I remember the days of watch parties. When the whole family or group of friends got together to watch the popular shows of the time. My first ever watch party was for the series finale of M*A*S*H. It was an ending that I wasn’t expecting and was a bit sad, but the experience of watching it with others is what sticks with me.
Whenever people reminisce about the “good old days” before technology became so ubiquitous, the simplicity of cable TV always comes up.
Today, while I look back to those days with nostalgia, I realize there’s not a lot of freedom with cable TV. First, you can’t easily choose when you watch your content. If you have an unplanned event and have to turn the TV off, you’ll miss it. Sure, you can record it for later, but the process is a hassle and services like DVR and TiVo entail additional cost. With streaming services, you can simply watch the show on your own time and if you’re interrupted, you can pause and return days or even weeks later to pick up where you left off.
Secondly, you can’t choose which content you pay for. You may only watch a handful of channels, but you still must pay for the ones you don’t. Now you can pick the streaming service that has the shows and movies that interest you.
These restrictions, combined with the rising cost of cable, make the alternative of streaming video content online more desirable.
Anyone with their ear to the ground will tell you cable is on the way out and over-the-top (OTT) services and the internet are taking over. Cable service is now on the decline. Today, the competition for viewership is fierce between OTT services like Netflix, Hulu and Prime Video. Even media companies like HBO that enjoyed huge revenues from cable have entered the game by launching their own OTT platforms.
According to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults released this year, the share of Americans who watch TV via cable or satellite has dropped from 76 percent in 2015 to 56 percent. Some 71 percent of those who do not use cable or satellite services say it’s because they can access the content they want online, while 69 percent say the cost of cable and satellite services is too high.
Mobile connectivity has increased over the years, allowing viewers to watch their favorite content anywhere. Smart TVs that have streaming apps built-in and other streaming devices like the Roku Streaming Stick are becoming more affordable and advanced, bringing together the traditional viewing experience and current demand for streaming content.
All you need now is an affordable internet plan like BEAM Home Internet (which can be bundled with an unlimited mobile plan for additional savings) and one or two subscriptions to OTT services.
The decline of cable TV began slowly. First, the marketplace became saturated, as almost every household had cable. Then, subscriber rates began to creep up. When Netflix entered the scene and offered more affordable rates for more content, the fate of cable TV was sealed.
As recently as the 2010s, cable television was doing quite well. Popular shows at the time were “Sons of Anarchy,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” “Burn Notice” and “The Closer,” all which aired on cable TV.
Then Netflix arrived and other platforms like Hulu began popping up and gaining popularity.
Some companies saw the writing on the wall and began to act. In 2016, media company Time Warner was sold to AT&T for more than $100 billion including debts and in 2017, Fox’s assets were sold for more than $70 billion to Comcast and Disney. The top execs at the time anticipated that the assets would lose value.
To further illustrate how cable TV has lost its financial value, AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 for a reported $49 billion. Now the selling price could be as little as one-third of what was paid just six years earlier.
Meanwhile, the streaming business is booming.
Netflix, whose basic service costs $8.99 monthly, has approximately 208 million subscribers worldwide.
Network TV started their own streaming services to adapt. Cable TV is no longer the bread and butter of these entertainment conglomerates, but a single piece in their larger business plan.
Warner Media’s HBO Max, which was launched in 2020 and charges $14.99 monthly, reported 64 million subscribers globally in the first quarter of 2021.
Major players in the media industry are positioning themselves to take advantage of the demand for content.
Roku, which specializes in digital media players that stream movies directly to television and dabbles in its own streaming service with The Roku Channel, acquired original content from Quibi. The company rebranded the content and launched Roku Originals in February 2021.
Statistics and business news aside, it makes sense that subscribers would gravitate toward a more streamlined and affordable option for content. Why pay for separate services when you can pay for one service that allows you to do all the things you want and need? With internet, not only can you stream video content, but you can also browse the web and social media, complete school assignments, work, take advantage of telemedicine, and more. It’s the ultimate all-in-one.
OTT services offer content, prices and benefits that cable TV just can’t beat.
There are several streaming services that are free, such as The Roku Channel, NBC’s Peacock and Sony Crackle.
Customers get a personalized experience with OTT and internet. Instead of purchasing the bundle with tens of other channels that they never watch-- viewers can select the platform that has the content they like and the platform will also make suggestions based on their viewing habits.
All of that, plus the option to skip ads.
As media companies compete for a slice of the pie, customers will continue to reap the benefits. They’ll get quality content and enjoy low subscription costs, in addition to the joys of on-demand content.
In addition, demand for online content drives network improvements and expansion. The more people use the internet, the more telecoms will work to maintain and improve the network to offer faster, more reliable internet in more places.
I subscribe to all the popular streaming services, and the one I recommend, especially for those who enjoy the traditional cable TV experience, is FuboTV.
With FuboTV, I can watch sports and the news live. FuboTV also streams live cable programming and DVR. It provides the same functionalities as cable TV, with more news channels than service providers, at a much lower price of just $64.99 a month for the basic plan.
It’s hard to picture cable TV as a part of the future of content consumption.
Young viewers are not attracted to cable TV’s linear programming. Though they still enjoy content from networks like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, they stream them on OTT platforms or on YouTube.
Streaming services are already looking at ways to innovate and provide new experiences to keep the viewers coming back. Netflix has experimented with interactive content, where the viewer can choose actions and dialogue in a show.
The most notable are the standalone episode of “Black Mirror” titled “Bandersnatch,” for adults, and “Minecraft: Story Mode,” which is popular among children.
Amazon is trying to make TV shoppable. Prime Video launched “Making the Cut,” a fashion competition show where viewers can purchase the designs instantly while they are watching.
While the watch party as we once knew it may never return, the new era of home entertainment is exciting. There’s a lot of room for creativity and innovation. We can still bond with loved ones over an exciting plot twist or a touching TV moment. The trick is to adapt and continue creating these moments with the new technology that is available.
—Jay R. Shedd is Chief Marketing Officer at IT&E, the largest wireless service and sales provider in Guam and the Marianas. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry.