General

Tossing the TV is more evidence in favor of phone companies transitioning to all-IP.

As Ryan Nakashima from the Associated Press recently reported, there’s a dramatic shift afoot in how people are consuming entertainment:

Some people have had it with TV. They’ve had enough of the 100-plus-channel universe. They don’t like timing their lives around network show schedules. They’re tired of $100-plus monthly bills.

A growing number of them have stopped paying for cable and satellite TV service and don’t even use an antenna to get free signals over the air. These people are watching shows and movies on the Internet, sometimes via cellphone connections.

According to Nakashima, these TV tossers have been given a name by the Nielsen group—“Zero TV” households—and their numbers are increasing. In 2007, there were just 2 million homes. Today? 5 million and counting.

While those numbers aren’t yet big enough for broadcasters and cable providers to hit the panic button, they show an undeniable trend. Things are changing fast, and consumers increasingly want more freedom in when and where they watch their favorite shows. The season premiere of Game of Thrones set a record for piracy, which tells you two things: HBO’s business model probably needs an overhaul, and more and more people are unwilling to wait to be entertained.

It’s easy to label millions of people illegally downloading a hit show as entitled, but they’re just the scouts in what will eventually be an all-out assault from consumers on traditional business models. And once the armada lands, we’ll need networks powerful enough to meet their demands.

Those networks will be all IP, or all Internet Protocol.

The transition to all IP networks will mean everything is done via the Internet — not just web surfing and streaming video, but home phone service as well. IP networks will also make viewing TV over the net more reliable and consistent, since it will give companies the ability to invest in upgrades without maintaining legacy networks people are increasingly abandoning.

This transition won’t happen overnight, nor should it. Millions of Americans still rely on traditional landlines, just as millions still happily pay for cable and watch broadcast TV over the air. Ensuring people can still depend on their home phones and watch their favorite shows is critical. The transition beta trials AT&T has proposed and the formation of the FCC’s Technology Transitions Policy Task Force to oversee regulatory concerns are good ways to step forward carefully.

The tide is definitely sweeping up toward an all IP future. The recent bump in TV viewers going online is just latest evidence. One day, we might all live in “Zero TV” households, and if everything goes smoothly — if government and industry work together — we won’t even notice how radically things have changed. The home phone will still be the home phone and TV will still be TV; the only difference will be how they’re delivered.