It’s no secret that all the old methods of getting content are under siege. In a video killed the radio star onslaught, the web has singlehandedly shook the music and publishing industry to their foundation. The cable companies were feeling slight tremors, but now it seems that the mild rumblings are turning into full-blown quakes. A recent NYTimes.com article was discussing a growing anti-cable movement. People have canceled subscriptions in favor of watching programming via the web either for free or relatively cheaper than they ever could on cable.
With sites utilizing tv tuners and ingenuity to catch over the air HD signals, and open source devices like MythTV, cable is starting to look mighty expendable. And as the word spreads that it’s not that hard to set these gizmos up, the cable industry is going to have a problem. It’ll be like a digital return to the good old days where if you paid Uncle So-and-So $50, he’d shimmy up the pole and turn on the cable. Good times, good times.
Hardware aside, the biggest threat is going to come from sites like Hulu. As the second largest provider of video content on the net, Hulu has a loyal following. Since I began living in a cable free environment, Hulu has saved me from many a night of boredom. They have a wide variety of content and best of all it’s free. Well, for now it is. There are still those pesky rumors that they are looking to institute a subscription plan. If it means access to premium channel shows, I’ll shell out the money provided it isn’t an arm and a leg.
Not to be outdone, there are reports that YouTube is looking to cut in on cable’s action as well. According to Mashable, YouTube has been researching different monetary solutions. Choices include a number of subscription models and an plan modeled after iTunes charging a fee per episode, sort of a rental business. Google’s also looking to get into the act, wanting to offer a streaming alternative.
So what options are left to cable? Basically, they have to beat the competition at their own game. And a few brave souls are starting to hit the battlefield. Comcast just launched Fancast Xfinity TV, an on-demand service that has about 2,000 hours of content. The content is being provided by 30 cable networks, and includes full episodes of shows like “Crash”, “Glee”, and “Down Home with the Neelys”. There are also movies including “Dawn of the Dead”, “Hollywood Shuffle”, and “Hot Boyz”. Similar to iTunes, you have a limited number of computers (three) you can authorize to receive the service.
Currently you must subscribe to both Comcast’s cable and internet service to access the service. There’s no extra charge for the service. Comcast hopes to expand Xfinity to mobile devices, but it’s unlikely that will take place any time soon. This is a good first step for cable, but it still doesn’t address the question of high subscription fees. The reason the web has been so successful in usurping old media’s territory comes to finances. If a person can watch a full episode of a show on Hulu for free, why would they hook up with Comcast and pay. Even if Hulu and YouTube decide to start charging, it’s a sure bet that the price will be low enough that the cable companies will start to hemorrhage subscribers at an alarming rate.