By now, you’ve doubtless heard the term “cord cutting”. It’s an imposing name for a simple process: dumping your cable or satellite provider in favor of internet-delivered content. Cord cutters have only recently begun to truly grow in number, and many of us are left to wonder: what exactly should we make of this trend?
Depending on who you listen to, cord cutting is either the way of the future and the death knell of traditional TV models, or a passing blip in the radar that industry giants can comfortably ignore. The truth, of course, is a mix of the two.
New means of content distribution will absolutely play major roles in the future of media, but even the most optimistic online advocates need a reality check: cable and satellite still rule supreme, even among younger viewers.
One sticking point in this debate is the legion of younger TV-fans who have never had a cable package, and in all likelihood never will. We’ll get to actual streaming devices later, but it’s important to acknowledge that an awful lot of people never even use them. Online channels such as Youtube, Twitch, corporate broadcasters, and legions of sites hosting free pirated content are more than enough to keep some viewers happy.
How many? Hard to say, given that this isn’t exactly a demographic that’s easy to track. However, look at the numbers posted by Game of Thrones pirates. The wildly successful HBO series is widely distributed, and even has reliable online outlets, and yet nearly 33% of its viewership on some episodes is composed of illegal downloads.
As we discuss cable/satellite vs. online distribution, remember this: there’s a lot of quiet weight on the side of the internet. Most of these people don’t pay for the privilege, but as time goes on, there’s an excellent chance we’ll see more transition to low-pay, high-quality online content.
Even without counting free content lovers, cord cutters are still numerous, especially among younger demographics. There are several reasons behind these numbers. Cable and satellite have long traded on the enormous range of channels they offer, and have strenuously resisted switching to pay-per-channel models.
And, at the moment, that’s biting them. Streamed content is much more versatile, and customers have an easier time purchasing only what they actually want to watch. Choice also equates with lower price points, and cord cutters do often enjoy much lower monthly costs for the TV they watch.
Finally, millenials tend to be highly mobile, hopping from apartment to apartment and city to city. Each time a relocation occurs, cable or satellite contracts have to be severed, and either renegotiated after a move, or simply ignored. Online content follows consumers with considerably more ease.
As Things Stand
With these trends, and with the rabidly exuberant coverage that cord cutting has often received, the actual numbers behind the movement are almost shockingly low. A recent Nielsen report found that cord cutters were only a single-digit percentage of all consumers.
But don’t take that to mean that cable and satellite companies are off the hook. Just the opposite – if you need evidence, consider that they’ve been reporting lower rates of new customer sign ups, and many have been working toward launching their own streaming services to compete.
There’s change a’coming, or maybe it’s already come, and we’re just waiting for it to take off. Online distribution will doubtless continue to gain ground if the status quo remains unchanged. Cord cutting will continue, especially given the positive coverage that it receives from many media outlets, the increased number of streaming services entering the market, and high-profile defections from traditional content models – such as the online release of The Interview earlier this year.
Still, cable and satellite programs aren’t finished. Recent attempts by Verizon to offer so called “a la carte” (such as those offered by WOW! Cable TV Packages) programs, in which subscribers have more freedom to pick and choose the channels they pay for, have earned them a lawsuit from ESPN, but also show that even the largest companies now realize the importance of adapting to new pressures in the market.
Whether or not cable rides this out is anyone’s guess. But one thing is clear: as of right now, online content is only getting more and more popular. It’s only a matter of time before more viewers decide to reach for the scissors.