Bye TV Cord, Hello Streaming

Could 'cutting the cord' cut into your family time?

1952_thumbPay television isn’t going the way of the 8-track tape yet, but it’s clear consumers see streaming outlets as a credible Plan B.

That begs a bigger question, more important than the fate of Frank Underwood on Netflix’s “House of Cards.” How does “cutting the cord” — ditching cable for streaming services — impact the way we consume TV content? Does that shift impact the family structure?

Those questions matter because it’s clear more TV watchers are considering streaming plans.

Last year, Leichtman Research Group said the biggest pay TV services lost roughly 150,000 in the last quarter of 2014. That number represents a fat increase from the 25,000 lost subscribers from the same period in 2013.

Experian Marketing Services revealed last year that about 6.5 percent of American households already cut the cord in 2014. That’s up from 4.5 percent just five years ago.

That still leaves plenty of customers for old-school cable. That could change given the crush of new streaming gadgets (Roku, Google Chromecast), services like Sling TV that offer a “lite” version of traditional cable lineups and how major pay cable outlets like HBO and Showtime are adding standalone streaming options.

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It’s why the cord-cutting movement shouldn’t be dismissed, particularly since millennials have little appetite for hefty cable bills. How does saying goodbye to conventional TV and hello to streaming entertainment affect us, our relationships, our families?

Denver resident Christine Tatum likes the deliberate nature of streaming television.

“It’s too easy for TV to become a constant noise, always in the background, blasting images and messages we, as parents, can’t block easily or even put into context as much as we’d like,” the mother of two says.

“People really do this to each other, Daddy?”

Her family recently spent some vacation time at a hotel where her young children turned on the room’s TV set. The local news came on, and they weren’t prepared for what came next.

“In just a matter of three minutes, they’d heard about all sorts of mayhem, including fatal car accidents, assault, theft and a devastating earthquake,” she said. “I remember our son looking wide-eyed at the screen and saying, ‘People really do this to each other, Daddy?'”

Streaming services do more than allow parents to actively set up viewing times and keep potentially upsetting information at bay. They yield other behavioral changes as well, said Yalda T. Uhls, media expert for Common Sense Media.

“What makes this challenging is not only do we view [streaming content] on our own, we often do it alone in another room,” said Uhls, author of forthcoming “Media Moms & Digital Dads.” A family of four could watch four different programs in four separate rooms, for example.

“The average American household has more devices than people,” Uhls said.

Netflix and Amazon Prime deliver content without commercial interruptions. That’s good news for parents, but Uhls said children can’t escape marketing messages so easily.

“Kids see plenty of ads online, where they now are. YouTube is very popular, and there are plenty of ads there,” she said.

Uhls recommends families make time to consume content, via a streaming device or cable, as a unit whenever possible. Melody Bacon, a clinical psychologist and department chair at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, agrees.

“Watching TV together can create this same shared experience — and asking your partner or children about their thoughts afterwards is a really wonderful way to connect,” Bacon said.

Parents also have to consider how their own actions regarding gadget use are viewed by their children.

“It’s very difficult to set limits on using technology [like texting during dinner] if the parent is guilty of that behavior,” Bacon said.

One potential problem with streaming services is how easily it allows younger viewers to access mature fare at any hour of the day. Most broadcast and cable channels program their racier fare after 9 p.m. Parents need to master each service’s content control functions to ensure Johnny or Jane doesn’t see adult content. Some mature themes will slip through all the same, Bacon suggested.

“It is becoming more difficult to allow your children to freely watch television as standards for content have changed,” Bacon said. “It used to be that the hours designated for family friendly shows would enable parents to feel confident that their children are not being exposed to mature content but that seems to be a thing of the past … parents will need to accommodate to this change and remain hands on when it comes to media.”


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