The Cordless, Cableless Future…


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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34 Responses

  1. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    I don’t know that the situation is that dire. We do have House of Cards and Orange is the New Black after all. As well as original programming from the likes of Crackle and Hulu.

    The industry is undoubtedly undergoing change and that change will undoubtedly suck for some players. [Shrug] Creative destruction and all that. I don’t particularly care about how Viacom wants to do business. That’s just a holdover from the days before fast Internet ultimately.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      There will still be stuff getting made, but I am less sure there will be as much stuff. Having House of Cards, but not The Americans, would be a huge loss. The question is whether or not they will come to pass. Maybe Netflix will make the next The Americans, or maybe it and many other shows were the product of the current model.

      I’m less concerned about the welfare of the producers than the volume and quality of the content.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Will Truman: I’m less concerned about the welfare of the producers than the volume and quality of the content.

        right, but taking the analysis in the excerpts as valid (which it does seem to be), it’s the mid-tier formulaic and/or fluff shows that are most adversely effected by a changing paradigm. Their revenue streams and profitability have always been determined by the most casual, most marginal viewer. In contrast, any show that generates a decently devoted fan base has been lately (and by lately, I mean since around 2004 more enduring, or capable of coming back from the dead, or able to flex itself into different formats/media than the old standard slot filler.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Kolohe: mid-tier formulaic and/or fluff shows

    These are also the shows that, for a large percentage of the audience, would just kind of run in the background.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Right, exactly. With zero marginal cost to the consumer, they have gotten by with this business model. But probably not if someone’s going to pay extra for that channel, or alternatively, far fewer people are going to find a DVD box set – or more recently stream them.

      On the other hand, since all visual media is broken down to digital 1’s and 0’s at some point in the production & distribution process these days, the marginal cost of streaming may be low enough to make it worthwhile for many shows for practically nothing, and with ad support still somehow providing the business model viability. (perhaps, like, in the oldest days of television where sponsor spots where integral in the (then live) programing. Product placement has long been a thing, ever since ET).Report

  3. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    But those cheap reruns also keep networks going during the day, when it doesn’t pay to run original content — and losing the revenue from cable syndication may mean producers demand more money to sell the rights to Netflix. In the long run, that could mean your Netflix subscription costs more.

    Cable syndication becomes a less profitable option for content owners, and that somehow gives them the ability to negotiate higher prices with Netflix?Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Vikram Bath: But those cheap reruns also keep networks going during the day, when it doesn’t pay to run original content

      In the age of the mouse-click and on-demand delivery, why do networks NEED to run during the day (that is, “any specific timeframe”?) They “run” when somebody plays their content.

      Piracy is a big obstacle for profitability; but assuming (a big assumption) that there are ways for creators to get paid, then my money will go more or less directly to them, and not the “overhead/administration” of a network. It’s just more disintermediation.

      I do fear we could lose *some* quality, in the sense that a lot more people will probably pony up for a Big Mac than for a grass-fed steak; but that was a problem (for me) before anyway, and anyway nicheification and “channel” proliferation/competition should hopefully more than compensate.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Vikram Bath:
      Cable syndication becomes a less profitable option for content owners, and that somehow gives them the ability to negotiate higher prices with Netflix?

      Sort of, yeah. Because the shows that thrive on syndication and the ones that thrive on Netflix are different shows. The former being one-off procedurals and such and the latter being binge-friendly shows. If they were just selling the first kind of shows, they’d have a problem. But since they’re selling both, they have more latitude. “You may not want to pay more for NCIS, but you do want Person of Interest, right? So you need to buy both…”

      The networks have a lot of leverage here. Which is why they have been able to drive up cable costs. They may be able to drive up Netflix costs, too.

      Or they won’t, and fewer shows will get made. or some combination of the two. The current model depends on their ability to make money from multiple sources, and depriving them of making money from one of those sources is going to change the model. Not necessarily for the better.Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        A good example of this is Disney’s negotiation with Apple. Disney has said, “So you want Disney Channel and ESPN? Great. But you’d better take ABC Family, ESPNs 2-17, and all of the lesser Disney spinoff channels.”Report

  4. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I cut the cable years ago, and I could not be happier. Sure, I miss some shows, but the TV is only on when I want to watch something, I can watch most of my services on my phone or tablet as well, through well designed interfaces (instead of OMG Xfinity! WTF?! Did you hire a gang of 12 year old script kiddies hopped up on Red Bull to design this interface?), and I can watch as much, or as little, as I want without having to DVR anything.

    Now, the mere thought of dealing with a cable company just pisses me off.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      The main thing I would caution is being too optimistic about the current cord-cutting model not being affected by a mass migration.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber says:


      I cut the cable years ago, and I could not be happier. Sure, I miss some shows

      1) These statements seem to contradict.

      2) If you really “could not be happier” because you no longer have cable, that is a sad commentary on your life.

      3) How poor are you?Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Are you intentionally being obtuse, or do I honestly need to qualify such statements?Report

        • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

          It isn’t a matter of being obtuse. Rather I am pointing out that your use of hyperbole for such a banal issue is silly.

          I am serious about the poor question though. If I got rid of cable, the amount of money I would save would have a negligible effect on the quality of my life.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            The savings wasn’t huge, maybe $20/month. It was more just the fact that I no longer had to deal with cable companies, who seem to have lost any real desire to provide something resembling customer service. So the benefit is much more one of peace of mind.

            I have fiber to the house, and between Hulu+, Amazon Prime, & NetFlix, the entertainment needs of my household are easily met, and with solid customer service.Report

            • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

              I have no idea which cable company you had, and I understand that a monopoly can cause poor customer service.

              It sounds like you had Comcast and I agree they are terrible.

              I switched from Comcast to Verizon, and I don’t regret it for a second.Report

    • Avatar superdestroyer says:


      But who do you get your internet access from? Are you doing everything through a data package of the cell phone company or to you have a land-line to you residence?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      We cut the cable when our rates went up (again) and Maribou asked me “how much cable do you watch?” and my answer was something like “I watch Cartoon Network during long loading screens.” She asked if that was worth $60 a month.

      I boggled.

      I mean, for $40/month, I might have said “yes” because of the whole “well, if I *WANTED* to watch a particular show, then I could” issue but $60? When, as it turned out, the only show I wanted to watch was Chowder?

      Yeah, we cut the cable. We didn’t even notice.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I don’t know what my cable bill is. The total bill is about $180, tho, including innerwebs. No premium channels.

        Seems like a lot, don’t it? (Hmmm. Maybe time to cut the cable.) (Blankety blank blank Comcast…)Report

  5. Avatar Mo says:

    What’s interesting is that cable companies will figure out a way around this. FIOS has already done it to a certain extent. The difference in cost between my straight internet and my internet with cable bundle (including premium channels like HBO*) is $30. HBO Go alone is $15. Throw in Netflix with HD and we’re talking $6 a month. There isn’t much savings there. And if there isn’t money in the back-end on syndication, content producers will charge more. Either Netflix will have to raise prices or they’ll have to deal with a degradation of content similar to what happened when the Starz deal ended.

    * If I cut HBO the difference goes down to $20Report

  6. Avatar Alan Scott says:

    I think it’s a mistake to talk about content generation primarily on the level of whether or not a show will be produced.

    When the money gets tight, shows with strong appeal aren’t going to disappear so much as contract.

    Look at what happened to shows like Community and 30 Rock that were critical darlings but didn’t attract casual viewers: Rather than being cancelled, episode orders just dropped from 22/season to 13/season.

    AMC split the last seasons of Breaking Bad and Mad men, airing them over two subsequent years. It looks like HBO shows are mostly 8 or 10 episodes per season nowadays.

    If content distributors are making money from subscriptions, this behavior makes sense. You’re unlikely to pay HBO an extra $2/month because they aired one extra episode of your favorite show–so it behooves them to makes their seasons as short as they can get away with. Netflix has the same incentives–even more so, given their model of releasing the whole thing at once. I’m not sure how the math breaks down for Hulu, which is ad supported but also puts a chunk of its content behind a pay-wall.

    We might also see shows that might have been hour-long in another age be released as half-hour. I suspect we’re not to far away from a big boom in half-hour sci-fi.

    And changes like the ones above aren’t going to be much of a blow to the consumer–because when a show drops from 22 episodes to 13, it’s the worst nine that get cut. Writers and stars might get paid a little bit less, but only a bit since they’re not paid by the hour or by the day. The real savings comes from paying less for boom operators and caterers and background actors.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      One thought I did have is that it might lead to a return of the studio sitcom. A part of me wouldn’t mind if television and movies returned to lower budgets and more thought put in to stories. That may be something that sounds better in theory than in reality,and I do love some pretty high-budget shows.

      It’s not really the network shows I’m worried as much about, though. Cable shows are already considerably shorter than 22 episodes (typically to their benefit). I’m not sure how much savings there is there. A lot of the incentives you refer to are already in place. (AMC doesn’t need 22 episodes of Breaking Bad to keep AMC relevant, for instance.) I just fear – worst case – that they will simply have less money to work with, and it will result in a decline.

      Which I’m not betting on, exactly. I’m just wary of tinkering with a formula that has given us what we currently have.Report

  7. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    I think the interesting this is, that in the long run, what’s likely to happen is people are going to end up paying about the same or a little less for access to far less content, thus reducing discoverability or the idea of say, randomly running across something on cable on a lazy Saturday and getting sucked into a six-hour run of say, Parking Wars or some other random reality show. Or hell, even coming across the new Breaking Bad while it’s in reruns. After all, if AMC is just sitting there, there’s no risk to catching up, as opposed to having to pony up $5/month or whatever for AMC Live!

    Because, after all, if Netflix is $12/month, HBO Now is $12/month, Hulu is $10/month, CBS i! is $9/month, AMC streaming is $7/month, and so on, and so forth, all those small subscriptions quickly add up and all of the sudden you’re paying $70-80/month once you throw in sports packages and receiving half the channels.

    Now, for some people, this may be a positive, since after all, you never watch those channels anyway. But, by the same token, I think people underestimate how much things actually cost. I mean, for instance, but AMC gets something like .25 cents per subscriber from the cable companies, plus advertising and all that.

    But, of course, you get advertising, at least in part, on the idea that “we’re available in basically everybody has a cable box.” All of the sudden, when you’re pitch is “we’re available to everybody who will pay us $6/month to watch Walking Dead,” all of the sudden prestige dramas like Mad Men are a lot harder to produce.

    Which, will of course, lead to a snowball effect, where I can actually probably guess that in 5-10 years, there’ll be far less new dramatic and comedic series premiering on the air every year than now, since every cable channel with a vestige of trying to become the new AMC isn’t launching a cable series to get that buzz.

    Or ya’ know, I could be totally wrong. But, I think this is idea that a la carte will be a 100% good thing is a bit of an overreach, even if I think Comcast and Time Warner should be nuked from orbit.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Parking Wars or some other random reality show. Or hell, even coming across the new Breaking Bad while it’s in reruns. After all, if AMC is just sitting there, there’s no risk to catching up, as opposed to having to pony up $5/month or whatever for AMC Live!

      I think this still happens, just differently. I’m watching Daredevil on Netflix thanks to advertising on & off Netflix (excellent show, by the way). My wife has been bingeing on Hotel Impossible because she stumbled across on Prime while bored one day. My son finds new shows in a similar manner (surfing the listings).

      So that discovery still happens.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Sure, and for Netflix or Amazon, that works great. After all, they’ve got the extra product that people are browsing where you can put up in big lights – DAREDEVIL!

        My situation is more, a new Breaking Bad never gets greenlighted in the first place because a bean counter says, “well, how is this going to move subscriptions,” instead of knowing that they were going to get a base level of money from the cable companies even if they air a test pattern simply for being on the air, so there’s some extra risks you can take.

        Again, I could be completely wrong.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I think @jesse-ewiak ‘s comment is right-on and describes very neatly what I consider the worst case scenario. It’s not that there isn’t going to be any good program, it’s just that there could be a lot less. I think discovery could become common, which will have an impact. Something like Daredevil gets publicity because of what it is (a show with a built in and passionate audience).

      That being said, I think the proliferation of cable was already making this the case, to some degree. If I am typical, the sheer number of channels makes that sort of discovery less likely. And, at least arguably, fewer shows will give each one a greater chance to get discovered. One “discovery” I made a little while back was Supernatural, which I shortly thereafter found out had been on the air for nearly a decade. Shows like that can be missed among the long line of entertainment.

      The downside being, though, the shows that may never get made. If production cuts in half, it’s not just the worst half that’s going to get cut. Arguably, the worst half might even be underrepresented because it’s “safer”… hard to say.

      But I think his “A lot less options for a little less money” sounds very plausible. Possibly likely.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Reality TV is the result of channel glut sucking all the oxygen out of production value (because reality shows are much cheaper to produce). Not sure it can get much worseReport

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          It can get worse by not having as many non-reality show options…Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          But, there’s literally more good TV on than ever before in history. Even ten years ago, the show on Netflix, Bloodlines, would’ve got a lot of attention and credit simply for a being a pretty good show (at least I assume it is – that’s what the reviews say, but I’ve got 12 other shows I need to catch up on.).

          Now, though, every major cable network and 29 streaming options have a pretty good show on, and thus, it floats away into the ether.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          Oscar Gordon: Reality TV is the result of channel glut sucking all the oxygen out of production value

          Is this really true though? The reality TV explosion predated Hulu, Netflix, Amazon et al entering the game – if we are not counting things like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (or, hell, “Candid Camera”), the first big US reality show hit I remember was MTV’s Real World in 1992. They proliferated like mad after that, long before any internet video streaming options were particularly feasible.

          Unless you just meant “1990s cable channel glut”.Report

  8. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Interesting stuff, Trumwill. One thing I wonder about, tho, is how much of this is driven by (or a result of) the end of an advertiser-based media model on which advertising dollars effectively allowed networks to give the shows away for free?Report