The Big Shift, Maybe Not So Big


Regular readers will note that I keep returning back to the issue of cord-cutting, mostly because I keep reading articles and blog posts about how it’s the big new trend.

It’s not a question of whether more television content will move to the Internet or whether IP transport will be used more in the future for video distribution. It’s two questions:

a) Are a lot of people canceling their cable subscriptions for cord-cutting alternatives?

b) Can you replace your cable subscription through online video?

In a previous post I attempted to answer these questions, but it’s quite simple: a) No. b) No.

This debate does show that consumers have more choices than ever before, which one would hope can finally put to an end to the view that insufficient competition exists. I might argue that cable subscriptions provide the best combination of services and value, but those who don’t agree clearly have many other options.

This week also brought two new pieces of evidence which tend to support the subscription model, one scientific in nature and one anecdotal.

Parks Associates released the All Eyes on Video study, which looks at “consumer use of and interest in video experiences.” From this article, the report found that “Less than 8 percent of U.S. broadband homes — about 5.5 million homes — are considering canceling their pay-TV subscriptions in favor of online video…”  This Broadband TV News article reports the profile of these consumers.

The households likely to switch or cancel their services watch a whopping 10 hours of online video each week, much higher than typical video consumers. They express strong interest in having online access to pay-TV channels (e.g., TV Everywhere), which highlights an opportunity for traditional pay-TV providers to solidify their base through the deployment of such features. Offline video consumption is also higher. Their median number of DVD rentals from the last six months is 18, compared to two rentals among other households.

Janko Roettgers, in this NewTeeVee post, thinks that the real winners will be DVD rental services like Netflix and Redbox, although it’s worth noting that the DVD business is going through its own problems right now and Netflix does not yet have a deep catalog of content that can be watched online through its Watch Instantly feature.

The Business Insider‘s Dan Frommer quite famously cut the cord on cable, as noted as recently as this December 2009 article on the proposed Comcast-NBC deal:

Nielsen recently reported that although online video viewing has risen 35 percent in the past year, 99 percent of TV viewing is still done on a traditional TV. But that’s not the case for younger people, like my pal Dan Frommer. He’s 27 years old and works as a writer for a technology Web site. Frommer pulled the plug on cable TV in May 2008 and instead gets shows from the Internet via a Macintosh computer hooked to his LCD television. He can’t get everything he’d like to see, but he’s saved $1,500 on cable-TV fees. “I’m not going to let myself get ripped off for a bunch of garbage that I don’t watch anyway,” he says.

And here was the title of a Frommer post yesterday: Why I Caved, Bought Cable TV, And Gave Up On My ‘Hulu Household’. Read it for yourself, but you’ll find many of the issues I’ve discussed here before; high-definition television, live sporting events and the costs of high-quality TV productions all play a role.

Final note: I draw your attention to this Mari Silbey tweet from Monday. Roku, frequently mentioned as one of those great alternatives to subscribing to cable, has recently talked about how subscriptions will play a greater role going forward. In fact, they’re “looking to line up at least 100 content partners this year.”

Mari tweeted, “I’m sorry, but does no one else see the irony of Roku’s plans to bundle free hardware with subscription content? It’s called a cable set-top.”

The more things change…