The worst kept secret of the week is out — BSkyB really is after Easynet, and to mark its sincerity it's waving a very big cheque indeed, nearly double Easynet's current market value. As has been written, the reason is that broadband delivery of television — IPTV — now makes a lot of sense, and will be compulsory for any TV company very shortly. A friend who's on the BBC iMP trial reports that it works very well: a few rough edges to be ironed out but mostly what you want. It works.
Yet what will it mean to be a TV company on broadband? At the moment, the situation is nicely defined: you sign up to a central distributor such as Sky or cable and then accept bundles of programming collated by that distributor. If I want to watch National Geographic, for example, I have to choose between those two. But on broadband, I can just as easily go directly to NatGeo's own broadband broadcast service — assuming it gets one, and why wouldn't it — and cut out the middle man. TV companies that make their own content will be fine, but companies that exist primarily to sell on other people's products will be hard hit.
A TV company/ISP could always filter out connections to channels it's supplying through a paid-for deal, of course, but it'd be a hard sell persuading its customers to accept a less functional alternative to its rivals. There are various bundling discount options, but it's hard to see any way for broadband access to support the sort of 'here are twenty channels, ten of which you don't want' model that makes multichannel broadcasting so annoying.
Meanwhile, I've realised I haven't turned on my two hundred channel cable TV more than three times in the past month, and then for stuff I can get just as easily free to air. Some time before Christmas, I expect the cost of a Freeview box to fall below that of a month's subscription: for me, Tommy, the TV-over-broadband war is over before it even started.