Consumers welcome a variety of competing electronic sources and delivery pathways for entertainment and news, but content dictates the winner.  Consumers usually have multiple platforms (TV and cable box, PC and smartphone) for digital messaging, streaming video, and TV programs from over the air, mobile wireless, cable and satellite formats. Each of the streaming and TV collections contains hundreds or thousands of channels, TV show series, movies and stand-alone videos.  Available platforms used to limit the consumer’s choice of programs.  Now, the consumer’s program preference determines which platform will be used.

In the early years (1950s to 1970s), over-the-air TV confined consumers to about a dozen channels of rigidly scheduled programs.  In the 1980s and 1990s, the advent of cable and satellite TV sources expanded program choice.  Time-shifting became common with VCRs in the 1990s and then with DVRs in the 2000s.  In the 2010s, Internet access arrived with enough bandwidth to make video download times tolerable.  In the mid-2010s, smartphones and plentiful mobile bandwidth made video-on-the-go both practical and affordable.  Finally, consumers were unshackled.

Today, consumers can specify their program choice and select delivery from multiple devices and multiple content sources.  No longer do consumers need to commit themselves to viewing at a time and location dictated by a TV schedule.

For example, a few years ago, CBS on Tuesday night used to be only the place to find NCIS or NCIS LA.  Now during the NCIS season, shows will still be aired on a specific night, but NCIS episodes can be viewed at any later time from cable’s on-demand lineup, from CBS’s streaming repository, and from Amazon’s streaming service.  The streaming sources can reach the consumer via Cable or Telco internet access or through public Wi-Fi or mobile wireless.

For sharing personal videos and images, consumers can use social media such as Facebook, Pinterest, or Google Plus.  For live, free, personal two-way video, there’s Skype, Facetime, and other systems.

Video delivery service devices include TV, TV-connected devices (VCR, DVR, and streaming players such as Roku and Apple TV), personal computers, smartphones and tablets.  The permutations of devices versus platforms are not just theoretically possible they are routinely used by consumers in the hundreds of millions.

In the US during each month, 285 million people watch TV for an average of average 32 hours, and 142 million watch video on TV connected devices for an average of 3.5 hours. A surprising 146 million people watch video over the Internet for an average of 6.25 hours.  One hundred and sixty-four million mobile wireless users watch video through the web or through apps.  One hundred and twenty-two million smartphone users watch video for an average of almost 9 hours (and millennials watch video by smartphone for nearly 12 hours).  About 22% of video viewing is conducted via Internet or wireless apps.

Over-the-air TV, cable TV, cable Internet, Satellite TV, telco fiber, DSL internet, public Wi-Fi and high speed mobile wireless are eight worthy platform competitors in the minds of hundreds of millions of consumers.  Marketplace success for the competitors no longer hinges on technology or ownership pedigree but on which platforms can deliver the specific program content that the consumer wants, at a tolerable price, where and when the consumer wants it.  Multi-platform consumers increase their total viewership by 31% (comScore), so rivalry among the 8 platforms is not a zero-sum game.

Earlier, cynics regarded streaming video as fatally flawed due a lack of news and sports content – flawed enough that the typical cable offerings would be immune from unbundling.  Times have changed and there seems to be more content available from streaming sources than is available from over-the-air TV and cable’s on-demand lineup.

CBS has its own streaming products that rival its own over-the-air TV channels and CBS channels within cable bundles.  NBC also offers a streaming news product.  PBS streaming offers a selection of its popular programs.  Both the NBC and CBS streaming channels includes news.  HULU offers standard fare TV channel programs that were archived or aired recently.  ESPN and NBA now offer live and recorded sports events – a huge improvement.  HBO and Showtime offer streaming products that rival their programs available through satellite, cable, mobile wireless and telco fiber.  Streaming outlets such as Netflix, Amazon and Acorn offer TV series, movies and unique and unusual programs.

Consumers’ allegiance to specific programs makes program producers the entertainment powerhouse.  Players from the eight platform types are consigned to negotiate first with the powerful program producers and secondly with regulators who view the world through platform-segregated sections of law from the 1930s or 1990s.  Unless a clear platform monopoly develops twentieth century regulation will not improve the public’s interest.