Cutting the Cord

24Apr13

As digital technologies advance, there are existing industries that are disrupted and forced to either adapt to new realities or face diminishing revenues or perhaps even the complete elimination of the viability of their business models.

Over the past 15 years, there have been profound changes in numerous “traditional” businesses that were able to operate successfully for decades in the analog and pre-internet days. Among the “disrupted:”

  • Analog photography and any businesses related to traditional film technologies. In less than 10 years, photography using film has become a niche market for artists and traditionalist die-hards.
  • Analog cinematography and movie theaters that still rely on 35mm film prints for movie distribution. Soon, movies will be distributed only as digital hard drives and many “mom and pop” theaters will close shop.
  • “Brick and mortar” retail stores. Just ask the owner of your local bookstore what she thinks about Amazon.
  • The music recording industry. Some, like Jon Bon Jovi think that Steve Jobs “killed the music business.” Others think he saved it from endless online piracy. In any case, the recording industry wishes it could make money like it used to.
  • Newspapers and magazines. A recent study, noting the decline of traditional print media and the career prospects for its workers, placed “newspaper reporter” as the worst job of 2013, beating out lumberjacks and military infantrymen.

And the list goes on. One has to wonder who’s next in line for major disruption. I’ll go out on a limb with my own prediction:

Cable television.

Increasingly, traditional cable TV is starting to resemble those other “dinosaur” businesses that just don’t seem to know how to cope with the changes and opportunities that advancing digital technologies offer to today’s customers.

I and my generation grew up with network television, free to anyone with an antenna and TV set. People arranged their evening schedules around what shows they wanted to watch and when they were broadcast. When the videocassette recorder became affordable in the late 1970’s, television consumers got their first opportunity to wrest some control from the networks, electing to watch their favorite shows when they wanted, and often skipping over the commercials.

Cable television arrived in the 1980’s, offering a multitude of new channels and specialty programming. I’m actually old enough to remember when the History Channel actually produced and distributed history documentaries instead of shows about guys running around looking for bigfoot or “documentary” programming based solely on what the cult 70’s show In Search Of referred to as “theory and conjecture.”

Now we have dozens of cable channels presenting every sort of ridiculous reality television programming imaginable, all of which I have to pay for each month even though I only watch a tiny fraction of what’s on cable TV.

Recently, I received notice that “upgrades” to my cable system were coming soon. I took this to mean that in addition to new channels and more high-definition content, this would likely also mean a higher monthly price. I was already paying about $123 per month for my cable bill, which also includes fast and reliable high-speed internet service.

It was time to try something that I’ve been thinking about for a while: going internet only for my television viewing. For some time I’ve been using a small internet media player made by Roku to view streaming video from Netflix and Amazon. For traveling, I’ve also been downloading video programs from iTunes to my iPad. Between these three services, I figured I could get all the television programming I want to watch while avoiding the rest of cable TV’s junk programming.

The hockey-puck-sized Roku internet player can stream high-definition video from Amazon, Netflix, and a number of other services.

The hockey-puck-sized Roku internet player can stream high-definition video from Amazon, Netflix, and a number of other services. Credit: Roku

I called my cable provider expecting them to be highly resistant to the idea of “unbundling” cable TV from the internet service provided with it. However, they didn’t seem too concerned about it and agreed to an “internet-only” service that cuts my monthly bill to less than half of what it was. Everything works fine, and the only downside is that I have to wait until the day after my favorite shows debut to stream them from Amazon.

So far, it’s working fine, and I’m not missing conventional TV at all. The cable networks have to be watching this trend and wondering how many other folks are coming to the same conclusion as I did. Anybody with modest television-watching habits can do the math and probably find out that they could save significant money by ditching cable and moving to internet-delivered television delivery.

Unless of course they really want to see those guys catch bigfoot.

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