New networks are aiming to compete with cable and satellite providers. Google, Microsoft, Intel, Sony and Apple are all working out how to insert themselves into the established pay-television ecosystem, generally by working within it rather than subverting the dominant paradigm. Established media players are keen to preserve the mutually lucrative models of the status quo.
Google is apparently once again pitching to media companies to licence their programming to stream online, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Its original attempt to enter the market with Google TV was half-baked but now the company is once again seeking to work with networks. Only time will tell whether it will be any more successful.
Microsoft has evidently decided that rather than offering its MediaRoom platform with service providers it will concentrate on a consumer-focussed strategy, extending the programming line up available on its games consoles, presumably including its forthcoming Xbox One. Like the original Google TV, this will have an HDMI input to work with existing set-top boxes.
Intel has been in discussions to licence programming for a service that may or may not launch later in the year and which may or may not be called OnCue, according to recently registered trade marks. This will have a set-top box based on Intel chips, supposedly providing a superior user interface, with a built-in camera to watch what you watch and provide a more personal experience.
Sony is also said to be planning a service dedicated to its devices, from television sets to disc players and games consoles, no doubt including the upcoming PlayStation 4. Sony has the benefit of having its own music, movie and television interests, so it should understand the entertainment industries, but its consumer electronics business has been under pressure for years from increasing competition from the likes of Samsung.
Apple is currently building its strategy, hidden in plain sight in its market leading Apple TV box, which has now sold over 13 million units, about half of them in the past year. It is working with networks like HBO and ESPN, as well as service providers like Time Warner Cable, while also embracing new entrants like Netflix.
The latest rumours are that Apple has proposed a premium service that could allow users to avoid commercials while compensating networks for loss of advertising revenue.
It seems that the major players are generally resigned to working with existing media companies and distributors, rather than competing with them directly.
For their part, pay-television providers are exploring how they can extend their existing services with multiscreen offerings, which ultimately means offering apps on third-party devices.
Startups like Aereo are meanwhile taking a more direct over the top approach, using an array of dedicated antennae to receive over-the-air television signals and stream them over the internet to subscribers. The courts have so far refused to issue an injunction against the service. The case could ultimately be determined by the Supreme Court.
From online reports one could be forgiven for thinking that the established model of pay television in North America determines the future of television. To a certain extent it does, but in other markets there is more room for innovation and negotiation.
The problem for multinational corporations is that television is a highly territorial business, where markets differ from country to country, making it difficult to roll out services internationally.
Success will not come from a single territory but for whichever player is able to reach global scale. The new networks have deep pockets and in this for the long game. Unpicking the entire pay-television bundle may be too complex even for these players, but most of them have the cash to be able to place some game-changing bets on premium programming, without necessarily disrupting the entire television ecosystem.
Of all of these new networks, it looks like Apple may have the best shot, providing it also finds a way to work with existing media owners and platform operators.