With a few months of cord cutting under my belt, the fuzzy glow of dumping my monthly $146 cable bill is beginning to fade.
The upshot is I know I’m never going back to cable.
My reason is simple: I can get better service for live television at a lower price elsewhere. Sure, there might be a little Mustachianism at play, but it’s more than simple economics for me. If a cable company could offer me better service, I would probably go back. The truth is they can’t because that’s not where the market is going. That’s not where the technology is going, either.
Anybody can now buy a Roku or an Amazon Fire TV, pick some kind of live TV streaming service like PlayStation Vue or Sling TV, and all of a sudden they’re watching their favorite TV shows. Add a run-of-the-mill antenna, which you can easily make yourself, and boom: you have a bunch of local channels. NBC, ABC and CBS are back in the mix. And sure, you can watch that football game, no problem. Go ahead and turn it on.
No more waiting for the cable guy to show or up at your home to install a cable box, router and modem. No more paying equipment fees or having channels you like submerged and lost in a sea of foreign language and home shopping channels you don’t want. (Yes, those humdinger channels like QVC are counted as part of the package of 140 channels that your local cable company is hawking as a great value.)
Access to broadband has dramatically changed the landscape of the television market. It’s one of the reasons why telecom giants like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon are fighting so hard against the Federal Communications Commission authority to ensure net neutrality. Cable companies don’t want broadband deemed a public utility. If they lose that fight, they lose control over how much (or little) consumers pay for broadband.
If you can leverage a decent bargain for broadband, you really don’t need a traditional cable subscription so long as you’re willing to learn how to shop around and set up your own equipment. Everybody has their own calculus for what they want with channel lineup and what they’re willing to pay for it.
A couple of nights ago, I was helping my wife load some artwork into her truck. Her co-worker was having an art show featuring her student’s work. While my wife and co-worker got chit chatting, I got talking to her husband about craft beer and the conversation soon turned to him explaining why he hooked up a PC to his television. He decided to ditch cable months ago, and opted for a subscription to Sling TV because he wanted to watch the remaining season of ‘The Walking Dead’.
He bought a used cable modem (with DOCIS 3.0) online for $25, and bargained with his local broadband provider to get an inexpensive 15 Mbps connection for their apartment. That’s all he needed. He perused some channels for me with an obvious sense of pride, showing me how we could watch basketball and A&E. He told me about the antenna he bought so he could get local channels. I told him about my PlayStation Vue account and how I used some equipment I had around the house to set up a second television in my bedroom. These kinds of conversations now come as naturally to people as watercooler talk about the latest Netflix shows they’re watching.
They also keep some cable executives up at night. CNBC interviewed a couple of top cable executives at the annual Internet and Television expo in Boston and snagged some telling interviews in regard to cord cutting and a growing desire for skinny bundles.
Cox Communications President Pat Esser acknowledged that big change is afoot in the industry. “Don’t forget, this all happened because companies like Cox invested billions of dollars in our network to create this disruption,” Esser told the network. “And many times, we are the ones bringing the disruption and innovation to the marketplace.” He added about cord cutting: “If it’s such a bad space, why does everybody want to get into it? There is (sic) more consumers consuming video in this county than ever in the history of the country. We think we’ll have to evolve our packages as time goes on. We’re doing that and we’ll have to bring to the market packages and services of content that our customers want.”
Other executives sounded like they are going to slug it out. Enter Brian Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO, who appeared still buoyant over his company’s better-than-expected financial results last month. Comcast attributes the uptick in part to its X1 set-top-box and voice-enabled remote. Asked about concerns over skinny bundles eating into Comcast’s market, Roberts said: “You know I don’t see a lot of that. It’s obviously talked about, its huge implications to the business and investors so it’s not something to take lightly, but you want to give customers choice, but in the end, the strategy we’re on, we’ll find you where you are.”
The network, which is owned by Comcast via NBCUniveral, also reported:
By the year 2018, eMarketer predicts that one in five Americans won’t subscribe to a cable TV package. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be watching TV, they will just have more ways of accessing what they want to see. “I would call this the calm before the storm, on the brink of a whole new set of services that are more compelling than the ones we have now,” said cable analyst Craig Moffett. “You ain’t seen nothing yet in the sense that cord-cutting could be poised to accelerate in the coming year.”
For many years, the worlds of television and computers were merging at a glacial pace. That’s no longer true. Cord cutting is dismissed by some as an insurgent tribe of television viewers as if they were a Tea Party made up of angry consumers fed up with triple-digit cable bills and indifferent millennials weaned on YouTube instead of MTV.
Cord cutting is pure and simple consumerism, and in some ways, a lifestyle choice for people are also juggling the multiple plotlines of raising their kids, working often grueling work weeks and maybe finding time to read a book or two in bed if they’re lucky. I know plenty of people who are satisfied with their cable subscription. Some aren’t interested or inclined to take advantages at the emerging tech-based options; others are simply willing to pay the ever-escalating price point of cable no matter what it becomes.
I just won’t be one of them.