Jim Long - Digital Media and Culture

“Cord Cutters Day” – The No-Pay TV Crowd Goes Over The Top

Logo for the GigaOM web show "Cord Cutters"

GigaOM web show “Cord Cutters”

Mark your calendars!  On Tuesday, April 26th, the world will celebrate Cord Cutters Day.  It is neither a national, nor Hallmark holiday, rather a manufactured “meetup” ginned up by the folks at GigaOM to raise awareness about  “cord cutting”.  It’s the gaining trend of folks giving up pay TV, for content they stream from the web, on broadband connected TV’s and set top boxes.

Now when I say the world will celebrate, I mean there are just over a dozen meetups scattered across the US, and one in South America.  At last check, the one in DC has three attendees.  Cord Cutters Day is likely in some part to promote their eponymous web-series.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti cord-cutting.  I have Boxee installed on a Mac Mini that was, until recently, connected to the big TV.  I’ve got a blu-ray with Pandora, Blockbuster and YouTube installed.  I’m excited by the promise of new networks and innovative content arising from the opportunity and potential of IPTV. But in addition to my blazing fast broadband, I also have an abundant digital TV package.  I enjoy that flexibility of what and how I able to watch.

And that, friends and readers, is the world we live in today.  People will seek out hacks to get the information and content they desire – when, and on what device they want it delivered.  What will be interesting to see is whether the cord cutting “movement” will prompt a shift in how services are bundled and where networks choose to distribute content.

What media moguls fear: 2011 could become the year when increasing numbers of people watch Web TV content from sources including Netflix, iTunes, YouTube, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu Plus and Crackle — and trim or even cancel their monthly subscriptions for cable, satellite or phone company TV service.

from: Web and other options are shaking up how we watch TV by David Lieberman, USA Today

 

Who They Are and What They Watch?

I set out to find out the answer to these questions – on Twitter and Facebook of course.  I asked:

so apparently, the 26th is #CordCuttersDay. show of hands – who out there has cut the cord from pay TV and now solely web TV?

Turns out, quite a few people I know.  Here’s some of the responses:

Cut the cord March 2009. Hulu and online sites with on-demand content is enough for the wife and I. Since we still have Verizon FiOS I can watch ESPN3 for free. Good enough, just miss cable news stations.

-Ching-Yao Yu via Facebook

Actually, I don’t miss much. I get a little envious when friends talk about a new show, but I know that if it’s really good, I’m going to see it online soon enough

-Melissa Pierce via Facebook

we’ve been talking about it for a while. i’m concerned about Internet providers instituting tiered access though. we’ll be paying out the nose to have enough bandwidth to watch Netflix, so not sure what the benefit will be in the future. i’m watching this one evolve.

– Jen Roy Goode via Facebook

There are quite a few more responses in my Twitter favorites, echoing similar sentiments.

Where Is The Market?

For any of this cord cutting to work on a viable scale, all parties in the marketplace must be able to derive value.  Connected TV and set-top-box manufuacturers will have to move enough units to make it worthwhile for them.  Premium content providers will need to ink favorable licensing deals to make an IPTV offering worth their while.  Advertisers will have to be able to reach enough viewers to support the kind of cost-intensive programming that tends to reach a lot of viewers.  In order for the big infrastructure players to begin to un-bundle their phone-tv-internet offerings and create a la carte TV selection,  they will likely meter their bandwidth.

Finally, viewers will have to easily be able to access quality programming. Right now, those criteria just aren’t there.  Most people wouldn’t be satisfied with a diet solely of the independent TV shows available on the web.  While there is a great deal of phenomenal, economically viable, and successful independent content on the web, the viewership isn’t there to support other pieces of the puzzle.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen – Editor of StreamingMedia.com and OnlineVideo.net – summed it up, responding to me on Twitter.

@newmediajim Until online video access is as easy, universal, and cheap as cable or satellite, we won’t see cord-cutting in huge numbers.


@newmediajim the numbers may be big enough to make cable sweat, but I don’t see a sea change fir a while

Where’s The Instruction Manual?

Ad Agency Hill Holliday did a presumably biased experiment (they have a vested interest in the continuity of the existing market structure) where they took away peoples’ cable boxes and replaced them with IPTV boxes.

Take a look at their An Experiment In Cord Cutting video.  It does provide some interesting insights.

People have well-formed expectations about how a TV should work, and the devices didn’t seem to confirm well to these mental models. Surfing TV channels is seamless; “tasting” unfamiliar on-demand shows includes picking them from different menu categories and waiting for them to buffer first (and often paying for them up-front). This latency is tolerated in exchange for high-consideration longer-form content but it becomes too much of a friction when all one wants is the “in-n-out” material.

– results from Hill Holliday cable cutting experiment

So while I certainly understand why people are looking into cord cutting,  I think there some people on the cutting side of the debate would like to frame this as a false choice, raising their pitchforks and torches against the infrastructure that brings the internet to their homes. Lord knows, I look at my TV/phone/internet bill each month and wonder how much overtime it will take for me to pay it.

But I consider myself to be in the middle ground here.  I like the flexibility of apps, the promise of new, niche market video content but I also like crystal clear HD network television shows on my 42″ Samsung.  Perhaps these two driving forces will push us toward consumer centric offerings.  Until then, my cord remains uncut.

What about you?  Are you a cord-cutter?  What led you to that choice.  What type of programming are you watching on the web?  What do you miss that isn’t available over the web?  Please take time to leave your voice below.

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  • http://twitter.com/JDianeAbela Diane Abela

    I don’t own a TV and I watch everything online. When I’d visit my sister, I used to relish all her cable channels but then after a while, it was nightmarish. I much prefer the online choice and it’s great time management. It’s been almost three years without a TV now and I have everything I need at my fingertips. When flipping through my sister’s 400+ channels, it felt like a brain drain, like some small dog was whimpering in a corner somewhere, lol, jk…fairies die with each channel change. Seriously, I’ve made better use of my time now :)

  • http://twitter.com/JDianeAbela Diane Abela

    I don’t own a TV and I watch everything online. When I’d visit my sister, I used to relish all her cable channels but then after a while, it was nightmarish. I much prefer the online choice and it’s great time management. It’s been almost three years without a TV now and I have everything I need at my fingertips. When flipping through my sister’s 400+ channels, it felt like a brain drain, like some small dog was whimpering in a corner somewhere, lol, jk…fairies die with each channel change. Seriously, I’ve made better use of my time now :)

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  • Mary

    I’m on the cordcutter side. I’ve never owned a tv that cost more than $150 so I’ve never been in the high end tv demographic. I realized that just about everything I was watching on tv I could get online. So I cut the cord about two years ago and haven’t looked back. The main challenges are live tv and sports. I don’t live in the city whose teams I follow so I wasn’t getting much anyway. Now I spend my cable savings on MLB tv and buying a few key tv series from iTunes. Everything else I watch on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon streaming, ABC iPad app, and PBS iPad app. Ends up being a whole lot cheaper, and my computer monitor is not much smaller than my old 25 inch tv.

    • newmediajim

      Mary, are you concerned that if cord cutting continues to gain momentum,
      ISP’s will begin to meter your bandwidth?

      • Mary

        In theory yes, but in practice I have the Columbia network to fall back on if Time Warner decides to screw with me. Not everyone has that option. If the ISPs start throttling and charging for more access, we’ll have to see how those costs compare to the cost of cable tv.

        Of course there’s also the question of who will pay to create content if everyone is getting shows off the internet. Netflix is showing one, albeit limited, route by bidding on their own productions. No way of knowing who will be producing and distributing content in the future.

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