especially with consumers, the networks are in a stronger position. Without their content, internet providers have a considerably weaker value proposition to offer subscribers. And let’s face it: everybody loves HBO and hates their cable company.

The degree to which networks support net neutrality depends entirely on how much they want to disintermediate TV providers, which in turn depends on how successful their online efforts become. If they do well, they won’t think twice about their old partners.

How will TV providers react? The smarter ones have been anticipating this shift for some time and have moved quickly to snap up key rights – Rogers’ $5 billion purchase of NHL rights looks more astute by the day. Even still, that’s only staving off the inevitable, since rights eventually expire.

Many TV providers are also internet providers, and here the defense has been and will likely to be more expensive internet service in the form of basic access and usage caps.

It’s funny that the Canadian government has so far been focused on instituting pick-and-pay, where consumers can choose which channels to subscribe to, when the system is arriving naturally. To use a slightly modified version of that delightfully Canadian cliche, the government is skating to where the puck was rather than to where it’s going.

The figurative puck isn’t going to pick-and-pay or even net neutrality anymore. It’s quickly going to affordability.

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