Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Midnight in the land of the Cord Cutters

I remember back when people started talking about cord cutting. “I’ll save so much money when I’m not paying for cable!” they’d say. And I would nod and say, “You know they’re going to get their money out of you one way or another.”

People seem to have realized that now. We are in a gold rush of video streaming services, as every tech and entertainment company around tries to get you to pay a monthly fee for access to exclusive TV shows and movies. You can cut the cord, but if you’re paying for Netflix and Disney+ and Apple TV+ and Hulu and… oh, look, that cable bill has turned into a streaming bill. (And if you want live sports and other “traditional” TV programming, you can get a streaming service for that… that’s not really cheaper than cable.)

They’re going to get their money.

Yes, you can play the game by signing up for free trials and cancelling services when they displease you, to save money—but truth be told, people have been doing that with their cable service (“Game of Thrones” is over, time to cancel HBO for 9 months) for ages. There will always be some economic benefit from being a coupon clipper—if you want to put in the time, you can save a little money.

But what I think more people are now realizing is that the entertainment industry is going to get their money from you, and if you don’t want to pay all that money, you will need to forego some of the stuff you’re used to watching. Now, for some people with very specific needs, cancelling cable TV and subscribing to a streaming service or two may indeed be an enormous savings. If the bundles your cable provider offered were a bad fit for you, and streaming services are a good fit, you may come out ahead. But for most people, I’d wager that this won’t be the case.

Let’s throw in the other problem with the dream of cord cutting: You still need to pay for Internet access. That bill doesn’t go away when you cut the cord. If you’re getting Internet access from your cable provider, they’ve got an incentive to price their offerings so that Internet service is cheaper when you buy TV service. They’ll also place caps on your data usage, so that your acquisition of that nice new 4K HDR television for your future streaming lifestyle requires you to upgrade your Internet plan—so they can claw back a bit more of that money they lost when you cancelled your TV service. (But if you subscribe to the cable company’s own streaming service, they won’t count that data toward your bill.)

They’re going to get their money.

Right now we are in a spectacular moment for television—the sheer volume of TV being created is enormous, yes, but I’d argue that the quality standards are higher than ever, too. I’m watching the second season of Netflix’s “Mindhunter” right now and am just amazed at the quality of the production all the way through from writing to acting to design to direction. TV has never been better.

But… this is also a moment when many companies are investing in TV in order to end up with a seat at the table. If you think there are too many streaming services out there, you’re absolutely right. A lot of them are going to merge or die or change in the next few years, as they discover that the music has stopped and there’s no seat for them. The final set of players will be some that are familiar, and some that are new. Others will find themselves on the outside looking in.

That’s when the prices start going up. That’s when that amazing $6.99 Disney+ deal becomes $12.99, when Netflix creeps up to $16.99 while also cutting its budget for original content in half. When Amazon starts asking you to pay for Prime Video separately from shipping. When your internet provider comes back to you with a new restriction on data that requires you to spend even more.

Throwing off the yoke of linear television is a good thing, I think. People should be able to watch what they want, when they want. The old TV broadcasting structure that we’ve had since the beginning of television is outmoded in our digital world.

But in the end, that content is being generated by giant media businesses, and they want your money. They will do anything they can do get it, in the end. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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