It's hard to know exactly what any merger of two giant conglomerates means for the world. If you are like me, you view the joining of AT&T and DirecTV with about the same level of passing interest you might have for the sports scores from a team in the division of your favorite. That's to say it is mildly interesting and maybe even intriguing depending upon the time of year, but not enough for you do dig into in-depth analysis.
Which is why when it comes to mergers of technology companies, it makes our collective glazed-over stares more noticeable. But, this one is slightly different. AT&T and DirecTV, competitors in the world of cable television, merging underscores the radical changes taking place in broadcasting and broadband communications. I say radical because it is altering our perception of a technology that has been with us since the 1950s and it is doing so at breakneck pace.
Anyone who has watched a video on a smartphone or used a DVR to store a television show for later or used a streaming video service like Netflix to watch a movie has been touched by these changes, so it makes sense we should try to understand what a merger like this one means. Here are a few things of note.
5.) Information is information.
It used to be that news came from some distinctly different places and was consumed using widely divergent technology: TV at home at 5 and 10, radio in the car, newspaper at home or the office. Now, pixels have replaced paper and ink and video and audio, once reserved for TVs and stereos, can be streamed through a device the size of your hand. The key is that all of it is information. Whether you want to watch a movie, listen to a song, read a blog, send an e-mail or talk to a friend, these are all information exchanges. What is important now is the medium, which brings me to...
4.) Your computer, phone and TV are merging.
It is arguable that your phone is the hub of the average person's digital universe. It connects us to each other and to the information I mentioned above. But, at home, we are still more likely to access information via bigger screens. This is why the TV is still king of the living room. But those technologies are quickly morphing. Take the Xfinity app that allows a person to say what they want into a phone and have the cable box in the room with them follow the command. In fact, entire homes are becoming automated from security and heating/cooling systems to lights and video cameras. If it can be wired, it is being wired right now. Expect more of the same from this merger.
3.) Wireless and broadband are becoming interchangeable.
But even wires are becoming obsolete. DirecTV has those creepy ads with the marionettes to tell customers about wireless set top boxes. AT&T already had them. Both are built on the same basic streaming technology that powers phones. With wireless broadband already a reality -- that 4G connection on your phone is pretty damn fast, isn't it? -- it is only a matter of time before signals are streamed through the air rather than dropped into your home via actual cables. If the cell phone could eliminate the land line -- and it has all but done just that -- wireless technology will certainly eventually trump cable lines, at least inside your house.
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2.) Everything is going to be accessible everywhere.
And because of wireless broadband, it makes sense that every kind of information will ultimately be available anywhere you go...so long as you can get a signal. Spotify, Slacker, Pandora and other streaming music services are killing terrestrial music radio. Streaming movies to your wireless device is no longer science fiction. Speeds are increasing and coverage is improving. In AT&T, DirecTV found a partner that can provide them that wireless (and wired for that matter) component to expand their footprint.
1.)It's not getting cheaper.
The worst part of this story is nothing is getting cheaper. You might think with these kinds of mergers, it would simply offer more options and better choices for less money. You'd be wrong. The average cost of cable television and cellular phone service is still extremely high. Sure, there are bargain basement plans out there and some are cutting the cord altogether, opting for only streaming of TV and movies with no cable provider at all. But, the vast majority of people choose plans for both the phone and the television that are higher than ever. Don't expect that to change anytime soon.