TV Deathmatch: Cable or Internet?

Tanner | Aug 12, 2011

TV vs. Internet TVMore than a year ago Matthew Lasar wrote a great article looking into which technology – at the time – was likely to fail faster: cable TV or internet video. The article Matthew wrote was a response to an article written by Paul Rodriguez (of Big Cable) called “Cable TV – Doomed Like Dinosaurs” which was, itself, a response to an article in “The Atlantic” titled “Cable TV is Doomed.” The tone of these articles and of the general public a year ago was, obviously, that cable TV was on its way out and internet TV was quickly on the path to entertainment domination. In the arguments against cable TV, the main points are nearly always the same: with cable you’re essentially paying twice (once for the service to receive channels, and again with commercials airing during whatever you’re watching), yet with internet TV you only pay for what you want to watch. Additionally TV isn’t everywhere you are, it’s at home and stays there for the most part. Whether cost or availability, the arguments for and against cable TV have typically been the same. Today, years after they were first brought up as the main topic for discussion of the “future,” these arguments still stand strong. Ask someone if they think cable TV will be around for another year and they’re likely to tell you no, or explain their vision of some cable/web TV hybrid (which is, surprisingly, probably the most curate vision for the future). But if you look over these articles from years past, each arguing over the demise of cable TV, what starts to become surprising is the inaccuracies of predictions from both parties. At least, in terms of timely predictions. Here’s a snippet from Matthew’s year-old article on Ars Technica, touching on the other articles from the same time period:

Rodriguez also argues that the economics of the media world that Fisher hopes for have yet to be worked out, to put it mildly. By and large, Hulu programming has already been shown somewhere else first, and that’s where it made its money via access fees or advertising. As for those iTunes TV pay-per-downloads, they can add up pretty fast, Rodriguez notes. Even Fisher gets around to acknowledging this in a footnote at the end of his article. “Of course, I know that cable is cheaper because it bundles,” he writes. “Five hours of TV a day multiplied by $2 per hour-long show would mean $300 a month on cable.”

Now, today, more than a year after this note about pricing on internet TV vs. cable TV was published, the problem remains. Just as an important issue as it was back then. Internet TV, while allowing you to purchase just the shows you want to watch, adds up to be much more expensive than standard cable after you decide on watching a season or two of a particular show. Nothing has changed here. And what about availability, the other big issue for cable TV? Back in 2010 cable TV was wired to your home and watching anything outside of it was nearly impossible (except for the proud few of us who owned a Slingbox). Now days major cable companies like Comcast make it easy to watch streaming shows from anywhere, on their network anyway. If you look elsewhere you’ll start to see other companies following suit and providing apps and custom tools for watching their shows wherever you go as well. While many believe that cable TV is going away, the same argument could be made that cable TV isn’t going anywhere at all, it’s just changing. That’s the point that the general public need to remember about all of this: cable TV is here to stay, whether you like it or not. Even if cable TV does “go away” entirely, it’s going to be many years after you and I have died. The changing landscape of watching entertainment is certainly changing, but at a much slower pace than many of us would care to argue over. Perhaps that’s what makes articles like those by Laser and Rodriguez so entertaining to look back on. The authors fighting for or against cable TV feel that they have such a solid grasp on what the future holds for the average consumer, and yet time has proven that it’s nearly impossible to accurately predict. If one truth came from Matthew’s article over a year ago, it’s this: “the chances are that cable will indeed be ‘doomed like dinosaurs.’ The dinosaurs, it should be noted, lived for 165 million years.” Exactly right Matthew. Illustration by Tyler Garrison.


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