Try putting “cutting the cable” into a Google search, you instantly tap into a certain zeitgeist afflicting TV Americans today. From the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, words and phrases like the following crop up: “Have you cut the cord yet?” “The smartest ways to cut the cord” “Get out from under the ugly cable bill” “Spoiler: pretty much everybody should cut the cord”.
As much as we couch-surfing, popcorn-scarfing Americans love our television, something is clearly wrong: we love to hate the thing we used to love to love (yet might have once tenderly have referred to as “the idiot box”). The service can be spotty. The choices are dodgy. And the overly-complex remote controls, tethered to the screen interfaces – even when “on demand” services are present – are just downright clunky. And of course - it’s expensive.
This past February, the one “live” TV event of the season I had looked forward to for weeks was the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. And then the cable went out. And you can pretty much imagine what happened when I tried to contact customer service – an “SLA” guaranteeing a response to my question (“we value your call!”) in 12 hours. (By the way, try telling your grandchildren you had to wait until a certain time until the show was on…). In my outrage, I took to my Code Halo, found a brilliant meme of the name of my favorite Cable Company, inserting its name in the de-riguer white letters plus three big exclamation points over a big picture of William Shatner in “Star Trek 2” screaming: “KHAAAAANNN!!!” (Side note, one thing I did get to experience – just prior to the cable going out – along with the rest of America: the fun/wonder/horror of Googling “What’s wrong with Bob Costas’ eyes?”)
And a major culprit is precisely because of the beautiful experiences provided by Code Halo stalwarts in the Media and Entertainment industry. In other words, in the amazing, instant, “reading-my-mind” world of Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc. the standard cable experience has become anything BUT beautiful. Devices like Roku and Apple TV poked a small hole in the drape on the stage of television possibilities, and as a result, the realities are ripping open the curtain to a curtain to expose a brave new disrupted world, rocking old certainties in the entertainment world.
But it’s not like this is entirely new – or unexpected. There was a period in time where cable TV gave slightly more choice, but it was still “human scale”. But somewhere around the early 1990s – maybe around the time that Bruce Springsteen tapped into the mood with “57 Channels (And Nothin' On)” – the choices of cable began to scale, and in a few short years, did so drastically, and started to show its murky side as well. The wider the choices, the more diminishing the returns: ultimately a world of late night channel surfing, hating yourself for considering, momentarily, something like “Pitbulls and Parolees” (or worse) as being worth your time and attention. And in those moments, even before our current world of the Code Halo, you knew: this is not sustainable. Hello Netflix.
And as a Gen Xer, even that ultimate totem of cool of 1980s cable – HBO – got religion, first with doubling-down on the excellence of its programming (“Sopranos”, “Entourage”, “Game of Thrones”), and then its app, HBO Go, which I blogged about recently. And lo-and-behold, in October 2014 (surely not a coincidence with the timing of my aforementioned blog post!), after a 40+ year run as premium cable mainstay, it announced plans to launch a standalone broadband service, independent of the standard cable package. And the list goes on… new options like ABC Watch are being rolled out as a similar variation on a theme, but also with a whiff of “the empire strikes back”, especially in the wake of services like Aereo, a startup for streaming TV over the web, having the Supreme Court shutting them down.
Despite my Winter Olympics catharsis, the curtain of Cable TV is hanging on by a thread in my household – and that thread’s name is NCAA football and NFL football. And it’s no wonder the networks pay such huge sums of money for the right to broadcast these games, because they know the score and where all of this is headed. And even there – there are options. In fact, I took the “cutting the cord” question to my own Code Halo (my Facebook network), and the response was instant, passionate, and informative. Roku users. Apple TV. Slingbox. Boxee Box. Since my cable provider does NOT provide our internet services, options for sourcing content are good: Watch ESPN app... NFL Network, NFL Red zone... it's a matter of finding the ones you want.
All of which is to say: like great November autumn football, change is in the air. And oh, by the way? Telephone landline – I’m looking at you… (Whatever happened to that cool Federal “do not call” list from several years ago? One of those rare “thanks, Washington!” moments). Now, with year after year of increasing volume of robo calls – that phone is essentially a couponing service that I pay a few Andrew Jacksons for each month. Where’s William Shatner when I need him? To be continued…