This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
by Larry Magid
My son and daughter, both in their 20s, are part of a growing group of people who have “cut the cord” and no longer watch video via broadcast, cable or satellite TV. The apartments they live in are among the more than five million U.S. homes that, according to a recent Nielsen study, have “zero TV.” That’s up from just over 2 million in 2007.
But as the report points out, zero TV doesn’t mean zero video, nor does it mean that they never sit in front of a TV set. More than 75 percent of these homes still have at least one TV that’s being used for DVDs, video games and — in some cases — watching Internet video.
As you’d expect, the Nielsen study found that younger adults were much more likely to live in zero TV households than people over 44. Cost was a factor for 36 percent of these homes, but 31 percent of these non-TV households cited “lack of interest.” Just as many in my generation jettisoned their antennas in favor of cable, many younger adults are dropping cable or satellite in favor of Internet TV.
My wife and I don’t fit into this zero-TV demographic. We have a satellite dish on our roof to beam in live news, special events like the Oscars and Super Bowl and the occasional sitcom, TV drama or “American Idol” show. But we find ourselves spending a lot less time watching broadcast programs and a lot more watching online video from Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO GO and other sources.
We have Roku boxes on our TVs to stream content in high definition on our big living room TV or the smaller sets in our exercise room and bedroom. Roku boxes, which start at $50, are small devices that connect to a wired or wireless home network and plug into a TV, giving you access to nearly 100 channels, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, HBO GO, CNet, Disney, NBA Game Time, Al Jazeera English, Blockbuster On Demand and others that I had never heard of. Roku doesn’t charge any monthly fees, but some channels do. Game consoles also stream Internet video as do some Blu-ray players.
One thing I like about Netflix, Amazon Prime and a few of some other channels is the ability to stream old TV shows that I can watch sequentially at my own pace. My wife and I, for example are almost done watching all five seasons of “Alias.” We also devoured all 75 episodes of “Friday Night Lights” and I’m reliving “The West Wing.” I’ve also been known to watch an occasional episode of shows from my youth, such as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Rockford Files” and, purely for the nostalgia value, an occasional episode of “Leave It to Beaver.”
But streaming isn’t just about movies and old TV shows. Netflix is taking a cue from HBO and Showtime by producing its own original content. We watched all 13 episodes of “House of Cards,” a political drama that debuted this year. Breaking from TV tradition, Netflix released the entire series at once, so viewers could watch them at their own pace. Based on what I saw on Twitter and Facebook, I’m not the only one who watched several episodes per evening rather than having to wait a week between shows as is typical of broadcast and cable networks. When searching for the show, I also came across the original BBC version — also on Netflix — which I liked as much as the American adaptation.
Another thing I like about streaming is that I can watch these shows on multiple devices. Sometimes we watch them on our Internet-connected TV, but I also watch them on my laptop when traveling or when I want to sit in the backyard. I also watch shows on my iPad mini, my Kindle Fire HD and a variety of Android tablets. And even though watching video on a smartphone isn’t an ideal experience, I’ve done it on iPhone and Android phones simply because it was convenient, such as when I find myself with a little spare time and not near a laptop or tablet. My daughter often watches video on her phone when she’s at the gym, though she has to be careful to stay within her data plan. My Sprint iPhone has unlimited data so I have no qualms using it to watch video.
HBO understands the value of streaming and is making its content available not just on PCs and mobile devices but on Rokus and other Internet streaming services. Yet it’s still wedded to the cable and satellite industries. To watch HBO GO, you have to enter your user ID and password from AT&T U-verse, Dish, Time Warner Cable, Xfinity or other participating providers. But it’s only a matter of time before content packagers like HBO come to the realization that they can make more money by going directly to consumers.
And, speaking of direct, we may also see more examples of content creators — the producers, directors, writers and crew that actually make the programs — figuring out that they too can go directly to the public.