Cutting the Cord

We are going finally do it. We are going to finally get rid of cable TV, completely. I think.

When Hulu Plus came to the Xbox, all my excuses went away. Between that and Roku, I can see it in the living room and the bedroom. No need to pull out a computer, just grab a remote.

That seems to be the trigger for acceptance in my home. If we have to pull the laptop out and watch it there, we won’t. We never got Netflix until we had devices that could stream it. Just never thought it was worth it. But when we tried it with streaming, we loved it.

With Netflix and Hulu Plus we can see just about every show or movie we want. We have been hanging on to cable for access to local news and sports. I know will stream most games, but I cannot stand to watch the quality. I pulled out a set of powered rabbit ears and hooked them up. We don’t get a lot of over the air channels.

My big question is what happens when football season comes around. My little set of rabbit ears still picks up a few channels, including Fox. But CBS is not strong enough for viewing. At least I can watch some games. If we choose to leave cable internet for DSL I may look at an exterior antenna. I could insert that signal into the existing cable network in my home.

Either way, missing out on a few channels isn’t that big of a deal for us, since we routinely load episodes of our favorite shows into our queues. But for some families, missing out on channel surfing is a problem.

I read an article a while back about some families who were in an experiment. They got various Internet TV boxes/services and cut cable. Then reported their experiences. Their main complaint was that watching TV became active. They could not just flip channels and watch something. This is a huge change from normal TV viewing.

My Netflix queue has dozens of titles in it. When I am bored on the computer, or remember a show, I’ll surf to the site and add things to the queue. Right now it would take us weeks to watch everything that is loaded without ever loading another show.

Still, having a lot of shows you want to watch isn’t the same as flipping channels, though. I was talking about this with some people at lunch the other day. One said that we needed Pandora for TV. That’s not a bad idea. Some sort of Netflix “Suggestions for You” on overkill. Just select a show, and then get a list shows like that one to try. Sort of like Apple’s Genius playlists generated from ratings you submit. Still won’t be quite the same as flipping, but would provide some of that random stumble upon a show experience.

The biggest annoyance of Hulu Plus is that even though you pay a monthly fee, not every show is available for viewing everywhere. Some are web only. Scanning through available networks I was so happy to see shows from the speed network. I promptly added a few. Only to realize that they were available to view only through the website. Epic fail.

It’s bad enough that I still have to sit through commercials (although if you have cable TV you pay more for the privilege of sitting through more ads.) but any show available on should be valuable to your premium subscribers. Some of the web only shows were not current season, first-run, they were older episodes from older show. It is just a matter of what rights Hulu had been granted.

But Netflix doesn’t have that problem. And some shows that are web only in Hulu are available on any screen through Netflix. Looks like Hulu needs to get better at negotiating.

Still, paired together, Hulu Plus and Netflix should take care of most people’s needs for video entertainment. The easier it is for people to watch this content, the more people will adopt it. The cable companies have a small window to figure out how to stay in the video content delivery business. Some providers have been trying, but there is a lot of mush out there right now.

Netflix and Hulu Plus provide an alternative to cable/satellite providers that is available right now.

I’ll keep you updated.


The End (of Cable TV) is Nigh!

I got an email yesterday from Microsoft about my Xbox Live subscription. They are raising their prices for Gold membership:

“Over the past seven years, Xbox LIVE has evolved from an online gaming platform to an all-in-one gaming and entertainment service. As an Xbox LIVE Gold member, you can not only play blockbuster games, such as Halo: Reach with your friends online, you can also stream movies from Netflix and music from right to your TV. You can even connect with friends near and far on Facebook® and Twitter™. Plus, you also enjoy exclusive discounts and early access to game demos.

And we aren’t even close to being done. This holiday, Xbox LIVE is adding new Gold features, including ESPN and Video Kinect, with Hulu Plus coming on Xbox LIVE in 2011.

• With ESPN on Xbox LIVE, you can stream and watch over 3,500 live and on-demand sporting events plus highlights.

• Video Kinect allows you to chat with family and friends on the big screen, right from the comfort of your living room—no headset or controller required.

• With Hulu Plus on Xbox LIVE you will be able to enjoy a customized Hulu Plus experience that will include Kinect navigation and Xbox LIVE Parties”

That’s right, soon I will not only play games and stream Netflix on the Xbox, but watch ESPN and Hulu Plus TV programming.

Tomorrow Apple will host an event where it is rumored they will reveal a new iOS based iTV box, replacing the ill fated (but loved by me) Apple TV. It’s not certain they will announce this, but it would make sense with the rest of Apple’s strategy. An app-based iTV box designed to stream video, pictures, audio, and play simple games would fit right into the iOS line. When you add in another rumor that Apple will allow “cloud-based” content streaming to iOS devices, it could be very easy to consume all kinds of media on your TV.

That’s what has been missing from the conversion from cable to web viewing, simplicity. The average person doesn’t want to figure out how to use a multimedia PC and get the video from websites to stream on their TV. They just want to plug in a box and watch. They need an Xbox or iTV, or Playstation, or boxee box, or blu ray player with streaming capabilities or they won’t switch. Media PCs have been around for years, and never been widely adopted by the masses, not because of their cost, but because of the lack of simplicity.

If people can buy a simple solution to stream the same video content as offered by cable/satellite from the web, they will. It’s niche programming taken to the logical conclusion: pay a low fee, and watch what you want when you want.

All that remains is for local channels to figure out how to deliver through the web, and cable can devote all of it’s bandwidth to on demand and internet traffic. Cable companies wont go out of business, but they won’t offer 300 channels anymore either. Currently, I subscribe the the base cable package of 20 local channels and an internet package. We spend less than 3 hours per week watching cable. We spend many more hours streaming content via the internet connection.

It won’t happen fast, but within a couple years or so cable will find less people paying for the massive channel packages, and more adopting fiber and faster connections to the web. They will have to change their model to survive.

For those of us that deliver content via cable and network channels, we have some strategic thinking to do, and we had better get on it.