Here’s an interesting stat on the state of cable television. In the US, over 800,000 households that previously had subscribed to cable TV have “cut the cord” and cancelled. Of course, that might seem insignificant compared to the 100 million households that still subscribe, but my guess is that this is only the beginning. We are in the midst of a profound change in the way we watch and interact with television, and the cable providers and television programmers need to change their model to prosper in the long run.
I pay almost $140 a month to receive premium cable that delivers the ten or fifteen channels I regularly watch, and the other hundred and thirty or so that I ignore. Some consumers are choosing to drastically reduce their bill while still receiving almost all the entertainment. The convergence of television and the web, easy downloading, efficient DVD delivery systems, and an increasing amount of content have made it easier than ever before.
• Buy an inexpensive antenna, and you can receive many basic stations for free. But this is not the snowy on-air signal we hated when we were growing up – now it’s in high def! One time cost for the antenna – $20 to $80.
• Buy a Tivo, or other Blockbuster, Netflix and Amazon Unboxed-equipped device that can accept downloads. You might already own one that has this capability. Samsung, LG, and even Wii now allow you to download for free from these and more providers. As the Apple iPad expands, consumers will also get more comfortable paying download fees for video, and I suspect the underlooked Apple TV will grow in popularity. Cost for the hardware if you don’t own the right equipment – $200 and up.
• Sign up for a download provider. My favorite is Netflix. For as little as $9.00 a month you can get DVDs in the mail, and unlimited downloads to your TV. You can choose from thousands of movies and full television series. So while you won’t be watching “24”, Desperate Housewives, or The Tudors on the same night they are released, you can watch them a few months later on your schedule for a fraction of the price.
• Connect your computer into your television to watch other network episodes through Hulu, ABC.com, and the other online sites that allow you access to all kinds of programming.
So for an investment of a few hundred dollars at the most, and monthly fees of less than ten bucks a month, plus maybe another ten or fifteen dollars for download rentals, you can essentially create your own little personal television network, programmed with the programming you want to watch, and on your schedule.
Now I am not predicting this will lead to the immediate demise of cable television. I’m too lazy to cancel cable, and there are features I still enjoy. But if I was a cash-strapped, technologically adept young person I probably would not be paying for cable, just as I would not be paying for a phone land line. And as that generation ages, they will have a different attitude towards cable TV that advertisers, programmers, networks, and cable providers need meet.