As the days grow short, the news slows down and the new year beckons, it's time again for making a few feverish, and perhaps foolish, forecasts about the 12 months to come.
The good thing about these year-end predictions, at least for those of us with the crystal balls, is that precious few readers will remember precisely what was forecast a year from now, so we can be fast and loose with our predictions and not feel a whit of shame.
So, with that all understood, let's look at the nine top things expected to happen on the cable/video front in 2015.
1. Comcast's TWC takeover
Despite the latest merger review clock stoppage by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , US government regulators will end up reluctantly approving Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s buyout of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). While they might not like the fact that the nation's biggest cable operator is swallowing up the nation's second biggest cable operator, thereby creating an even bigger Comcast monolith, regulators can't really point to any antitrust issues because the two MSOs don't compete with each other in any way, shape or form. So regulators will slap some tough-sounding (but not really so tough) conditions on the two companies, tell Comcast to obey Net Neutrality rules for the rest of Brian Roberts' rule and call it a day.
2. AT&T's DirecTV grab
Unlike Comcast and TWC, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) actually do compete directly against each other for video and broadband customers, in at least some parts of the US. Nonetheless, federal regulators will OK this big media merger as well, because it's too closely linked to the Comcast/TWC deal. If they don't approve it, it will look like they're playing favorites in the media space. And, unlike Comcast, neither company is the biggest player in either the pay-TV or the broadband market.
3. Charter's hungry heart
Although it lost out in the TWC bidding to Comcast's last-minute white knight bid, Charter Communications Inc. is still entering the new year sitting pretty, thanks to the millions of subscribers it will gain from the spinoff of customers by the new Comcast. Charter will also get to manage the new Greatland Connections MSO that it and Comcast will jointly set up. Still, all this still won't be enough to satisfy the growth ambitions of Charter CEO Tom Rutledge and the company's sugar daddy, John Malone. So look for Charter to pursue Cox Communications Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) or some other good-sized peer in the next 12 months.
4. Going, going, gone
Look for a bevy of pay-TV providers and content suppliers to go over-the-top in the new year, now that the dam has been broken by the OTT announcement of Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) and Home Box Office Inc. (HBO) , respectively. In particular, major TV programmers will follow the lead of HBO, CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) and Showtime Networks Inc. this fall, offering themselves up directly to consumers as a la carte services on broadband as they seek to appeal to the growing hordes of cord-cutters and cord-nevers. Indeed, by the end of 2015, the bigger question will be who hasn't gone over the top yet, unleashing the biggest blow yet to the traditional pay-TV subscription model.
5. Making peace with Netflix
Another dam broke this past year when several midsized and smaller US cable operators finally saw the writing on the wall and struck deals with Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) to offer the OTT giant as part of their pay-TV packages. In the coming year, look for more and larger MSOs and other video service providers to follow that lead with the help of TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO), turning Netflix into basically another HBO in the cable lineup. In general, pay-TV providers will get more creative in their video offerings, incorporating Netflix and other OTT services in both their conventional video and broadband video packages.
6. Multiscreen finds its mojo
Yep, after years of heady promises and a few false starts, TV Everywhere will finally get somewhere in 2015. Multiscreen video will go mainstream as service providers extend their reach to more video devices, content holders free up out-of-home rights to more video programming, more user interfaces and authentication systems become easy to manage and navigate, and more advertisers realize the benefits of targeting ads to multiple screens. And who knows -- we may even start to see the tablet, or some other device, replace the living room TV set as the main viewing screen in the home.
7. 4K for good
Unlike some prognosticators, we won't go so far as to say that 2015 will be the Year of 4K TV. But Ultra HD (UHD) will make its mark in the coming year as more large pay-TV and online video providers follow Comcast, DirecTV, Netflix and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) into the 4K programming space. At the same time, consumers will buy more 4K-capable TVs as set prices keep falling and the movie studios, programming networks and other content providers start churning out a steady stream of UHD offerings. These factors will all set the stage for 2016, which promises to be the real breakout year for 4K.
8. Gigabit giddiness gains steam
If you thought 2014 was a big year for gigabit service launches and announcements, you ain't seen nothing yet. Assuming that everything doesn't get bogged down by a food fight over new Net Neutrality rules in Washington, DC, look for other major and minor broadband providers to join the gigabit party in the new year. In particular, look for Comcast, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Charter to roll out gigabit offerings in the US as they seek to catch up with Google Fiber Inc. , AT&T, Cox, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) and the other pioneers in the space.
9. Net neutrality nonsense
Unfortunately, our crystal ball isn't quite bright enough to show us what the US government will do on the net neutrality rules front this year. But, no matter what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , the Obama Administration and Congress end up deciding to do about net neutrality in 2015, you can count on one thing -- some unhappy party will sue the government over what it did or didn't do. Which will give us plenty to write about, as usual.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading