Late last month, I walked into the Time Warner Cable store on East 23rd Street in Manhattan and sat down with a saleswoman. I left a few minutes later with a bright orange shopping bag, a new Scientific Atlanta digital cable box, and $80-plus monthly digital cable subscription.
OK, that's not too out-of-the-ordinary. Time Warner Cable added 56,000 new digital TV subscribers last quarter, finishing the year with almost 9 million subs. I wasn't alone.
But by buying cable, I was a failure. I was admitting defeat. I was caving in to The Man.
Why? Because I'm the guy who, almost two years ago, returned my Time Warner Cable set-top box to that same store on 23rd Street. I proudly vowed to get all of my TV content from the internet forever -- becoming a "Hulu household," as I called it.
Why? Because cable was (and still is) way too expensive. My $80 cable bill adds up to $960 a year, which is an absurd amount of money for anything, let alone the boob tube. And back then, at least, I was determined to put that cash to better uses.
For almost two years, I laughed when cable companies downplayed the "cord cutters," as they called us. I learned more than anyone needed to know about the deep, streaming libraries at Netflix, Hulu, Fancast, Boxee, Roku, iTunes and other web video sites.
Newsweek's Dan Lyons -- aka Fake Steve Jobs -- even included me in a magazine story about cable cord cutters. My money quote: "I'm not going to let myself get ripped off for a bunch of garbage that I don't watch anyway."
And then I caved, and now I'm spending $1,000 a year on cable again!
Conveniently, there's a good excuse here. A little over a year ago, I moved into a new apartment in Brooklyn with my girlfriend, who edits a fashion news site. She needs cable so she can watch cable shows like "Project Runway" live for work, because episodes don't show up on iTunes or Hulu or similar sites for several hours. So it's not completely my fault. She is the main reason I caved and got cable.
But now that I have cable again, I have to admit I really like having it. The stuff I want to watch -- Food Network, Travel Channel, etc. -- is now in HD, which it wasn't when I last subscribed to cable. I'm super-excited for the World Cup in HD, the Olympics in HD, the Tour de France this summer, and Discovery Channel's follow up to "Planet Earth," called "Life," which begins airing in March.
And while some of that stuff is available to stream live online -- Comcast's Versus network did a pretty nice job with its Tour de France site last summer, and Major League Baseball's MLB.TV blows away every other online sports subscription -- there's still way too much good stuff that's not online.
And much of that good stuff won't be coming online in the near future.
Why not? Because cable operators like Time Warner Cable and Comcast still represent a huge percentage of revenue for TV content companies, while online video generates a laughably small amount of revenue for these companies.
Therefore, anything that relies on a live, nationwide cable audience -- like most live sports, or the Oscars, or "MythBusters" -- isn't going to be available for free online for a long time. (And while some of the online-only content out there is entertaining, it's not enough to completely replace professionally produced TV for most people.)
So while the "Hulu household" experiment was fine, I'm actually pretty glad it's over -- especially now that I'm spending more weeknights at home, and fewer nights out on the town. Maybe I'm just getting older and more willing to pay a little extra for high-quality home entertainment.
I agree with Henry Blodget that the TV industry is eventually going to be severely disrupted by the internet, and eventually I hope that I'll be able to get everything I want to watch online. I'm rooting for someone like Apple or Netflix or even Comcast to aggregate enough deals to make an online-based, a la carte TV service available to the masses. (Though Mark Cuban's concerns -- that there isn't enough internet bandwidth available to make a product like this a reality -- are real, and will need to be dealt with.)
But it's going to take longer than it should, because TV companies are still fairly insulated -- especially as Comcast buys NBC -- and can protect their legacy business models for a while longer.
For now, that's going to cost me about $960 a year.
First up: As I argued last spring, cable companies really need to fix their awful user interfaces. It's still way too hard to browse through all of the stuff that's available on-demand, and the cable guide's "search" product is still a joke.
But that's another post.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Dan Frommer is an editor at Business Insider.