Is Cable TV in a Losing Battle with Streaming Services?

With more than half of US households now subscribing to one or multiple streaming services, cable television providers are finding themselves in a losing battle for customers. 

One of cable’s biggest rivals, Netflix, offered more original programming than the entire cable TV industry in 2020 according to an article in Variety. Subscription video on demand (SVOD) and other streaming services buoyed by COVID-19 crisis shutdowns jumped into the battle for customers offering free trial periods and low cost monthly subscriptions (especially if you are willing to sit through a few commercials). These offers appealed to many, particularly those with nomadic lifestyles

On the heels of this wave of SVOD launches, with Apple, Disney, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal all entering the fray, conventional wisdom held that three was the limit per household. But with pay-TV continuing to fade from the scene, streaming is increasingly seen as a viable option given the ease of starting and stopping subscriptions and the lower cost compared with a full pay-TV package.

Cutting the Cord

Everybody has a smartphone and a data plan these days which makes taking your entertainment with you easy when you have multiple streaming service subscriptions. Your viewing options are not limited to your home television. Rather, you can watch your favorite TV episodes, news programs and sports on your phone, tablet or laptop, wherever you can get a signal, using either Wi-Fi or your phone data plan. You don’t have to remember to record them either as they are just waiting for you to view them in the cloud at your leisure, usually commercial free, depending on your subscription. 

“Young viewers, and kids in particular, don’t think in terms of channels anymore, and the tremendous cratering of linear ratings at Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network bears that out. Viewers are still watching those networks’ shows on streaming — when they’re not on YouTube or gaming platforms, of course. But the fact that Gen Z has no loyalty to cable whatsoever — and has no patience for commercials on TV — should sound plenty of alarm bells for anyone thinking about the business long term”.

Hollywood’s biggest stars from Ryan Reynolds to Reese Witherspoon have made the move to streaming services. Little Fires Everywhere, starring Witherspoon and critically acclaimed actor, Kerry Washington, streamed exclusively on Hulu and picked up several Emmy nominations. Reynolds starred in the Michael Bay blockbuster Six Underground. And the success of Bright on Netflix, starring Will Smith, has spawned a Bright 2, slated for release sometime in the next couple years (Smith’s schedule has been tough on the project). 

Big paychecks are luring the stars to the streaming world and bringing with it a large audience willing to cut the cable cord and go strictly with SVOD. The loss of live TV was a hindrance that kept many households connected to cable with streaming. But now Hulu, YouTube and other SVOD providers offer live TV packages (a list of the best according to Wired). You can now avoid FOMO while getting rid of cable with more movies, original programming and your old TV favorites than you can watch in a lifetime. 

Cable Fights Back

Niche channels like Food Network or Home and Garden TV (HGTV) had been experiencing a steady decline along with other unscripted programming but that changed with the pandemic and people trapped at home. Ratings spiked and cable outlets have started to shift back to cheaper unscripted programs like cooking shows, real estate fix and flips and the like.  

There is an older demographic that will hold on to cable because they have not fully embraced the digital age of wireless and smart technology. But that won’t be a big enough market and support pricey subscription packages which will continue to decline. 

Television of the Future 

Look for streaming services to become more immersive and interactive in order to distinguish themselves from the overwhelming number of choices. Personalized packages will probably become the norm specific to the individual, unlike cable where you have to buy a package to get a few premium channels and end up paying for dozens you don’t watch. 

The Disney, Hulu, ESPN bundle is already available and utilizing technology to harvest user data. As a result consumers will be able to have the exact programming they want without channels or content they have no interest in.

Going farther, Netflix offered an interactive episode of Black Mirror where viewers’ choices affected the plot and outcome of the story. The Cut on Amazon Prime is a fashion competition with the winning pieces immediately available for purchase. 

“We’re well on our way to the future of TV. With changes in viewer preferences and new technology, especially driven by the growth of streaming services, TV will soon be nearly unrecognizable from what it was just a few decades ago.” ~ Blake Morgan, Forbes.  

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