There’s so much discontent in the cable television industry these days. Consumers and industry professionals alike know that the current model is unsustainable, and we’re just counting the days until the next disruptive innovation rocks all of television. Who will the first casualty when bigger changes begin sweeping the space? Many people believe (or perhaps hope) that the much derided cable companies will be the first to go, and many have already gotten the boot from the homes of cord-cutters. Or have they? While pay TV subscribers are down, Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, and other companies associated with cable TV often continue to provide Internet service to those same households. Unlike pay TV service, Internet usage is only growing. And since the cable providers are also Internet providers, it would seem that they’re here to stay, because they serve a purpose even in the future that the cable industry is en route to.
Can the same be said for the national networks that make up the cable companies pay TV lineups? The high price of cable bundles is what primarily drives customers to ‘cut the cord,’ and those bundles are a result of the networks’ practices. To carry popular channels like ESPN and Disney, which are both owned by Disney, cable providers often have to agree to carry other channels like Fusion TV, Disney Junior, and others, resulting in the multitude of channels that cable viewers constantly wonder why they’re paying for.
However, cutting the cord often means doing without all the networks, including the ones that viewers actually want to watch. A common gripe among those who have ditched cable is that they miss out on the latest episodes of exclusive shows on networks like HBO that don’t offer a la carte options to consumers (yet). For the next generation of television to provide solutions to these dilemmas, it’s first important to understand them, so let’s peel back the onion.
First we have the cable companies. Consumers subscribe to one, and often only have one or two to choose from in the first place. They’re the ones that pipe the various networks’ channels into millions of homes. What people want from their cable company aside from TV service is a reasonable price and good customer service.
Just as the cable companies carry the networks to consumers, those networks carry the individual shows that people want to watch. That point is incredibly important, as it’s the shows that bring in the viewers, at the end of the day. Aside from having to watch a certain channel to see the shows they want, cable customers may not have any particular affinity for a channel or network. But now that some shows can be accessed by consumers through means other than watching them during their cable timeslot, it may just be the networks that are most vulnerable to change.
Look at what Netflix has done, bankrolling and producing several shows themselves, which have apparently been profitable enough to warrant additional seasons. If Netflix can do it, so can other large companies that offer any sort of online video content. Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and others are capable of the same thing, if they’re not already doing it. Microsoft has announced that they are producing a TV show based on the wildly successful video game Halo. Google’s has been investing in YouTube content as well. The site is known mostly for its amateur productions, Google’s resources are increasingly making some content-creators’ work resemble professional productions.
The tech companies have largely cut the networks out of consumers’ experience with their products. That’s the direction that the television industry is heading in. In the future, users will be able to see their must-watch shows anywhere and anytime they want. It makes sense for them to be willing to pay for episodes or seasons a la carte, if they’re not available for free or included with other subscriptions. It’s the rest of what’s on TV that will likely change. Those hundreds of channels that you flip through when nothing is on will be replaced by a massive library or guide full of content that you can watch at your leisure. That’s already in place thanks to affordable services like Netflix, Rabbit TV, and others. Once the creators of hit shows and content realize that there’s money to be made in bypassing the networks and cable companies, you won’t need to subscribe to a $100 per month cable bundle just because you want to watch a couple of shows on ABC or the Food Network.
Are the Big Cable Networks Already Obsolete?