Thirty years from now, the term cable TV will be as antiquated as your 60-inch plasma TV. Traditional cable TV is in decline, being replaced by Internet TV — where you watch shows online via some sort of device, whether it’s a PC, phone, Internet-connected TV or tablet. You can watch while on the go, or belly-vision style (that’s where you put the tablet on your belly while lying in bed). Why is this happening? Because we are fed up with paying $100 each month for a bunch of channels we don’t watch. Instead, people are cutting the cord and streaming TV with apps like Netflix and Hulu. Unfortunately, right now the options are limited: Premium cable channels aren’t available to stream without a cable TV subscription, and that means waiting a year until Netflix offers it. Waiting is risky; it’s a bummer when someone finale bombs you before you’ve even started the season.
Luckily the times are a-changin’. Last week HBO announced they will be offering a stand-alone streaming service in 2015. This means you won’t need an expensive cable package to get HBO. Much like Netflix, you’ll pay a monthly fee and get online access to their shows. Other channels are following suit. Soon we can each have a customized TV package and pay only for what we watch. Sounds great, right? Almost.
Now that you tossed the cable box, how are you going to watch those shows on your glorious 80-inch TV through your mack-daddy surround sound speaker system? First off, you need to connect your TV to the Internet. Instead of a cable box with TV channels, you now need an “Internet TV box” with TV apps. The traditional channels of a cable box experience are merely replaced by TV apps on this new device. These devices are fun to use, easy to operate and surprisingly affordable.
The most popular devices include: Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and Roku. Google’s Chromecast is the cheapest at $35, but requires a mobile device to work. Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV are small boxes that marry the Internet to your TV, essentially replacing your cable box. It’s interesting that while you can stream Amazon Prime shows on an Apple TV, you can’t access shows or movies your purchased in the ITunes store on your Amazon TV. So if you’re an Apple guy, like me, Apple TV is the best bet. If you’re new to the game and already own a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet, then Google’s Chromecast is best. If you’re a PC person, and don’t have an iTunes account, then the Amazon Fire TV or Roku is a good choice.
In reality, I suspect that this whole trend is likely to backfire. Pretty soon, every channel will have it’s own app. Instead of cable or satellite, you’ll have an internet connection. Instead of flipping through TV channels, you’ll click through apps. You can argue that the apps are more modern, user friendly and offer more flexibility. That’s probably true, but let’s get back to the original idea.
Since most of us don’t like paying $100/month for a cable subscription filled with channels we don’t want, will we save any money buying a la carte? Unfortunately, some initial estimates suggest that we’ll end up paying as much or even more — and we shouldn’t be surprised. Buying a package deal is always cheaper than buying things individually. That’s consumerism 101.
It’s likely that some company will start offering customized TV app packages. Maybe we’ll even save a little bit of money. In the end, we’ll still be watching the same shows on the same screens in the same way. It’ll be a lot of effort with very little change.
You may have cut the cable, but don’t kid yourself, you’re still connected.
Image credit: Jonathan Grossman