Cutting the cable
With many viewers shifting to streaming video services and away from broadcast and cable TV, local carriers are scrambling to adapt
In the 1950s, the quintessential image was that of a family spending an evening on a couch watching television. Replacing the radio as the source of home entertainment, television evolved with newer technology and diversity of programming, but with nothing like the speed that present-day video streaming on the internet has brought.
Since the advent of the internet, providers of traditional TV entertainment have had to contend with a huge threat to their traditional business model and local cable providers are struggling to adapt and — they certainly hope — survive.
On Guam and in the CNMI, as well as other Pacific locations, cable TV was not so long ago the only option outside of video rentals for this service and has been an essential if pricey part of many family lives in the Pacific.
But in recent years there has been a trend usually described as “cutting the cable.” A survey by the accounting firm Deloitte indicates that national viewers are rapidly migrating to streamed platforms. The survey showed 27 percent of cable television subscribers cancelled their service in 2018. In the internet age, online viewing platforms like Netflix and Hulu are becoming household staples.
A separate survey of American viewers conducted by the financial research firm, Cowen Inc. also revealed consumers continue to move away from basic cable and broadcast television. Netflix was most popular, with 27 percent of respondents saying they used the streaming service most often. Basic cable came in second place at 20 percent, and broadcast television was third with 18 percent. YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video followed. Premium cable channels such as Showtime, HBO and Cinemax were next
On Guam, Docomo Pacific and GTA Teleguam are the only carriers that provide cable TV service, which is included in the bundles offered to subscribers.
“We’re not aware of any official local study on trends, but Docomo Pacific keeps track of data regarding our customers and the services they receive,” said Presia Ogo, Docomo’s propositions manager of fixed services and marketing.
While on the ground there seems to be an apparent decline in regular TV viewership, local providers have adapted to combat this change.
“As more over-the-top content such as Netflix, Prime, YouTube are becoming conveniently available, popularity is definitely growing. However, our traditional cable TV viewership is doing better than other markets with TiVo. It marries your traditional live TV with over-the-top content, bringing you the best of both worlds conveniently in one box.”
TiVo, which Docomo launched exclusively more than a year ago, provides an on-screen guide of scheduled broadcast programming television programs, whose features include "Season Pass" schedules which record every new episode of a series, and "WishList" searches which allow the user to find and record shows that match their interests by title, actor, director, category, or keyword.
“We’re excited for Docomo Pacific customers to exclusively have the TiVo experience, instantly giving you total control of the TV programming you love,” Ogo said.
Docomo’s TiVo subscription continues to grow, she said. “In fact, we are rolling out the TiVo Experience 4 which includes ultra-convenient voice control. With TiVo Experience 4 you can access Live TV, your video recordings and over-the-top content with quick and simple voice commands.”
The younger generation is willing to pay for more targeted and less expensive online subscriptions rather than a full cable service. It is a trend that is mirrored in cultures all over the world.
While IT&E does not offer cable TV service, the company’s Explorer Bundle includes a free Roku stick that is connected to the internet. “We do have an ongoing promotion where you can receive three months of either free Netflix, Hulu or TFC,” states an email from IT&E. (GTA Teleguam declined to provide comments for this story.)
Cable television is traditionally a working family leisure escape, but many young to middle aged-adults share a similar story, basically, that cable is now something that their grandparents or parents still pay for. Children no longer fight with their parents to watch programs on the family TV. They’re in their bedroom or elsewhere, watching whatever they want, without any input from their elders.
According to Deloitte’s survey, in the United States, 50 is the new 20 age when it comes to media demographics. The younger generation is willing to pay for more targeted and less expensive online subscriptions rather than a full cable service. It is a trend that is mirrored in cultures all over the world.
The old stick to the things they know and the young adapt to the new. Most seniors enjoy sitting on the couch and watching some daytime movies as they enjoy retirement. Or sometimes it is just something that they are used to having, and they’re accustomed to paying for it. Of course, for many other age demographics, not only are TV bundles expensive, but having the time to fully appreciate 100 plus channels while working and whatnot is not feasible.
In many households, an internet bill is preferable to the cable bill, due to the number of electronic devices that can connect to WiFi.
The cable television providers here on Guam will likely survive because of their other services—notably as internet providers—but the demographic that is watching conventional TV on Guam is one that is inevitably aging. And this is reflected with the numerous advertisements we now see on our electronic devices.
The recent election cycle has shown the shift of focus of where that ad money goes and traditional TV providers will have a hard time adjusting to that and to a world in which portable devices and tablets or whatever else is to come are dominant. Paying for cable TV may eventually be seen as a relic of the past.