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Column: TV Cord-Cutters Are Not the Enemy

I have a mission for the new year. It’s to use this column and other forums to help media companies understand why consumers cut the cord from their cable or satellite television service and choose instead to rely on broadband-powered video to watch their TV shows.

Here’s why this matters: Because the responses I’ve received in the last three months of living the untethered lifestyle tells me there is a non-trivial population of TV lovers who want media companies to evolve and better meet their needs as cord-cutting consumers who don’t have cable but still live and die by the programs they love.

In fact, I’ve even enlisted my Twitter friends and followers in developing a wish list for 2009 for practitioners of the broadband-powered video diet.

But before I get to that, I want to address some concerns readers and friends have expressed about my cable-free experiment over the last few months. When I first ditched my cable service in October, I received a number of comments, Twitter messages and e-mails asking how, as a reporter at a magazine called TelevisionWeek, I could give up my cable service.

Let me set the record straight here. I love entertainment and have had a longstanding love affair with movies, television shows and books. From “Family Ties” to “L.A. Law” to “Seinfeld” to “Grey’s Anatomy,” falling for a TV show is part of who I am.

When I dropped my cable service, it wasn’t because I’d grown bored with the programs. I did it to see if there was a better way to watch TV—a cheaper way, a cooler way, a hipper way.

And it’s because I believe in and love television and movies and entertainment that I want to help media companies tap into the mind of the cord-cutter.

Media companies are painfully aware that they need to adapt to the changing consumer. While cord-cutters might be the avant-garde today, they’ll be mainstream when our kids grow up. A better understanding of what they want, how they watch TV and whether they skip ads can help networks, studios, even cable and satellite operators stay relevant, and maybe even a step ahead.

That’s why I asked my Twitter and Facebook friends who have or want to cut the cord for their wish list for a cable-free lifestyle. Here’s what they said:

“I want Mac Mini/Apple TV baby called the Mac TV to allow free over-air TV and full access to all U.K. online video services.”

“TV syndication via RSS feeds (think podcasts of prime time)”.

“Better access to the shows/channels I watch at an affordable rate. I'm thinking mainly sports here.”

“There needs to be a reliable source for reviewing/rating/referring people to Web shows.”

“I also want HBO shows, Showtime shows, BBC shows. Choice basically to create my own menu.”

“We need a better way to aggregate the content we like from various distributors. And I’m not talking about a box.”

“Centralized live sports streaming would be nice.”

“I want a truly networked home entertainment system.”

Thanks to @creativebloke, @andybeach, @influxx, @FilmTruth, @Alex_Veloz, @teamstclair and @alexandergordon!

Comments (16)

Marketing Observer:

It is completely understandable why consumers want to have favorite shows available when and where they want. But, someone has to pay for the shows. TV is a business. Perhaps you should focus some of your attention on the economics as well as the obvious.

Why do you call it 'cord cutting'? That seems to apply to wireline phones.

WriterGuy:

I, too, want to watch television differently. But at least for now, digital won't work for me, and for at least 30 million other Americans. My wife is deaf and relies on closed captioning to enjoy broadcasts. Sadly, while captions are required for all television broadcasts (including cable and satellite), there is no regulation covering new media. What a waste. The result is you can watch Gray's Anatomy with captions on ABC, but the captions are missing when you watch ABC.com and all the other download services.

The digital outlets blame the networks, the networks blame the producers, the producers blame the digital services. But the truth is no one wants to take the time to make sure captions are simply included when they convert the programming.

What a waste of technology.

Cord cutting? I don't see how.

All that Daisy has done, and what many others are doing, is switched from one kind of 'cord' to another. The sources, for the most part, are still the same; traditional broadcast networks.

As noted, the real issue is the economics. One way or the other, someone has to foot the bill, or good programming will dry up and go away.

Another way to 'cut the cord', and still get the best TV available is to go with an antenna. Free over-the-air HDTV is available to pretty much everyone these days. With 7 (soon to be 8) OTA networks broadcasting HDTV, and an OTA DVR like the new DTVPal DVR from Dish, one can get a ton of high quality content, and all for free.

Mack Simmons:

Kevin, expecting Daisy to dig into the economics of TV production is like expecting Sean Penn to actually think about his support for Hugo Chavez. It's not going to happen. Daisy is a lifestyle convergence columnist and an evangelist for cord-cutting. This means intelligent thinking isn't her forte. If it was, she would be far more circumspect in her conclusions than she currently is.

Texas Tom:

I'll echo Ken's comments about free OTA HDTV -- it's a great service, with outstanding picture quality, all at the right price (free).

But I really don't see any reason why OTA and Internet television can't coexist. I certainly appreciate being able to use the Internet to supplement what I receive off-air. The challenge remains, however, for the media companies to offer programming online in forms and formats that are useful and convenient to the customer while still generating the revenue needed to produce the programming and turn a profit.

andy:

"intelligent thinking isn't her forte"

That's pretty damn rude, Mack. If you don't like it why don't you write something better? Or does your "intelligent thinking" only extend to leaving shitty little comments on other websites?

EmmGee-Ohio:

I tend to agree with the commentor, who had the deaf wife....

"Sadly, while captions are required for all television broadcasts (including cable and satellite), there is no regulation covering new media"

True, the ADA does not cover websites and their appendages. It clearly should! I believe that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is an extension of our constitution. It basically ensures that "all men are created equally"...or as closely as possible. This means that visually impaired, hearing impaired, and almost persons who cannot utilize the current and future services of a broadcast company.

These companies should be held accountable for not including disabled persons, in the American viewing habits possible. Everyone should be at an equal level. The ADA helps, if disabled people help themselves. But it takes action!

I'm totally surprised that the Ability Center of Greater Toledo hadn't been on this, like they were on it about persons not being able to use sidewalks...and riding in chairs down the road, such as in Sandusky, Ohio... with Kelly Dillary.

On another note... why are we so stupid to pay for something that's free? Currently, If you do not get and maintain DTV signals, you do have the non-local option of Hulu, abc.com, CBS's player, joost, etc. They are not charging a fee to watch or have access. TV programsd and news should not have a "TV TAX." That's the European Socialistic way of broadcasting, which does not give everyone a shot... hmmm back to "All men are created equal."

I wonder about what the new "subchannel networks" are going to do, when they start up this spring... I am speaking of "Dot 2" and MGM's "ThisTV", which require subchannel broadcast on DTV, to get the contract.

As for BBC, they do show shows... but not to non UK IP addresses. If you are in the UK, you can watch Touch me: I'm Karen Taylor, etc. On some sites, you can also watch classic UK gold shows, such as "Birds of a Feather", etc.

The time for America to get into the new millenium is now... but they need to make sure EVERYONE has access to it...and for free!

EmmGee-Ohio:

"I'll echo Ken's comments about free OTA HDTV -- it's a great service, with outstanding picture quality, all at the right price (free)."

"Texas Tom" has not looked "DTV reception" up on Youtube. He'd see what a glorious picture it really is... if you only get 15% of the signal and are clearly within range of DTV towers (9-13 miles for me). Don't tell me that it's a perfect picture... when too many things intrude with the picture, if you are not in a house and can erect an antenna outside. He should see it for himself!

jimobrien:

Having done the same experiment as Daisy two years ago for a year, I know inevitably you grow out of touch a little bit, and with tremendous respect and appreciation, I believe this is happening. I hope reflecting those who cut the chord isn't your focus for 2009 Daisy because it's such a tiny niche, made larger in your mindshare by feedback of so few people. Hope you return to full-screen high-bandwidth TV and intensely show the convergence. Some are doing a good job and we'd all learn. You're wonderful at your work. If you ditch OTA, your perspective will skew, and its not so much to the future as you think. With the horrible oligarchy the Bush admin formed in letting the local telco's buy the TV analog broadcast spectrum dominating all markets, and with the bandwidth & business constraints of Clearwire, the US will be stuck with local telco/cable price gouging and low bandwidth for decades. There's no other spectrum left. Hope you focus on the real world now - we all would benefit from your passionate exploration of the best initiatives and companies.

Boxee on AppleTV = what the future looks like.

Thanks for all the comments. To WriterGuy and Emm-Gee Ohio, you bring up great points about captioning and this is a topic I'd like to explore. I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on this area if you'd like to email me at daisywhitney@gmail.com

scriptdog:

Mininova + Vuze = Tivo for Free. Vuze has the RSS built in. A $10 connector plays your computer output to your 60 inch LCD or Plasma. You can save the connector fee by putting your computer in the position where your TV would normally sit (but then the screen might not be 60 inches). On Mininova (and the other sites similar to this) you can find all the BBC shows as well as anything else your heart/mind desires. And it's in no way NICHE. This is where traction begins. High percentage of Outliers, WOM evangelists, etc. Daisy, you are onto something cool.

Hi Daisy,

Just wanted to say hello and hope we get back in touch!

So I think the idea of people dropping their cable or satellite service is a response to these tough economic times. One person I know dropped everything and is just using a Roku NetFlix box for TV. Paying $90 a month for cable service is a lot of money. Paying $50 for broadband is easier to accept and allows you to download movies and TV shows.

I think the main difference is WHERE you watch. Are you watching on your TV in the living room? Or on your computer?

If your living room, you still need a box or something to connect your broadband connection to. For me, that means a Tivo, where I can get NetFlix, Amazon and YouTube, while still having access to my linear broadcast TV channels.

If you watch on your PC, it's easier since you don't need a box. It's probably more expensive since you'll have to download TV shows and movies on iTunes or from Amazon.

Most people still want to watch TV on their TV set. However convergence (melding PC and TV) is coming and it's heading to the TV.

Many analysts and marketers talk about the three screen approach to watching TV and the future of TV. There's the TV, PC and mobile devices. If you have a media player, that may count as another screen.

I wrote an article on the controversy about "lean back vs sit forward" on Technologizer. Check it out!

http://technologizer.com/2008/12/18/tv-today-its-still-about-lean-forward-vs-sit-back/

Thanks!

Jose

I haven't had cable for over 5 years and I revel in this fact because it has saved me lots of money and still allows me to watch tv with services like Hulu, Joost and others. I am mainly a podcast watcher but there are shows I can't miss like Colbert Report, Daily Show and the all-time best show ever, Entourage. I used to torrent shows do to my "cord-cutter" decision when there weren't such sites like Hulu but now there is no need. Money is still made for the media providers thanks to the ads on Hulu and the others but I don't have to be tied down to any certain time or day of when I have to watch something. I hate that and that is the main reason for my cord-cutting.

Media companies could easily ad online viewing to their revenue stream simply by teaming with Hulu like Viacom did or create their own for just there shows...but those that don't are missing out on a huge opportunity. I will probably never go back to cable subscriptions and the only thing I miss out on is Entourage..thank goodness for family with satellite. :)

I have cut the cable/satellite cord a while back. However, I do have a little tie to Netflix with a monthly fee. It is a very nice ad free supplement that provides shows and the hosting service/Netflix with ROI.

For me it isn't an either/or exclusive choice between sitting back or leaning forward.

I can sit back and enjoy the experience from my couch in a setup similar to this one: http://flickr.com/photos/85403057@N00/1336223649.

A PS3 is a good bridge with the option to play Bluray. I can sit forward from the best seat in the house and enjoy games from the PS3 or stand up and get active with the Wii (another potential bridge). I can watch from my computer. I can exercise and watch video from my elliptical in a way that lets me know if my heart rate is where I want it to be.(http://primetimeforchange.com/2008/10/biofeedback-entertainment-system.html). With my Iphone/laptop I can take entertainment/internet with me on the go.

My primary 2009 wish: A faster pipe to the internet. I live in a rural/remote area and am limited to wireless DSL (768k down/128k up). :(

Another 2009 wish: The ability to view flash enabled streaming content via the IPhone.

Yet another 2009 wish: Much like the features mentioned above, a centralized media center portal that bridges the gap between media content and devices/locations in a Slingbox type fashion.

The central service would have the ability to string together media content from various media sources (Hulu/Vuze/NBC/CBS/Fox/VH1/SCIFI/etc...) into playlist/TV type channels. This could be ad based (not too many though! :)) with credit/ROI going to the linked content sources or content surrounding the ads as well as the hosting central site. Ads could be targeted/matched to content the user added to their playlist/media/TV type channel. This could be combined with a Pandora type experience for movies/web/entertainment content.

One other option (over and against ad based ROI) would be to provide ROI via a monthly fee similar to Netflix. Come to think of it, Netflix would be a great company for this type of idea. Netflix embraces the long tail concept, and this type of idea would expand the long tail and take it to the next level.

J:

We have cut the cord at our house a few weeks ago. We mainly watch the primetime Fox and NBC stuff (hello, Hulu!) and Entourage (hello, other methods!). We use the Neuros Link to bring that content to our TV without any intermediate computers or connections have to be on in our house. It's really a great system - we also stream Pandora through the Link to our stereo system during parties, but that's not what this article is about. If we are able to watch the show over the air, it's DTV for us. We live in a condo and use an internal antenna on a new HD TV. It requires some fiddling occasionally, but generally works well. The amount we will save on cable TV this year will pay for both the new TV and the Link.

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