In the middle of 2015, our household faced a dilemma that many families ultimately have to face: whether or not to keep cable television service. I was still only working part time in 2015, and money was tight. The year before, Comcast had offered us an upgrade on our services, promising that the great price would not go up drastically in the future. A year later, after a frustrating call with Comcast’s billing support, it turned out that it was not true, and the price went up almost $50 from one month to the next.
On examining the situation, and realizing how we as a family consumed media, we “cut the cord,” the common term for canceling cable television in favor of over-the-air broadcasts and subscription streaming services. This paper examines the trend of cutting cable, the pros and cons, and how the current generations and the future affect the trend.
The Trend of Cutting Cable
The current media environment is much different for home cable or satellite service now, with the rise of the internet, streaming media, and the costs involved. “Cutting the cord ̶ a marketing case”3 detailed exactly the cost problems that we as a family found, that the average cable television package is around $90 each month. Adding up the numbers, and comparing them with the benefits of having a cable subscription, ended up with the household finding out that the price is not worth it3. As a family, especially with two teenagers, we found that most of our media consumption came through streaming media. We were paying for a service we weren’t using, and the alternatives were far more useful.
Our consumption of media had changed as a family, with a combination of local broadcast stations, shorter videos online, and streaming services, and cable was no longer important. Receiving local television stations, including the important local news stations that we watched daily for weather updates, were all broadcast in HD openly and free to get with a $50-$100 receiver2. The television shows that we watched were few and far between, thanks to missing certain vital episodes, so we had already started watching older episodes on the streaming services. Many of those episodes were watched on a varying number of devices as well, from our tablets, phones, laptops, and only occasionally the television. With that access no longer needed, and with such few channels of interest among hundreds anyway, cutting the cable service was an easy decision.
Cutting the cord has not been without drawbacks. Much of social media revolves around the “water cooler” talk, as people jump online during or right after a live broadcast to talk about what happened. Most of the shows we watched were typically a season behind, and were spoiled a long time ago. Some programs are never streamed, or take years before they finally are. The recent television series Person of Interest, for example, had never been streamed anywhere online until six months after the series ended its run. Not only with television shows, but many sports or live events are also not streamed. For those that want to watch a live game, cutting the cord may not be an option.
The Younger Generation
When cutting off cable, part of the decision rested with our two teenagers. As two people in our 40’s, my wife and I were thinking more from a financial side than a usage side, and their opinion was important. People over the age of 35 tended to watch live television or a recording1, and we felt we needed to find out how the younger generation would inform our decision. Both of them replied that they never watched live television, everything they watched came from YouTube or a streaming service.
Those answers were the same ones found in research polls, where millenials and younger generations tend to cut cable more often, if they ever had a cable subscription at all1. The teenagers were more concerned that they had access when they wanted to have it, for their specific style of shows, and live broadcasts were not that important to them. They watched on their devices, and wanted the control to watch what and when they were ready to, and not have to schedule their day around a broadcast.
Media Theories Fitting the Streaming Trend
One of the problems facing cable and entertainment industries is that, when they are owned by the same companies, programming diversity can fall flat. Comcast is the largest cable firm in the U.S., and also owns many cable networks including USA Network, NBC, Oxygen, and many others4. The homogenization hypothesis is when only a small number of people are enjoying the same, or very similar, broadcast products4. With the consolidation of media ownership, like the Comcast empire, the hundreds of available stations end up showing the same things. Modern audiences can cut the cord, and find their own unique content instead of facing an antiquated, homogenized model.
Users cutting the cord and finding their own content defy technological determinism as well, opening up the theory of social construction of media technologies. The theory of social construction is the social processes that determine how technology is used, and that people have varied options in how to use media and technology4. Social activity has changed the approach to cable subscriptions and live broadcast television, and the social construction theory can be observed in how people are using streaming content in their own way, redefining not only cable services and technologies, but streaming media as well.
Predictions for the Future
We live in interesting times when it comes to predicting what will happen with cable services and the internet. The new Trump administration has said many times that they intend to roll back most of the rules put in place by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under President Obama, including net neutrality and a strong trend against media mergers5.
Net neutrality rules stop broadband services from blocking or discriminating against websites and other services, as an example not allowing Comcast to block or impede video streaming coming from Netflix’s servers5. With those rules gone, the future of the internet might lie in those who can afford their sites to run, and with enough fees could destroy sites like YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Consumers could be forced back into a cable subscription if streaming services cannot afford to offer content on demand due to exorbitant costs.
If the current FCC approach of stopping large media mergers is removed under the Trump administration, then a ten year cycle would see even less diversity in programming. As larger companies own more and more media, content would become even more homogenized. When combined with higher fees for internet traffic based on the loss of net neutrality, the unique voices and sites we enjoy today will be gone, replaced with whatever the highest bidder, with the most content, wants us to see. It would be a disaster for the free internet, and if net neutrality is removed then ten years in the future would look bleak and colorless.
As a family, we found that canceling cable television in favor of over-the-air broadcasts and subscription streaming services saved us money in the end, and allowed us to control how, where, and when we watched video. Cable television has increasingly become homogeneous, and as social methods drive more generations away from cable subscriptions, streaming takes over more audience share. Those technologies are in jeopardy with a new presidential administration, however, and the potential loss of net neutrality could undermine the social construction that has been seen so far. The next few years will determine how the cable services, and an ever content-hungry society, will manage in the future.
- Chulkov, D., & Nizovtsev, D. (2015). Bundling, cord-cutting and the death of tv as we know it. Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies, 21(5), 27-33.
- Clearstream. (n.d.). Clearstream 2v long range hdtv antenna. Retrieved from https://www.antennasdirect.com/store/ClearStream_2V_UHF_VHF_Indoor_Outdoor_DTV_Antenna_With_Mount.html
- Crawford, J. E. (2016). Cutting the cord ̶ a marketing case: an examination of changing tv viewership. Atlantic Marketing Journal, 5(2), 137-149.
- Croteau, D. & Hoynes, W. (2012). Media/society: Industries, images, and audiences (5th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
- Pressman, A. (2016). Obama fcc chair resignation starts clock ticking on net neutrality rollback. Fortune.com. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2016/12/15/obama-fcc-chair-resignation-starts-clock-ticking-on-net-neutrality-rollback/