Pieces about cord cutters circulate from time to time in our changing information landscape. That phrase is a bit of a misnomer as it suggests a sort of eschatology for the cable companies.
Where are consumers ultimately getting their entertainment from? They might be cutting the cable TV, but people are generally tethered to some sort of broadband internet network. Often in the form of fibre optic, cell tower, or…cable. Who owns this infrastructure? You’re often just leaving one pipe to go to another another pipe. And if you use wireless, a great deal of the spectrum is owned by the same companies that own the pipes.
The switch to wireless makes for an interesting mental exercise. In terms of data cost, on a per gigabyte basis, it’s often a better deal to stay land-locked. You could stream hours of video on Verizon FiOS; but if you streamed it on Verizon LTE, you’d pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. So what do you do instead? Your FiOS connection eventually terminates in the form of a Wi-Fi router instead of an ethernet cord or coaxial cable.
Furthermore, free public Wi-Fi isn’t really free. Starbucks will eventually pass on the cost of providing free Wi-Fi to higher prices for your iced latte; though arguably they can capture more of the consumer surplus because of economies of scale. But the point is someone is still paying for the cord.
We live in a wonderful time of device diversity. The one thing people forget though is that what you paid for cable to empower your 52″ TV is now just being redirected to pay for Internet access for your Trinity of Devices, i.e. Phone, Tablet, & Computer. (Interestingly, the experience of filming for Streaming Internet is no different from filming for traditional media.)
Though there is some innovation happening. Netflix, which commands a gigantic portion of Internet traffic, now publishes an ISP index. Google has introduced fibre to Kansas City and is adding fibre to Austin. This should pressure what have been the descendants of the Baby Bells, which were essentially given de facto regional monopolies even after Ma Bell’s breakup.
And the line between network owner and content owner has become the thinnest since the pre-cable era. Who owns NBC? Comcast. Who is one of the most influential content creators in the industry? Netflix, which used to merely be an aggregator of content that could be acquired at a low marginal cost.
Regardless, I’d prefer this age of audience fragmentation—not just fragmentation demographically or psychographically, but also fragmentation by device. As Kevin Spacey’s speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival noted, content is becoming available where you want it, when you want it, and on any device you want it on. And that is truly a win not just for the consumer, but for the creatives in the new multi-device era.