Cutting Loose


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Humans take time to readily adapt to new technology; in same instances, several decades. Case in point: cable television.

We use new technologies in ways we’re familiar with and not always the manner in which the invention was intended. Take the American Civil War, as one example. Troops would line up in parallel rows mere feet apart just as they did during the American Revolution or Napoleonic Wars, save for one difference: the rifles they were using were far more accurate and the bullets used were heavy .45 caliber – with tremendous bloody result. It wasn’t until toward the end of the American Civil War during the siege of Richmond tactics changed to the new technology, resulting in a practice we’d later see: the deadly trench warfare of the coming World War I, 50 years later.

Cable television is no exception (Author’s Disclaimer: I have Verizon FIOs, although I’ve also utilized standard cable). We, as subscribers, use cable just as we have been using television since television’s inception. And BTW: regardless of which delivery you’re using – cable, FIOs or Dish, it’s all the same: they’re all using the same format – a large collection of channels with each service offering their respective shows and interests based on a choice of subscription rates. Want more, you pay more, but it’s merely a matter of getting more channels.

But at what point does one really get to watch all of the 400+ channels they’re paying a monthly premium to see? Even though we’re using technology that would’ve made my grandparents green with envy, the way in which we watch television hasn’t changed since our grandparents first started watching television.

Thinking this, I decided to conduct a ‘human experiment’, with me as the experiment. For the past month or so, I’ve been maintaining a log of my viewing practices, first tracking what and how I see my TV and then deliberately not using or accessing any regular cable / FIOs / Dish service.

Several key observations I noted:

1) I tend to watch specific shows – “Big Bang Theory”, “Game of Thrones”, “Breaking Bad” (when it was around), “Mythbusters” along with “Top Gear” (the English variety), etc.

2) I watch specific channels for specific reasons: the Weather Channel in the morning before I go to work; The Smithsonian Channel or the History Channel for those cool segments about historical events or learning about how those large wind turbines are maintained along with the Discovery Channel and Nicktoons for my kids.

3) I enjoy Turner Classic movies as I dig rewatching some of those old classics – “The Big Sleep”, “The Sea Wolf” or “Cool Hand Luke” just to name a few.

My conclusions? Not so surprising.

I know what I like; we all do. And in the end, we don’t really need all those other channels, save that of channel surfing.  It’s natural; we all channel surf: turn on the set and see what’s there, find something that gets our interest. Only now rather than the old 12 channel VHF selector (along with the smooth turning UHF selector) we’re using set boxes and remote controls.

Set box or the channel selector, it’s still the same concept; we’re carrying forth old habits handed down from the 1950’s into the next century.

But all that’s changing. Now, with the advent of Internet TV / access (YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) things are different.  When you consider the non-cable / FIOs / Dish variety – i.e., Apple TV, Roku, etc. – your watching habits and tendency easily transfer over, save for one very big difference: rather than remain a ‘passive’ observer doing the usual channel surf letting the TV take control of your viewing experience – and paying anywhere from $100 or more per month for the privilege, with Internet service you take far greater control and in the process became a more ‘active’ viewer, knowing what it is you’re looking to watch.

Sure, you can still “channel surf”, but now you tend to focus a little more for what you’re looking for – just as you would when checking out the Internet.

Your TV now becomes your private domain. Rather than it being a receiver for stuff randomly zapped to your head, you’re far more likely to be an active user seeking out what it is you want to view, controlling your viewing experience.

And best of all, it’s cheaper. Not just for the monthly subscriber rate, but also for a ‘per unit’ basis. Considering the premium you pay for your premium cable / FIOs / Dish services, the number of channels you’re being offered and the number of minutes / hours you spent watching those channels at a per dollar cost rate, you’re losing out on a lot of money.

‘But gee’, you say: ‘won’t I miss out on the latest and greatest shows if I cut by service?’ Not really: the time lag between what’s first appearing on major networks – HBO as but one example – and when it appears on non-cable / FIOs / Dish – is shortening. In fact, HBO now enables a user to subscribe to HBO via their Apple TV service and view HBO shows as they would through a regular cable / FIOs / Dish network.

‘But won’t I miss out on cool shows that suddenly appear? When I channel surf, I get to check out some cool shows I normally wouldn’t know about.’ This begs the question: where do people hear about the cool shows first? The answer is by word of mouth, and not via channel surfing. Cases in point: “The Big Bang Theory” and “Game of Thrones”, whose audience share grew primarily through word of mouth by way of the Internet and not so much by random individuals channel surfing.

Things are changing, and statistics bear this point out. In the past year alone, over 8 million people have dropped their cable services. It’s not a big number, but it’s growing exponentially (http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrymagid/2013/03/19/households-abandoning-cable-and-satellite-for-streaming/). With Internet TV, the action’s starting to get hot. One service to watch for is that of Amazon: now they’re getting into the act offering streaming services for a far less price than regular / standard wired delivery.

It’s remarkable to note that even the so-called industry giants see the light at the end of tunnel, thinking it’s not sunlight, but the light of an oncoming train.  Comcast – for example – has quietly been moving into the field of electric utilities, buying smaller utility companies; perhaps in anticipation of the coming upheaval (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-05-29/utilities-face-threat-from-vivint-google-comcast-at-and-t).

To be sure, it’s small, but the movement is growing. The game’s afoot and the landscape is changing; traditional TV is going the way of the dinosaurs. Your TV is no longer just a TV; it’s an informational / entertainment / presentation center.

Join the movement.

Your TV is yours for the taking.

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