Monday, December 6, 2010

Another explanation for cable TV's decline

You've probably already heard the news:

For the first time, cable television subscriptions fell in the United States in the last two quarters, a trend some attribute to California-based Netflix.

The Netflix business model was based on mail-order DVD movies, but the Internet and the ability to bypass a cable box and stream movies directly to a subscriber's television set puts it ahead of the competition -- for now....

So the argument that's been floating around, especially with the techie types, is that technology has been the catalyst for the decline of cable television.

But Escapology has a different view:

Cable TV has degenerated into one big reality TV mush. Channels that once had their mandate clearly spelled out for them (History channel) now desperately throw ANYTHING on the screen in the hope of ratings.

In essence, cable TV has become like radio. Each channel, rather than developing its own niche, is trying to gravitate to a single place. Look at radio - theoretically there could be dozens and dozens of different ways to program a radio station. But Matrix Media Radio has reduced these formats down to a mere ten:

* News / Talk
* Country
* Adult Contemporary
* Contemporary Hit Radio
* Rock and Alternative
* Hispanic and Latin
* Oldies and Nostalgia
* Urban Contemporary
* Religious / Christian
* Full Service

I couldn't find an official list of cable TV formats, but following Escapology's lead, we could probably classify a grand total of two such formats:

* Reality
* Stuff that hasn't been converted to reality yet

In addition to cable alternatives having better technology and better programming, it should also be noted that the alternatives tend to have better billing practices. When you sign up for Netflix, you aren't forced to buy a whole bunch of movies that you don't want just because the movie studios told Netflix that they had to do this. And as far as I know, Netflix doesn't put movies in different tiers, and require you to subscribe to a higher tier of service to get good movies.

At least so far, we haven't had the dramatic standoffs between Netflix and the content providers, in which one party says "the studios want us to hike our fees!" and the other says "Netflix is ripping off talented actors and directors!" Of course, that day is probably coming.
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