Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cable TV: More Observations

Since Verizon cut The Weather Channel from its channel lineup two days ago, I can’t sign on to Twitter without seeing paid tweets from The Weather Channel lobbying for reinstatement. This seems to be the usual pattern in recent years in terms-of-service disputes between TV providers and TV content providers. One party cuts off the other, and then both complain to the viewers. It makes sense that The Weather Channel would direct paid tweets to me since I tweeted about the situation. The advertising is probably wasted on me, though; I am not a Verizon TV customer and haven’t been a regular TV viewer for nearly a decade. My understanding of the TV customer experience is not my own, but is based on what I hear. The online lobbying is also wasted on a friend of a friend who canceled her Verizon TV subscription within a day after The Weather Channel got pulled. Another friend, I think, will gripe about Verizon for a couple of months before also canceling. In the past, the assumption would be that Verizon could try to bring these customers back after relenting and reinstating The Weather Channel, but in this situation, I don’t think that will work. Once viewers get in the habit of going to the cable channel’s web site for video content, it is not so easy to get them to switch back to cable.

The gravity of the situation that TV providers are facing is captured by the words one friend used to convey the HBO story to another: “Now you can get HBO just straight.” The key words are “just straight.” That is, it’s simpler now: you can go directly to HBO to get HBO content, instead of being forced to muddle through the byzantine distribution system that cable has become. I think this view probably represents a consensus of viewers under 45 years old: cable TV is now seen not as a convenience, but as an obstacle, something you have to get around in one way or another in order to get the TV content you want. Consider the one line it takes to explain how to get HBO content from HBO (“Go to and sign up”), then compare that to the way you might explain the eight-step process, possibly including the need to stay home from work for a day, that you may have to go through to get cable. It is no wonder if viewers see the new way as simpler. An industry can become an obstacle and still hang on for many years, but it will be an industry in decline. There has to be a compelling reason to get new customers to jump through hoops when there is a simpler alternative, all the more so when the alternatives are so much less expensive. Traditionally, in TV, that would be compelling content like that found on HBO or The Weather Channel. But these are the exact advantages that cable is losing the fastest.