Cable, satellite and telco providers lost 216,000 subscribers last quarter, research firm SNL Kagan claims, the worst performance for these industries since the 1980s, when SNL Kagan began tracking this data. The firm expects web TV options such as Hulu to become the primary way of watching television for 3 million U.S. homes this year, out of 115 million TV households in the United States.
In fairness, the second quarter is always the weakest for cable companies, and another firm, Sanford C. Bernstein, expects subscriptions to grow this year overall. SNL Kagan doesn’t explicitly tie the loss in subscribers to cable-cutting, and says economic factors and cancellations of one-year bargain deals tied to last year’s DTV switch could be to blame.
But desperate times like these allow people to experience cutting the cord, regardless of their reasons for cancelling. When you drop cable because there’s no other choice, you learn to adapt with that’s available online and over the air. As those options get better, going back to cable gets harder, and I simply don’t buy the argument that cable companies can keep great content off the Internet forever.
I wholeheartedly agree with Harry that, feature-for-feature, web TV can’t rival cable. Not everyone who cuts the cord to forge their own video path will be satisfied. But there’s this theory of “good enough” in technology, which holds that flexibility and economy can win out over fidelity. Instead of celebrating how pay TV beats the Internet, cable companies should worry that when subscribers leave, they’ll discover a world that is, in fact, good enough.