Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Streaming Wars Intensify

Just about two years ago (it was March 3 of '18), I started the story of Mrs. Graybeard and I cutting the cord; the term for dropping cable TV.  In brief, while we put up an outside antenna (we're in the fringes for over the air TV), we went with a streaming service.  These are done entirely over an internet connection, so we kept our cable internet hookup but dropped cable TV.  There were two main reasons for going to a streaming service; the big one was that the channels we absolutely wanted to see aren't available over the air.  The second reason was that the services we looked at (and signed on with) offer a virtual Digital Video Recorder so we didn't need to buy one.

Streaming services are sort of midway between cable TV and 100% streaming.  100% streaming would be getting every channel you want on its own.  We initially subscribed to YouTubeTV, a streaming service from YouTube/Google/Alphabet as the name implies.  They had the channels we wanted to see and offered an “infinite DVR” - there are only time limits (in months) to watch something after you record it; other services limit you to a certain amount of memory.  In the bottom line view, though, we still don't watch 75 to 85% of the channels that are offered, just as with cable we didn't watch 95% of what was offered.  It's just that we pay $55/month now versus $130 back when we paid for cable TV.  (I took out the price we pay now for our internet connection from the old cable bills)

FEE - the Foundation for Economic Education - has posted some updated statistics on all this that are quite interesting for you numbers geeks in the audience.

One of those “everybody knows” statistics is that Cable TV is dying.
Of course, the big thing that everyone is talking about now is Disney+.  With their very deep content library, including the Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic universes, they're a monster-big draw.  It's being reported that ten million people signed up for Disney+ the day it launched.  That will not go without competition in 21st century America!  Apple is preparing to unleash its own streaming service. Meanwhile, AT&T’s WarnerMedia has its own super package in beta: HBO Max, which reportedly will feature a Friends reunion.  These media companies are spending billions on content, from Disney's Mandalorian to HBO's Watchmen to Apple's upcoming project on singer Billie Eilish. Netflix isn't sitting by idly, they're working on more new content, too.  All of this is great for consumers. 
  • In 2018, Americans streamed eight billion hours of content per month. That’s equivalent to nearly a million years (912,635 to be precise).
  • Surveys show that 148 million Americans say they watch Netflix “at least once per month.” That’s followed by Amazon Prime (88.7 million).
  • Apple, which doesn’t even have a streaming service yet, reportedly has already spent $6 billion on original content.
  • Disney+ and Netflix offer streaming services for roughly 50 cents per day ($16 per month).
  • HBO Max will charge even less for its streaming service—$15 per month—reports say.
  • When HBO was launched in the 1970s, its service typically cost $6 a month ($37 in 2018 dollars).
  • In 1995, cable cost $22 a month ($38 in 2018 dollars), on average. By 2015, cable providers were charging $69.03, on average.  That's almost 3x the official inflation rate.  On average, cable prices went up 5.8% yearly for the past 20 years. Inflation clocked in at 2.2% per year, on average.  Which means cable has gone up at about half the actual inflation rate.
  • Surveys show that nearly 60 percent of Americans are cord-cutters (people who once had cable but chose to cancel).  
Just as a side note, we've never subscribed to Netflix and haven't subscribed to Disney+ or any of these other services.  Since I do have an Amazon Prime account we get their streaming service.  We've mostly watched movies that aren't on the other services and a couple of documentaries. 

This article is all aimed at the entertainment market - the segments called direct to Cable or DVD and the first run of movies on streaming after a successful run in the theaters - but there's more to it.  The news services are running to streaming - Fox News started a few months ago, CBS and ABC News are there, and more.  I know Fox is a monthly bill, while the others appear to follow their broadcast model of having commercials support the service.  CBS has a streaming version of their network TV, where they have some shows that only appear online, Star Trek Discovery and soon, the new Star Trek Picard.  That's a monthly bill.  How many monthly bills do you want? In this last case, it's almost one bill per series I'd watch.

The point is that this rush for everyone to put their entertainment on their own streaming service brings to mind the old anti-cable TV ads from the late 60s, when the movie theaters were afraid of services like HBO, and were saying the cable company wants to put a coin deposit box on your TV.  Streaming services like Hulu or Sling or YouTubeTV follow the old cable model of putting a lot of channels in a package but having one or two in any group that you'd pay for.  How many news channels can there be when CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Cheddar, Young Turks and so many more are all saying virtually the same things?  If you pay for one TDS news channel, are you going to pay for all the others?  I'd be perfectly happy with a smaller selection of channels at $2 to $5 each. 

HBO or Disney+? ... Daenerys from Game of Thrones or the Mandalorian.  Choose one? 


  1. I may be able to get enough bandwidth to stream when 5G distribution reaches the distant White Wolf Mine.

    1. Do you get cable up there? You describe it as far enough out that having electricity is pretty good fortune. I read stories of people paying out the nose to get powerlines run to their property.

    2. No cable up here. Too remote. It's been enough of a challenge to get bandwidth for cell service (and thus weak wifi). But 5G may change that in time?

    3. LL, SpaceX has the Starlink system on its way. Based on the launch schedule, it may be as early as late next year. I have no idea what the data rate will be on that service other than it is supposed to bed broadband compliant. Hopefully it is not a rehash of Hughsnet.

  2. Great post, SiG!

    We're on a bundled system here, Internet and TV. I keep telling my wife we should go streaming but she's mot comfortable with it. We have Roku on the grandson's little TV so he can watch "Blippi" and because we won't pay extra for a fourth cable box, plus installation.

    And we're "Deep Fringe" for the Denver TV stations (60+ miles), and not so bad for Cheyenne (30 miles), so an outside antenna in-the-clear, preferably with a rotor, is almost mandatory.

  3. This whole streaming thing reminds me of the 'end of days' of satellite television.

    Remember those big dishes? Move your dish from one satellite to another in order to snag this channel, that program, while having UHF for local tv. No cable at all.

    (Watched the Challenger Disaster on the open NASA feed. It seemed like hours and hours of just watching debris fall, cutting to the control room feed to watch stunned people, more debris, stunned people. It was a mercy that they finally stopped showing the control room.)

    Then the great Encoding Wars began. Subscribe to this service to decode these channels. Subscribe to that service to decode those channels. This package covers these services. That package covers those services. Some packages overlap. No package covers everything.

    And suddenly satellite tv (old school satellite) costs as much or more than cable to provide the same services without local tv but with really crappy signal during bad weather or tree growth or trees getting in the way due to bad weather. Like is pretty much found anywhere in these United States.

    So everyone switched back to cable.

    Then the little dishes came out, at first cheaper than cable, and everyone jumped on their bandwagon, until their packages cost as much or more than cable, and, again, much more subject to weather than cable.

    (Though there are those people that sign up to cable at low rates, and then when the promotion is over jump to dish at low rates, and then when the promotion is over jump back to cable, then to dish, jumping from one spouse's name to another in order to get cheap rates...)

    And then the streaming services came. Unlimited tv with everything!!! Cheap!!! Almost Free!!!

    And then one streaming service begat streaming services, each with this or that available, with the more streaming services offering less overall content per service, so in order to get a wide spectrum of product you have to have two or more streaming services...

    On top of that, do you want your internet via cable or phone or a third-party provider (using... cable or phone internet...) First two years at lower price before they screw you in the price (and people jump from one internet line service (cable/phone) to the other for a two year low price before the price jumps and they jump back to the other one (often under the spouse's name...) And the reindeer games continue.

    Can't wait for AT$T internet to only carry AT$T streaming services, probably at standard rates, and then charging a 'premium' to carry a non-internet streaming service...

    And then everyone falls back to cable...

    Wife and I have talked about this. If we were in a place we could, we might drop cable and jump to various streaming services. Maybe. Except that we've looked at what we watch, and what's on which service, and worked the numbers and it would cost about the same or more to cover what we want to watch no matter what.

    Meh. They all suck. No matter what. One large bill or 50 smaller bills.

    What no one is talking about is why cable is so darned expensive. The answer, just like with landline phones, is not the actual cost of the system, but all the 'add ons' required by this and that regulation or agency, and this tax and that fee and that regulatory fiscal offset over there that drives up the cost of cable or landline, and is driving up the cost of internet as local, state and fed governments see cable and landline drawing down in fees generated.

    That's the real issue. Cut out all the non-real fees and taxes, and cable and landlines would spring up all over again, in one way or another.

    1. That's as good a summary as anything. I was in the satellite TV receiver business back in the early 80s, when the receivers we made were for the cable companies. A small dish was 10 or 11 feet diameter and home reception was C-band (around 4-6 GHz). The small dishes were a technical leap, moving to Ku band (around 14 GHz) which made smaller antennas higher gain, and the satellites had higher effective power, too.

      I always thought the Encoding Wars were the cable companies putting pressure on the providers to scramble their signals. After all, until that moment, the model for TV was that bigger audiences are better. The bigger the audience, the more they can charge the advertisers. To the cable companies, free satellite reception was a threat. I always figured they put pressure on the big channels they provided to encrypt so that everyone had to go through the cable companies.

      We go through the cable company yanking the price on our internet connection every few months. We pay those mysterious fees on YouTubeTV and on the internet hose. They never let a chance for a tax get by.

    2. The Encoding Wars on 'free satellite' came about when effective home decoders were made available. So the home satellite afficionado had to have a box to move the satellite, a box to tune each channel of a satellite, and a box per decoding service, all paid for by the dish owner. $200-400 per box, plus satellite dish, keeping trees and other vegetation out of the scan path, plus yearly maintenance (especially if mounted not on the ground but on a tower or pole.) Lots of money, and because big satellite off ground means big lighting rod, yeah, about every 2-4 years, replace whole system.

      Yes, the 'cable' companies were part of the driving force behind encoding, but what really drove it was the channels and networks 'wanting' to be paid for their services.

      So the Venn diagram of Decoding systems, affordability, cable being pissed and networks wanting 'their' money converged to kill off big satellite systems quicker than the smaller KU dishes.

      The KU band dishes were and are a huge advancement over old school dishes, both in smaller size and better resolution, control, definition and such. But... still have to have a clear site picture, still have to basically buy the dish, and you are at the tender mercy of the dish company over what you are allowed to see.

      Cable tends to be more 'robust' as long as the local cable company maintains the system. Biggest killer of cable is water in the lines. If homeowner has cable and the signal is garbage, first check wiring in house, then check where the house connects to the main cable. Most likely the underground or overhead link between house and loop is bad. If not, the homeowner must pressure the local cable to find the fault in their distribution loop and fix it.

      Ah, the more we advance technically, the more things stay the same.

  4. Most of the streaming services have local stations. At least some of them. I'm betting one of them would have most of the cable stuff you watch and local TV. It's worth a few hours work to possibly save 50 bucks a month. Or more. (What is the net present value of a stream of payments that extends to infinity?)

    1. That was supposed to be a reply to drjim. OH well....

  5. I paid for Hulu for a while, and then I switched to Netflix when they were producing their Marvel shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, etc.). But now everyone wants a monthly payment, so I'm back to getting DVDs from the library. They are free, (I love FREE) I don't give Hollywood even a dime of my money, and I spend no time just sitting in front of a TV.

  6. Dumped cable and kept the Internet. Had Netflix, Sling and Prime for a while, plus the ability to watch Hulu courtesy of our son. Dumped Netflix and Sling, don't watch Hulu or Prime very often. I can find enough free stuff to keep me entertained. Plus on YouTube, you're able to learn things. Try that on cable.