In researching the latest developments in the wonderful world of television, especially the ongoing flurry of devices intended to replace or supplement cable and satellite TV service, I keep coming across one overriding issue: How many people have really “cut the cord” on cable and satellite and moved entirely (or at least mostly; after all, you can still get some broadcast stations for free) to getting their TV fix online? And how many will dump their regular TV service once some of these devices get out widely into the market?
There are certainly lots of choices already. First there are so-called “over-the-top” devices such as Roku, Boxee, Apple TV, and, increasingly, game machines such as Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox. Then there are streaming video services such as Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand. A few companies, such as Sezmi and (let’s not forget) Tivo offer both a box and a service to go along with it. Not least, there’s Google TV, embedded so far in devices such as Logitech‘s Revue and in a Sony Blu-ray machine plus a line of Sony TVs, that is something of a middleman offering a universal content guide, not replacing cable or broadcast TV or your DVR (yet) but blurring the line between them and Internet content.
Meantime, there is some anecdotal evidence that cord-cutting, cord shaving, and never-connected-the cord are real. Some 56 million Americans, a third of the online adult population, have shifted more than half their video viewing to non-live video content, according to an October 2010 study by SAY Media, comScore, and TRU. About 20% of those people are watching less TV than they did a year ago; half subscribe to Netflix.
And that may be just the start. Strategy Analytics says its September 2010 survey of 2,000 Americans indicates 13% of them plan to cut the cable in the next 12 months. Another study in October by Wedbush Securities of 2,500 Americans found that 7% of them had stopped basic cable service and 15% had cut premium services, while only 2% cut Internet service–a possible indication that they’re watching more video online. In the next year, more than a fifth of households making less than $50,000 a year plan to cut the basic-cable cord, according to Wedbush’s survey.
But there’s also abundant evidence that it’s still a very small phenomenon. Nielsen reported in September that 115.9 million U.S. households had TVs for the 2010-11 broadcast season, up 1 million from the previous year. According to market researcher SNL Kagan, cable lost 711,000 subscribers in the second quarter, and even the 495,000 gained by telcos and satellite operators left a net 216,000 deficit–compared with a gain of 378,000 the year before. But SNL Kagan attributed much of that drop to the economy and to last year’s broadcast digital transition, which prompted more people to opt for cable service. And in Comcast’s third quarter, some 275,000 people dropped its service, a lot more than the 189,000 analysts had expected. But both of those are very small numbers next to the more than 100 million American households that subscribe to cable or satellite service.
So what’s your take? Have you cut the cord and gone to Netflix, Hulu Plus, pirate sites, or, say, reading books? Never had cable or satellite? Or alternatively, you can’t live without cable because you simply must have your real-time Project Runway or Mad Men fix, or your husband would divorce you if he couldn’t get ESPN? I’m interested in your own experiences, and intentions, so feel free to comment and/or drop me an email at robert.hof (AT) gmail.