Why Cable TV Subscribers Are Making It Miserable To Cut The Cord

This is what I look like waiting for TV shows to be released on Netflix. Not really – this is what I look like all the time. Image Credit – BigStock

There’s a new report out this week (to be filed in the “Duh” folder…right next to “No Kidding”) showing that some 2.6 million cable television subscribers cancelled their service in favor of Internet-based streaming services between 2008 and 2011.

Reported by Slashdot, Yahoo and others this morning, Canadian research firm Convergence Consulting Group summarized the following from their…well, research:

“We estimate 112,000 TV subscribers were added in 2011, down from 272,000 in 2010, and forecast 185,000 TV sub additions for 2012. 2000-2009 annual TV sub additions averaged 2 million. Based on our TV Cord Cutting Model (takes into account economic conditions, annual subscriber additions, digital transition), we estimate 2.65 million (2.6%) US TV subscribers cut their TV subscriptions 2008-11 to rely solely on Online, Netflix, OTA, etc, 1.05 million (1%) in 2011 alone. We forecast cord cutters will reach 3.58 million year end (3.6%) 2012.”

So, essentially, folks are fleeing traditional television for streaming services in decent numbers, but those numbers seem to be slowing. News reports on this are rounding up the typical line-up of culprits for this dialing-back on the rush to streaming – content limitations of streaming services (a.k.a. ‘ I can’t believe Netflix doesn’t have so-and-so) based on sluggish deals being struck by Netflix and others with studios and networks; and the ultimate price-tag of achieving a more robust catalogue of content will break the cost model for places like Netflix and their service will become prohibitively expensive.

The Ignored Reason Cable Cord-Cutter Numbers Are On the Decline

Whatever tired ol’ models or reasoning analysts and experts trot out for news like this, I can tell you the real reason people are cutting the cord in smaller numbers – spoilers.

Let me preface this with a dose of full disclosure – I cut the cable cord years ago. I think the last time I had cable television service was 2002. Also, I have been known to be both overtly and covertly snobbish about that fact – it’s not that I’m better than you, it’s just that I…well, let’s say that I’m less worse.

Anyway, here’s the quick and dirty.

We live in a time of instant communication and constant contact. Facebook and Twitter, for example, are seething at varying rates with updates and posts about anything and everything.

Jump to television for a second – the small screen has become more important than ever (some would argue more so than the big screen) as a quality source of sophisticated, better produced entertainment. In other words, the HBOs and FXs and AMCs of the world are kicking the collective ass of Hollywood when it comes to putting out quality entertainment.

The problem lies in the gap between television and Internet – the amount of time it takes for fresh content to find its way from the former to the latter. More precisely, the problem is people on the more loudmouth sections of the Internets (the Facebook and the Twitter, as I would imagine old folks might call them) and people’s knack for posting things like, “OMG did you see The Walking Dead last night? I can’t believe (insert crucial character whose death was certainly a surprise) died. THAT SHOW IS TEH AWESOMEST!!!”

Therein resides the problem.

I have to wait months after it airs on television (sometimes longer) to see a new season of anything on a service like Netflix.** In the meantime, the chances of someone ruining important plot developments or Shyamalanian twists on a show like The “Walking Dead,” “Mad Men” or – God help us all – “Archer” is very, very real and very, very annoying. Social media is the real culprit for spoilers for a couple of reasons:

  1. On the regular, non-social web, I know what pages or sites to avoid that might spoil shows for me;
  2. Social media promotes the sharing and exchange of ideas on current issues (what you had for breakfast, what your dog had for breakfast, pictures of both, what you watch on TV) – heck TV shows count on folks spreading the word about new/good shows; and,
  3. NO ONE ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER, ETC., HONORS THE COMMON COURTESY OF PRE-EMPTING SPOILERS WITH TWO SIMPLE WORDS – “spoiler” followed by “alert.” Problem solved.

Look, I’m sure that the majority of people who aren’t jumping from cable to streaming aren’t consciously thinking about the prospect of people spoiling shows. Spoilers are a symptom of the larger problem of immediacy and the instant gratification of being able to see your favorite show the night it debuts (commercials and all). The wait time for fresh content on streaming services remains the biggest inconvenience.

It’s unusual and oddly counterintuitive that delivering entertainment in a medium like the Internet – that thrives on speed – is stifled by such a gaping slowness in getting television content on streaming sites.

 

** Use Hulu, you might say. They usually have new episodes up the next day, you might continue. Keeping in mind the built-in snobbery of being a seasoned cord-cutter, Hulu does not qualify as a viable streaming option on the Internet. In fact, Hulu, having no additional benefits from cable television, is actually worse than cable. It’s television – advertisements and all – on the Internet…a day late. And for fewer commercials, you can pay for Hulu Plus. Why on earth would you ditch paying for cable television, and then pay for the same thing on the Internet and get a smaller selection with a delay of at least 24-48 hours? Nonsense, I say.