In Defense of Cutting the Cord on Conventional Cable Television

All the way back in the deep, dark and distant past that is the year 2007, I graduated college. Having done that, I was off to find my first big-boy job that would undoubtedly and inevitably provide me with little-man money. That anemic monetary compensation, coupled with an immense backlog of previously unheard podcasts that I had built up on my iPod, ultimately forced me to consider the following: How much do I really need a cable television package?

The answer? Not all that much. I’m a sucker for television on DVD, anyways, and after a friend of mine let me in on the secret (at the time) that was Netflix, I ultimately opted against having to pay a somewhat large amount of money every month for a set of channels that I didn’t really have the time to watch, anyways. Fast-forward to today. With the exception of a stint living with a couple guys who coveted their own personal television time for a few months — thus forcing me to pitch in on combining our funds for a set of channels that I hardly ever utilized — I can say that for the majority of the last five years, I have been cable-less. In fact, I’ve even gone as far as taking to the blogosphere to follow the rapidly growing world of Internet television at my current day job, just to try and spread the gospel of a life filled with cord-cutting. 

It’s not that I’m oblivious to the world around me. My Netflix subscription continues to help quench my television and movie-watching thirst as well as any TNT or USA movie marathon ever could, and the rise in popularity of such Internet-based television content providers as Hulu, Amazon or iTunes — not to mention the countless bootlegged streams that one can seemingly access anywhere at any time — has undoubtedly helped make my cause infinitely easier.

But little did I know that when I set out to take on the world of conventional television watching five years ago, I would be on to a trend that would ultimately prove to be more and more common with each passing click of a mouse or tear of a Comcast bill. Watching television online isn’t just a matter of practicality these days — it’s an entire world that has transformed from an underground niche into a swiftly growing entity that companies are now developing strategies to try and profit from. The more and more people grow wary of cable bills, the more appealing ditching traditional television consumption appears to be.

For example, a research firm called the NPD Group released a study earlier this month that found the total amount of paid television subscribers in America decreased within the most recently studied quarter to 100.9 million customers. That number is down from 101.4 million users during the previously studied quarter. That might not sound like much to you now, but if the decline continues at this rate, we’ll see that total dip below 100 million before the year’s end, which would be significant, considering how long the act of watching television has utterly ruled popular culture.

Maybe even more intriguing is the study’s conclusion that based on the average TV bill reaching $86 in 2011 throughout the US — an average increase of six percent per year — the typical consumer’s cable television bill for a middle-of-the-road TV package could possibly reach $200 by the year 2020. 


What makes such a notion even more complicated (if not fascinating) is the constant barrage of Web-specific programming that companies seem to be developing by the minute. Just last week, Hulu announced plans to broadcast The Awesomes, an animated series from Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Meyers, in 2013. The series will reportedly take a look at the backstage life of an SNL staffer. Think of it as a cartoon version of 30 Rock without Tina Fey. Or Alec Baldwin. Or humans. (“Hulu announces new superhero animates series from SNL’s Seth Meyers”, Washington Post, 19 April 2012)

Perhaps more compelling is the fact that such an announcement was made at Hulu’s upfronts. Yes. You read that correctly. Content-based websites are now holding their own meetings aimed at previewing programs for potential advertisers. Strange, isn’t it? It seems like just yesterday that these types of meetings were reserved for only the biggest players in television — ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX (and, of course, Jimmy Kimmel’s now-annual takedown of his own network).

Actually, The Awesomes doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on Hulu’s foray into original Internet television programming. We Got Next, a live-action series centered around playing pick-up basketball directed by Danny Leiner of Harold & Kumar fame is set to come to the site later this year while Flow, a fantasy show based on parkour (no joke) is in the works to begin airing soon. This, of course, is in addition to Battleground, a political mockumentary that began in February, the previously announced A Day In The Life and Up To Speed, a six-part documentary travel series from Richard Linklater.

Then there’s Netflix, quite possibly the most celebrated destination of them all. The much-talked-about House of Cards, David Fincher’s take on the BBC political thriller starring Kevin Spacey, is set to debut by the end of 2012. And regardless of if its star/producer power falls flat, the Red Enveloped Machine has already signed on for at least 26 episodes of the drama, like it or not. Meanwhile, Lillyhammer, which released all of its eight episodes at once on Netflix, began on 6 February in North America and has already been picked up for a second season, though production may take a while, considering the show’s star, Steven Van Zandt, is currently on tour with Bruce Springsteen. Even so, the series got off to a quick start, setting a record in Norway when it first aired in January, attracting almost one million viewers on its initial night, a number good enough for about one-fifth of the country’s population.

And despite all these examples being fine illustrations of exactly how prominent Internet television has become in recent years, we still have yet to get to the industry’s biggest get: Arrested Development. The cult classic, canceled-much-too-soon story of the dysfunctional Bluth family made waves last year when it announced its intention (for real, this time!) of reuniting for a string of episodes and subsequent movie. Those waves were then turned to tsunamis when Netflix outbid Showtime to become the official home of Mitchell Hurwitz’s masterpiece’s next chapter. 

Production on the episodes is set to begin in the coming months and an air date is slated for sometime in 2013. Last week, the show made news yet again with the announcement of its intention to release all ten episodes at once on the most popular streaming service around. “There’s going to be some mystery sprinkled throughout this”, Hurwitz said last week at a National Association of Broadcasters Netflix event in Las Vegas, “(but) instead of watching one a week and (to) try to get ahead of it, the hope is (fans) will watch them all together and then go back and look for clues and connections”. Even more provocative is the off-handed statement the show’s creator made regarding a possible fifth and sixth season that would also be released on Netflix. But considering how the AD crew has a history of loving to flirt with ideas that make fanboys and fangirls salivate, we’ll refrain from allowing ourselves to get too excited at such a possibility. (“‘Arrested Development’ sequel details: All on Netflix, all on one day: Favorite people”, Oregon, 20 April 2012)

For now.

Ahhh, but you see, such is the world of Internet television these days — the possibilities are endless. With more and more big names attaching themselves to projects aimed to be released exclusively online, the more enticing it becomes to finally say goodbye to a traditional cable television package once and for all. Kevin Spacey. Seth Myers. David Fincher. The entire Arrested Development crew. Even Tom Hanks has thrown his hat into the mix with Electric City, an animated production that debuted at this year’s South By Southwest gathering and is set to air this summer on (“‘Electric City’ to join charge of animated shows onto Internet”, by Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times, 3 April 2012)

It all ads up to the following: Cutting the cord, so to speak, has become a practice that is far more realistic now than, say, five years ago, when I, for one, initially opted against throwing money at a cable television company. The same principles behind that particular decision have only intensified in recent years, not only because of a desire to save a few extra bucks, but also because of how watered down and formulaic popular television has become. The obsession with reality TV has done the industry as a whole no favors whatsoever, and the continuous use of DVR technology has all but killed the notion of appointment viewing. All told, there hasn’t been a more comfortable time to eliminate the cost of our personal cable television packages from our always-increasing collection of monthly bills.

It’s efficient. It’s practical. It’s convenient. And especially now more than ever, it’s logical. The practice of cutting the cord for good has always been an idea coupled with the phrase “That’s the future.” Well, considering the massive steps taken by content providers to develop original programming, the slowly-but-surely decline in conventional cable TV package numbers and the attention such a game-changing innovator as Apple has been paying to the growth in the industry’s popularity (a proper Apple television is rumored to be in the works with a release date coming sooner than later), it’s safe to say that the following has only recently become unquestionably clear: The future is now. 

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