Cord-cutting has always been an option. Cable TV sometimes seems ubiquitous, but consumers have always had the choice to do without it. Now with so many alternatives, all of which range from far cheaper to absolutely free, what is it that’s keeping people tethered to their cable companies? Three things in particular have been scarce, if not completely unavailable, outside of cable bundles: live sports, top-tier premium channels like HBO, and 24-hour news. You can tell that a big change is truly upon us now, as each of these things will be available outside of cable as early as next year. When even the greatest beneficiaries of the old pay-TV business model start moving away from it, it’s hard to deny that this trends is worth taking seriously for all involved.
Following in the footsteps of rivals HBO and Starz, Showtime announced on Thursday that they will be launching a standalone subscription streaming service of their own. With all three of the most well known premium channels going over the top, an exclusive show on HBO or Showtime alone won’t be enough to keep people paying for cable. Even one of these channels pushes the price up from the already high average of $86 a month, so to subscribe to one or more means paying upwards of $100 a month. With over-the-top options, cable companies will no longer be able to force customers to accept literally hundreds of unwanted channels in order to get a single one that they do. The premium channels have led the way, and now it’s only a matter of time before basic-tier cable channels begin to join them.
Also announced on Thursday, another missing link: a 24/7 streaming news channel from CBS, dubbed CBSN. Other news outlets have offered streaming news, but the CBS brand brings credibility and familiarity to the non-cable subscriber scene, an essential element if cord-cutting is to go mainstream. Other news outlets like Al Jazeera that are well respected internationally offer streaming news, but they aren’t nearly as recognizable in the United States. CBS, on the other hand, is likely where our grandparents got their news, so American audiences will at least acknowledge the new network.
The last piece of the puzzle is perhaps the most coveted: live sports. While stopping short of actually announcing such a service, Disney’s ESPN is sure to have one in the works. Their new deal with the NBA wouldn’t include a provision allowing them to create such a thing if they had no intention of doing so, and there’s definitely a demand for such a service. Disney seems to be torn between cashing in on sports-loving cord-cutters and protecting it’s current successful business model that depends on high per-subscriber fees from the cable companies. They may still be on the fence about whether there’s enough money to be made to make it worth rocking the boat, but plans for the ESPN subscription service already seem to be in motion. When that first step is taken, Disney may not be able to stop the floodgates from opening.
The presence of these three things outside of the cable bundle mean that most people will have the option to cut the cord, without missing out on one of their must-haves. Not only that, but as more popular content goes over-the-top, even more begins to follow suit, creating a snowball effect. Just look at HBO’s announcement. Since then, both of their rivals, Starz and Showtime, have both announced similar plans, as well as CBS and Univision. The launch of CBSN could see cable news rivals like Fox News and MSNBC step up to the plate with online offerings of their own. And when ESPN finally makes an announcement, you can be sure that we will see reactions throughout the television industry. The dominos are already falling, we just don’t know what order they’re in yet. But every couple of days now, the next domino gets revealed, as one more network announces standalone online services. That pattern isn’t likely to stop until all of the cable networks are online too, essentially creating an à la carte TV option alongside traditional cable bundles.