Free As In TV
By Mike Masnick, Tue Apr 12 00:45:00 GMT 2005

Can a wireless broadband triple play service be offered for free, supported entirely be advertising? It may sound like a return to bubble-era thinking, but there are still some important lessons to be learned.

During the bubble years, it seemed like every new business model involved giving away something for free and make it up on the ads. You could get free DSL, a free PC and even a free car, if you just agreed to advertising in some way (with the DSL and the PC, it was advertising directed at you; with the car, you had to cover your car in advertising for others). So, it may seem like a step back to bubble era thinking to hear about a suggested plan to offer a free triple play service using WiMAX and some new digital video recorder (DVR) technology.

Indeed, it's true that the suggested advertising-supported, WiMAX-powered free triple play offering probably raises a lot more questions than it answers in terms of real-world viability. However, it pays to remember that this is basically the very model that has supported network television for so many years. With the changing nature of television these days, the suggestions behind a free triple play offering are simply trying to update the ad-supported model for the twenty-first century.

There are, of course, a few big changes. With all of the various media options, as well as the rise of "time shifting," the captive audience is clearly becoming a thing of the past. So any advertising needs to reflect that and fit in with what people are trying to do. While the captive audience may be disappearing, there certainly has been a resurgence in the online advertising market -- much of which has been driven by well targeted contextual advertising. With advertisers coming around to this point of view it's possible that at least some will buy into this type of model, at least on an experimental basis.

While it seems unlikely that the technology and content industries are anywhere near ready to give up their infatuation with subscription revenue, and it's not (at all) clear the technology is ready to support this type of thing -- the ideas behind the free triple play suggestion shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. The thing that crosses up incumbents most when it comes to new technologies is that they miss the opportunity for new business models that eat away at the core of existing business models. However, other companies find ways to adopt those new business models, while running rings around incumbents. The free triple play offering as described probably won't come true as written -- but it does highlight the potential for new technologies like wireless broadband, VoIP and DVRs to shake up plenty of incumbent businesses.