Here’s Why Many Are ‘Cutting the Cord’ — and You May Want to Join Them
Record numbers of people are dispensing with old-school media feeds and turning to streaming options, for far more choices
If you have an antenna on your roof, a satellite dish stuck to your balcony, or an ever-increasing cable TV bill dropping into your mailbox ever month — you’re being left behind.
This year will see a dramatic jump in the number of people who have “cut the cord” and dropped their old-school media feed in favor of a purely internet-based solution. Research firm eMarketer estimates that 22.2 million Americans will have made the switch by the end of 2017, a huge increase from the 16.7 million who did so last year.
You’re not in the minority yet, though: Some 196 million U.S. adults still have traditional pay TV service. But by 2021, industry experts are predicting that’ll drop to 181 million and continue declining thereafter. There’s also the complementary trend of TV and computer screen becoming one and the same, too, as many younger viewers find watching media on a smartphone or laptop screen just as satisfying and enjoyable as on a big, dedicated, single-function TV.
It's no wonder so many companies are planning for the future by launching streaming services that don't require traditional cable gear, including YouTube's live TV option, CBS All Access, Disney's upcoming ESPN-based streaming sports package, Dish Network's SlingTV, AT&T Wireless' DirecTV Now, Hulu's live TV service, and many more.
The bigger problem isn't how consumers get their TV; it's the trend of all media being equal in the modern consumer's eyes. A video on YouTube is just as compelling as a show on HBO, while online news with video snippets — even recorded on smartphones in the field — can be just as engaging and informative as news from a big international news agency such as BBC World Service or CNN.
This also opens up opportunities for many more players on this gradually leveling playing field. The Xumo streaming service, for example, offers free short video content related to everything from politics to comedy. (LifeZette has a channel through this service.) Started in 2011, it's already received on tens of millions of devices and uses algorithms to cater to consumers' specific video-watching tastes. It is one of many platforms challenging the traditional method of consuming content — which entailed a grudging acceptance of pre-built cable packages that offered little options or variety.
This is part of what's fueling the exploding budgets of big productions from such companies as HBO and AMC — the need to compete not with a few dozen other TV channels but with literally millions of other choices for consumer eyeballs at any given minute. Consider this: The two-hour 2016 Hollywood blockbuster "Hidden Figures" cost $25 million to produce, while HBO's blockbuster popular "Game of Thrones" series will reportedly be budgeted at roughly $16 million per episode for its final season of programming.
While all this might cause heartburn for cable providers such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Cox Communications, the fact is that it's a great trend for consumers. The ever-expanding range of viewing options means we're all going to be able to easily find shows, video channels, and other content uniquely matched to our individual tastes.
And if you still have that cable TV wire coming into the wall, that dish on the side of your house or a big, clunky antenna on your roof, it might be time to reassess what you're watching and how you're watching it. After all, the future is streaming via your internet connection — and it holds a fantastic array of options sure to meet all your video consumption desires in ways of which cable can only dream.
Dave Taylor, based in Boulder, Colorado, has been writing about consumer electronics, technology and pop culture for many years and runs the popular site AskDaveTaylor.com.