I had a meeting today with the executive team at Sky Angel to discuss a number of issues related to their recent transition from satellite broadcaster to digital IPTV service. As a disclaimer, Cooke Media Group has just signed on to create a new commercial campaign for Sky Angel. But before we start shooting, I wanted to find out what people had been responding to on my blog.
As many of my readers know, I’ve written a couple of times on this blog about that transition – long before I met the team from Sky Angel. Readers have been very open about their experience, and some aren’t happy – and are very vocal about it. So I wanted to share with you a little about my conversation today and let you know how I felt after I left the meeting.
The biggest controversy focused on the “lifetime memberships” that customers purchased as far back as 1974, with the most recent sign up being around 2004. Although the contract was for the “lifetime of the equipment” a number of people are unhappy that contract has ended. The cost varied, and looking at their numbers, anyone who signed up for the service received a good deal – even with the termination. From what I can calculate, no one actually got ripped off or taken advantage of based on the subscriber fees. But I understand that most people’s perceptions were that a lifetime subscription is a lifetime subscription – period. But for the record, the contract is for the equipment.
For those who haven’t received this from the Sky Angel office, here’s the scenario: a technical failure of the EchoStar III satellite moved up their plans to transition to IPTV, probably sooner than they would have liked. Because of the satellite failure, a significant number of channels were in jeopardy, and although they scrambled to find other delivery systems for the service, the options were limited. It would have sunk the company to put their own satellite in orbit, and renegotiation would have been cost prohibitive as well. The truth is, the story would take an entire book to tell, and must say I was impressed with their efforts to keep the service intact, and find alternative ways to keep the company moving forward, providing service to their customers.
That’s when the decision was made to transition to IPTV. The plans had always been there – in fact, those types of plans are at every smart television network in the world. IPTV is an important part of the future, and Sky Angel appears to have always been planning on eventually moving in that direction. But from our conversation today, the choice was to keep the programming line-up and move to IPTV, or potentially sacrifice the company – and customers – by spending hundreds of millions on a new satellite venture.
They chose IPTV.
Now, after a long conversation today, listening to the history, knowing what founder Robert Johnson envisioned, and learning about the future of the service, here are my thoughts:
1) Media is changing. I live in Los Angeles, and nearly everyday I read about a movie studio, television network, or media company experiencing something similar. The only thing we can count on right now is change, and to not expect transitions like this in media is being somewhat naïve. The cable television service I signed up for in the 70’s doesn’t exist anymore, and many media companies that prospered in the 80’s and 90’s are either in financial trouble or out of business. Whether we like it or not, media is changing, and it will be a bumpy ride. Expect some risk. Being a faith-driven company doesn’t take that risk away.
2) While some people will not be able to receive the new IPTV network because of lack of high-speed internet access, I believe what they’ve created is the best possible outcome based on the alternatives. Upon analysis of the situation, I believe they made a solid decision. Nobody is getting rich here. It’s a matter of working within the changing media environment and making a decision that benefits the most customers. There have been some free equipment offers to help offset the change for customers, so no one’s trying to take advantage.
3) Speaking of nobody getting rich, I understand that 100% of the stock will be passed from the founder and his wife to the Dominion foundation. Profits don’t go into anyone’s pockets, but will fund a foundation to pay for the future of the programming service. This isn’t being done to amp up the stock value and then sell to a bidder. It’s being done to keep the network alive. There are no private jets and mansions.
4) From a personal perspective, everyone from Sky Angel in our meeting felt badly about the situation. They wish there was a better alternative, but had to make some tough decisions. These are good people, and after looking at the whole scenario, I think the founder would have made that same decision.
Could the company have communicated the vision better? Perhaps. But from the standpoint of integrity, and short of heaven, there are no guarantees in life. Technology is changing faster than anytime in history, and to assume any service will stay the same over a lifetime simply isn’t realistic.
Is my point of view biased because Cooke Media Group is shooting a commercial for the company? Possibly. But it may be important to note that I have not edited or deleted a single reader’s comment on the blog – even though some of the comments might have been deemed slanderous by many companies.
I have to admit, I am somewhat encouraged that people feel so emotional about the issue. That means Christian media matters to people, and if the delivery of that media changes, they get upset. That frankly gives me hope.
My suggestion? The honest truth is that whatever you think of this particular transition, IPTV is the absolute cutting edge of the media industry today. Multiple channels of radio and television online is a remarkable thing, and many highly funded companies have failed in the attempt. I’ve seen the Sky Angel set-top box, set it up myself, and so far I’m impressed with the result. Of course there will be technology issues and bumps in the road and I’ll keep you posted with my experience. But for me, I’m willing to give it a try, and I would encourage you to do the same. The phones are ringing off the wall for the service, so they’re apparently doing something right.