David via Flickr CC By ND 2.0
Just a few years ago, watching TV in the United States was relatively simple: Choose from a handful of major cable or satellite companies and plug in a TV. Then came Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime Instant and other streaming services, effectively turning smartphones, tablets and computers into TV-watching machines. The hype, of course, is that these new services will mean the death of cable and broadcast, but the reality is a bit more nuanced and that bodes well for anyone who loves TV.
But first, some facts: In 2014, the number of US households that relied on a high-speed internet connection rather than a cable or satellite subscription increased 112% from 2013, the company reported. Nielsen audience research. So yes, a certain group is streaming more. But the majority of households actually add this streaming capability to their more traditional cable TV and streaming options. “Consumers hate giving up choice,” says David Tice, senior vice president of media and entertainment at GfK, another market research firm. Last fall, GfK surveyed owners of streaming media players and found that between 64% and 74% still had a pay-TV service.
So while cutting the cord might not be all it’s made out to be, another phenomenon is occurring: traditional TV and the Internet are becoming interchangeable as both offer more exclusive content on viewers’ schedules. With more outlets, competition for viewership is all the more intense as the quality of programming increases. Netflix and Amazon have invested in original series, with critically acclaimed results (Orange is the new black and Transparent, respectively). And TV studios are moving their offerings online: HBO’s standalone streaming app is due this year, and CBS released one last fall.
“In 15 to 20 years, we may get to a point where all the content will be disaggregated and delivered to the Internet, and Comcast will charge you twice as much for broadband,” Tice says. But for now, that means couch potatoes have more choice than ever.
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of popular science.