For many adults between the ages of 20 to 45, cable TV was a staple of everyday life — and something that a lot of us automatically purchased for our homes when it came time to make nests of our own. But for the younger folks who have no memory of a world without widespread access to broadband Internet, cable could be looking more and more like a relic of an older world.
The Atlantic takes a look at what it dubs “cord-nevers” (as opposed to “cord-cutters”) — those people who will choose to never get cable or satellite TV in the first place.
Pointing to data that shows flat growth rate in new cable TV subscribers, coupled with increased new subscriptions to Internet service, the report theorizes that a larger portion of that group of Americans who would normally be ordering cable are instead going Internet-only.
“These cord-never numbers matter more than the cable-cutters because the people who tend to not ever sign up for cable are young — and the youth is the future,” writes The Atlantic’s Rebecca Greenfield. “The broke twenty-somethings who survive off of Hulu, Netflix, bootleg streams of their favorite shows, and stealing each others’ HBO Go passwords now, might get used to a life without paying for cable, causing a generational shift in the way Americans consume things. That’s what the cable companies should worry about.”
Though it’s not mentioned in the Atlantic piece, one can see clear parallels between the cable-to-Internet migration and the massive shift that occurred about a decade ago from landline-to-mobile.
Mobile phones were initially a businessperson’s luxury. Then prices dropped remarkably in the late ’90s and more people began seeing them as affordable add-ons. And once reception and rates dropped to reasonable levels, folks began cutting their landline cords.
But it was that younger generation — those who are now in their mid-20s — who got their first cellphone as a teen and never saw a need for landlines.
It’s unlikely we’ll see the cable industry going the way of the landline business (or at least not as rapidly), simply because streaming video is not yet at the stage to offer the variety and convenience of having a few hundred HD channels at your fingers.
Rather, it’s more likely that more and more of these niche TV channels — the ones that seem to be points of contention in these all-too-common carriage fee disputes between broadcasters and cable companies — will be the first to go online-only, and that this will begin a trend toward a more TV-like experience on the Internet.
Ultimately — and not in the distant future — there will be no visible dividing line between TV and Internet, much in the same way that the line between phone and computer has been blurred.
The folks that need to worry about this the most, it would appear, are satellite providers. Whereas cable biggies like Comcast, Verizon FiOS and Time Warner Cable are also providing Internet access to their customers — thus making the ultimate blending of the two services into one that much easier for consumers — DirecTV and Dish Network lack that weapon in their arsenal, and there are no signs that satellite broadband will ever catch up to cable or fiber.
They currently both have marketing deals with various DSL and broadband providers to offer companion services. But what happens when people no longer want two separate services for TV and Internet? We’ve just seen DirecTV announce its first ever net loss of customers. Only time will tell if this is just the beginning of a trend.