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NIMBY or nimble?

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Maybe you heard about Aereo in the news last week. The service streams live broadcast TV over the Internet to its subscribers. Users can pay for the service as they need it, from $1 for a day of TV to $80 for a year.

It’s only available in New York right now, but the company would like to expand — and that’s the reason for all the headlines. Aereo picks up its streaming content using old-fashioned antennas, which means — unlike cable providers — it pays zero dollars to the broadcasters whose content it streams. That has networks from PBS to ABC taking Aereo to court —and, in the case of Fox, even threatening to move to cable.

As a TV-watching cheapskate who’d totally use something like Aereo, the whole situation had me rolling my eyes. I don’t watch broadcast TV that often, but I’d still like to get the nightly news in real time and tune in for major events like the Super Bowl. So why should I have to keep paying my giant cable bill every month in order to help networks churn out low-cost shows about things like D-list celebrities diving into pools?

But as someone who writes about the life insurance industry and works in journalism — both aging businesses dealing with their own modern-day distribution challenges — I also found myself sympathizing with the networks.

It’s easy, as an outsider consumer, to criticize an industry for not keeping up with the times. Innovate! Adapt! But when the changes affect your own industry, you can better see why modernizing is often slow and difficult. When it’s your own industry, you’re probably also not as dead-set against keeping the status quo — that proven model that’s kept your paycheck steadily rolling in all these years.

I think it’s a business version of the NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard — syndrome I used to encounter as a reporter at school board meetings. Parents would be huge supporters of the abstract idea of more school time for children — until their own district implemented a longer schedule and it cut into their summer vacation plans. Likewise, we want radical change — lower prices, better technology, more accessibility, no matter the cost in jobs or revenue — from entrenched industries … unless, of course, that industry is our own.

But it’s the outsiders — with their lack of well-honed experience and knowledge in our field — who are right here. Because, as with any business, the customer is always right. And that’s doubly true in this day and age, where dissatisfied customers can easily take your company down on Twitter or, worse, launch a nimble competitor startup that takes your company down … um, everywhere.

Most people watching the TV networks fight Aereo are shaking their heads. Because even if the networks win this battle, it’s obvious that others — Netflix, Hulu, Apple, some company we’ve never heard of — will just step in to take Aereo’s place. At least, it’s obvious to us, the outsiders.

If you were outside the insurance industry looking in right now, would you be shaking your head?

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