Gizmodo Completely Misses The Point Of Cord Cutting
from the missing the forest for the trees dept
Roughly every month or so I’ll see a story proclaiming that cord cutting is a bad idea because you need to subscribe to multiple services to mirror the same overall volume of content you receive from pay TV. There are a few problems with that logic, first being that cord cutters aren’t looking to precisely duplicate cable TV. They’re looking to get away from paying a small fortune for hundreds of unwatched channels, including an ocean of religious programming, infomercials, whatever the Weather Channel is up to these days, and C-grade channels focused on inherently inane prattle.
Writers of these pieces always seem to forget that broadcasters dictate the pricing of content on both platforms, so any surprise that the pricing of television remains somewhat high (when you pile on multiple streaming services) is just kind of silly. All told, “cord cutting is really expensive when I subscribe to every streaming service in the known universe” is just a weird narrative that just keeps bubbling up across various media outlets despite not really making much sense.
The latest example is a recent piece over at Gizmodo by Matt Novak that proudly proclaims that “cord cutting isn’t a bargain any more” when you sign up for a pile of different streaming services:
“So, let’s see, if you pay for Hulu Plus (which is now just Hulu, since they’re dropping their free tier) that sets you back about $8 per month. And if you go subscription free that’s $12 per month. And Netflix is another $10. And HBO Now is another $15. And obviously you’re going to get the new commercial free CBS, so that’s $10 per month. What are we up to? About $47 before tax? And then you toss on your high-speed internet bill, which you’re probably paying to the cable company anyway. Yeah, this whole cordcutter thing sounds like it liberated consumers alright, doesn’t it?
And that’s it. Pretty much Gizmodo’s entire argument is that because the author had to pay $47 for four streaming services, cord cutting isn’t a bargain and can’t be taken seriously. But compared to traditional cable, that’s not really a bad deal. Novak also appears to ignore that countless people save a significant amount of money when they decide to trim back their programming lineup or cut the cord entirely. As such, it was entertaining to watch users over at Reddit quickly and repeatedly point out how much money they’ve saved by moving on from traditional cable:
And it’s worth pointing out that these consumers are still saving money despite every effort by the broadcast and cable industry to make cord cutting as difficult as possible, whether that’s via restrictive licensing agreements, lawsuits intended to deter innovation, or the use of usage caps to otherwise penalize users who try and leave the legacy TV pasture. The entire point of cord cutting is the flexibility to mix and match various services to craft the precise lineup of content you want, something the cable industry continues to pay empty lip service to via “skinny bundles” saddled with obnoxious fees and caveats.
The cable industry has a long, proud history of advertising one rate, then socking consumers with a significantly higher bill thanks to hardware rental costs and various other fees. That’s something correctly pointed out by Jared Newman, who apparently found Gizmodo’s narrative as tiring as I did:
“Cable TV might seem cheap when you first sign up, but that’s only because you’re getting a short-term promotional deal, and the advertised price rarely factors in hardware rental and other hidden costs, such as regional sports fees and broadcast retransmission fees. Keeping your payments down requires constant vigilance, and you’ll never actually pay the advertised rate anyway.”
There’s also a weird tendency among TV beat writers to act as if piracy doesn’t exist just because it’s not formally sanctioned by the United Nations or Homeland Security as a legal and accepted way to obtain content. But reality doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to magically eliminate discussing piracy as an avenue for consumer cost savings when discussing the pay TV landscape just because it’s naughty. Many cord cutters pirate because the cable industry refuses to give them the flexibility and pricing they want. That doesn’t somehow mean piracy isn’t a legitimate competitor for consumer affections and shouldn’t be discussed when analyzing cost savings.
If there’s a problem with the streaming model, it’s one that Gizmodo almost accidentally stumbles into. Namely that broadcaster licensing has increasingly fractured streaming content availability, forcing users to hunt and peck between multiple services to find the content they’re looking for, something that’s only going to increase as broadcasters exclusively offer their own content via their own services. That’s incredibly confusing for the consumer, especially given the frequency with which content disappears as licensing periods expire. Ultimately this confusion will only make piracy more attractive.
And yes, consumers in the future will likely have to pay even more as more and more ISPs turn to usage caps to simultaneously cash in on a lack of competition while protecting legacy TV revenues. But that’s not somehow the fault of cord cutting as a concept. Cord cutting may not be for everybody (especially sports viewers), but it’s a very organic response to an aggressively inflexible pay TV sector that absolutely refuses to compete on price despite the obvious writing on the wall. So yes, ¯(ツ)/¯ indeed.