Monday, February 2, 2015

CC103 : What Freedom Looks Like

Some advocates of Cord Cutting promote the notion that Americans need to go on a severe TV diet--just turn the thing off. Get a life. Read. Garden. Golf, which with current cable prices looks increasingly affordable. These are all good, but they are more about Ditching TV more than Cutting the Cord.

With Cord Cutting there will be some change in WHAT you watch and this may dissuade you from making the move but in many cases the biggest change will be how you access what you like to watch. Oh, and how much you pay. There are two ways* most Cord Cutters get their boob tube fix: Over The Top (OTT) and Over The Air (OTA).

OTT services are delivered over the internet to PCs, boxes and sticks, Smart TVs and other players. Most folks, at least those under forty are familiar with services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Amazon, YouTube (it's not just cat videos), Google Play. Some free, some subscription, some pay per view but all cheaper than cable. More esoteric OTT streamers include NASA, Weather Underground, many public broadcast stations, and some local tv stations (mostly news). More recently major broadcast networks are streaming content at no cost and opening some of that content to anyone regardless of whether or not they also subscribe to cable. The real game-changer is currently in Beta. Sling TV is poised to offer a no-contract, $20/month streaming service with much of the most popular content including ESPN, ESPN2, Disney, ABC Family, TNT, HGTV and the Food Network. For $5/month more you can add addition content popular with children or some of the next most popular offers including Bloomberg, CNN and HLN.

Incumbent pay TV services cannot fathom the business model underpinning these new media companies even to the point of predicting the failure of Netflix when they first started. This goes beyond business model to something more fundamental. Cable is a broadcast medium and broadcasters are accustomed to showing you what they want you to watch, when they want you to watch it.

Netflix (to pick on just one) has built its business around providing you what you want to watch, when and wherever you want to watch it for a fixed subscription fee and without commercials.  Sounds like TV heaven. This has many business benefits but also includes a significant knock-on effect for viewers: Netflix knows what YOU like to watch and they use that to get more programming that you will enjoy. Cable companies use Nielsen ratings to set advertising prices and while that does correlated to what you want to watch, it is "you" in general and you are probably not even a "Nielsen Family," are you? Because Netflix knows what you like, and in some cases how much you like it, Netflix is well armed in content negotiations. They will also tell you about new content they think you will want to watch and most times they are spot on.

Over The Air is olde school. Broadcasters still have powerful transmitting towers (just not in your backyard :) so when you're watch Fox 5 using an antenna you'll see exactly what your neighbor with XFinity sees only you'll see it a bit earlier and have a much better picture. You'll be screaming Gooaaaallll!!! before he sees the kick and when he comes over investigate he is not going to believe that is the same seven year old plasma he was laughing at last week when he was showing of that new UHD OLED. As you are probably aware antenna-TV is now digital (except for a few low power stations in the boondocks) which means a beautiful picture when the signal is strong and some pretty bad macro-blocking when it isn't. Think "satellite TV in a thunderstorm". In daVille we are pretty lucky as we have a clear shot (line of sight is always best) to the antenna farm south and a bit east of here.

So if you like watching what someone else wants you to on their schedule you are one antenna away from about thirty channels of cable quality programming and another thirty or so of crap. And growing. You will also find some of the stars who made Food Network and HGTV popular have gone to or back to Public TV. You never saw Jacques Pepin on Food Fight Network and Mind of a Chef is only on PBS. OTA is a lot more than it was when you ditched that last set of rabbit ears and paid to have that old Curtis Mathis hauled away.

So don't let the fear that cable is the only way to get quality (and crappy) content keep you chained to that high bill. There is a lot of content out there from other sources including quite a few that show up on cable.

* We're not going to cover BitTorrent and other technologies used by folks who are downloading and sharing pirated content. Because it is illegal.