With the World Cup in progress, I’ve seen more discussion about ESPN’s “360″ subscription model, (now called “ESPN3“) and we’ve seen one or two requests from customers that Sonic.net subscribe to ESPN3 for all of its customers.
However, I have real concerns about what ESPN is attempting to do. I do not believe that we should accept a model that attempts to duplicate Pay TV on the Internet.
Doing so would be a U-Turn away from the open Internet.
With Pay TV, when you subscribe to a package of cable channels, the carrier pays a few cents to a few dollars for each channel or group of channels, and from that builds a set of channel line-ups.
À la carte television has been talked about for years, but the linear/bundling model has been an unbreakable one in television due to the hold that content creators have over how their content is delivered. For example, if carriers want one channel, they may be forced to take others along with it (this is why you have all those shopping channels.) And, channels often come with restrictions – they must be grouped together, they must be in the lower X number of channels, etc. These restrictions end up dictating what can and what must be in each tier of Pay TV service. (Read: Wired, Where’s My à la Carte TV?)
The Internet should not accept this model. If it were carried to its logical conclusion this model would have every site charging the ISP, who would pass on the costs to all customers, whether they want the content or not. You would end up with a fragmented Internet experience, and paying for content you do not want.
Today the Internet is “à la carte”, and it should remain that way, with neutrality protection for both content providers and connection providers. End-users should be empowered to subscribe to the pay services that they themselves choose, rather than being forced to pay for services they may not want. Successful examples of this include Netflix and Pandora, with Hulu headed this way as well.
(A note regarding the attached image: this illustration imagines a future where Internet sites are bundled into tiers of sorts – the ESPN3 model is even worse than this – all users pay, across the entire ISP.)