If you’re of a certain age (ie…old…like me), you’ll remember TV before Cable. Back in the days when your only option was to receive the signal over the air from a local broadcasting station. If you remember that, you’ll also remember “rabbit ear” antennas, the good that liberal use of tinfoil could have on TV reception, and how standing in a certain place in relation to the TV could also improve reception.
It may be hard to believe, but Cable TV originated in 1948, in an effort to get TV reception in the mountainous areas of Arkansas, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, yet when Susie and I got married in 1979, and moved to 1 Firwood Road in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington, Cablevision had yet to wire the neighborhood. That means that we did our best to get a signal from NYC stations via a Radio Shack powered TV antenna, that resided in the top of our coat closet.
In 1981, when we bought our first house in New Hyde Park, the area had been wired by Cablevision, and we became cable customers for the first time! Nowhere near as sophisticated as what would follow, our cable box was two boxes, tethered together with about 20 feet of cord between. One box lived at the TV, and the other changed channels, though a series of push buttons. That was the beginning of our relationship with Cable TV, a relationship that continues to the present, with our monthly subscription to Comcast’s Xfinity service, here in Ocean City.
Over the years, that cable coming from the pole to your house has brought you more than just TV shows. After years of dial-up internet, and even DSL service via the phone company, the fastest and most dependable Internet service most of us get, is via the local cable provider. As the internet speed and quality delivered to your house improved, we learned about “streaming” movies and TV shows, and the various ways you get to watch movies. One of the earliest options in that regard was a service called Netflix.
Netflix was launched in 1997 as the world’s first online DVD-rental store, and in February 2007, the company delivered its billionth DVD via the mail, but at the same time, it’s business began to change shape. The move was away from delivery of DVDs via the USPS, and to on-demand viewing via the Internet. As the sales of DVDs fell, Netflix’s digital delivery business grew.
Over the years, as many consumers tried to cut back on the costs associated with Cable TV, another term was coined…”Cord Cutting”. Defined as, “The process of cancelling a cable or satellite subscription and getting TV shows and movies by other means. This typically involves switching to video streaming services that are accessed through the internet”. If you were willing to work a little more at your TV viewing, you could save some serious money over your existing cable bill.
One of those streaming services mentioned in the definition was our old friend Netflix. In the beginning, as a “Cord Cutter” it was easy, as so much was included in your monthly Netflix subscription. It was by no means the only option, but in it’s heyday, it had millions of TV titles and movies, and was exactly what the “Cord Cutter” needed. I know that when our daughter Krissi first moved to Astoria, with a line of sight view of the broadcast antenna atop the Empire State Building, a cheap Radio Shack antenna, a cable internet feed, and a Netflix subscription was all she needed to be part of the cord cutter revolution.
But times change, and in recent years, more and more titles have been removed from services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and others. Have you noticed the new trend in cable network’s marketing to cord cutters? I’m calling it Plus Networks, but it goes by many different names. HBO Max, Peacock, Hulu, Crackle, and the pluses…Disney+, Paramount+, Discovery+, ESPN +, etc. As more people abandoned Cable TV and just payed for an Internet connection every month, the cable networks perceived there was money to be made in streaming services. Where once you could pretty much see everything you wanted with a Netflix subscription, now you needed a phone book of subscriptions to see everything!
And how much exactly does having multiple subscriptions cost you? When I Googled that question, I found that there were literally hundreds of streaming services around. While there are a lot that seem to be very narrow focused, here’s a listing of the general services I recognized, and their cost:
Netflix ($8.99 to $15.99 per month)
Amazon Prime Video ($119 per year)
Hulu ($5.99 all the way up to $15.99 per month)
Apple TV+ ($4.99 per month)
Disney+ ($6.99 per month)
ESPN+ ($4,99 per month)
Peacock $4.99 per month)
CBS All Access – about to rebrand as Paramount+ ($5.99 per month)
Discovery+ ($4.99 per month)
HBO Max ($14.99 per month)
All of that is fine for the cord cutters among us, but what of us dinosaurs that still have a full Cable TV package?? I currently pay Comcast $286 for my Xfinity service. This includes Internet access, telephone, and cable service. I used to be able to watch HBO and other services that I paid for, via an app on my phone. I also used to be able to use the services on other Smart TVs or via an Amazon Fire or Roku device. At that point, having an Amazon Prime subscription and Netflix were icing on the cake, assuring me that I could watch virtually anything I wanted, anywhere I was. That’s now changing.
The cable channels have obviously found that there is money to be made even from people who do not pay for cable TV. Disney, CBS, NBC, and others, have decided that the profit from their programing belongs in their pockets, rather than Netflix or Amazon Prime’s, so much of the content that was available on these services originally is now available exclusively on their own streaming service. As I see it, two things are happening here. #1 – Those of us who are still paying for traditional cable TV, are now not seeing content that is being produced by the very channels that are part of our service we pay for. #2 – Folks who have already, or will soon join the Cord Cutters of the world, will no longer be able to get by with one or two generic streaming services, but will have to pay for a laundry list of new streaming services if they want to be able to approach the content that cable TV provides. How much money will they really be saving in the end?
In addition, as I guess an incentive to get people to sign up for the service, virtually every one of the new pay services is featuring “Exclusive Content” that is not available elsewhere. The CBS service features many original titles including The Good Wife continuation show, The Good Fight, and their library of Star Trek themed shows. ESPN+ advertises exclusive content including UFC events, MLB and NHL games, Boxing, International Soccer, as well as a number of original series. Over on Disney+ you get to see a virtual roster of Disney movies, behind the scenes shows, and many original series. One of the newest, Discover+, features exclusive content from their many networks including HGTV, Food Network, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, and even the new Magnolia Network with Chip and Joana Gaines. Lots of things that you’ll only see with a subscription to one of the services.
And what are consumers saying? Here’s a sampling of replies on a recent Facebook post by Food Network Chef Robert Irvine, promoting a new episode of his show Restaurant Impossible that’s only available on Discovery+:
“Well, I can’t watch them because I already pay for Food Network through cable and I’m not going to pay for it again through Discovery+”
“Never missed your show, even watch reruns, but not paying extra for Discovery+”
“It sucks that what used to be part of my cable package has now moved to a new platform. No Thank You. I hope Discovery goes bankrupt.”
“Buh-bye! No Discovery+ here. The value of Food Network, HGTV, DIY and others dropped last year when fewer new shows were produced, and our cable costs still went up. Now with a subscription scheme they want even more money from us.”
“Will miss the show. Not paying extra for Discovery+ just to watch it.”
“Miss being able to watch you. Ridiculous that we have to pay for another streaming service! Not your fault, but this is asking a lot from your fans.”
“Sorry not watching. Viewers being played big time here! Food Network or whoever is behind this Discovery+ must think we are all awfully stupid. You will lose viewers over this.”
Hmmm…they don’t sound happy.
You just knew it was a matter of time before the folks behind so many cable channels found a way to make more money off their current subscribers, and to find new customers as well. Welcome to the confusing world of home TV viewing in 2021!