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Tech Journalists Keep Completely Missing The Point Of Cord Cutting

from the buy-ALL-the-things! dept

It has become the laziest “hot take” in technology media. Once a month or so, a writer decides to subscribe to as many streaming video services as possible. They then proudly declare that this whole cord cutting thing (ditching traditional cable TV for streaming video) is a waste of time. Why? For whatever reason, these writers feel compelled to try and use streaming alternatives to perfectly mirror the existing, bloated cable bundle consumers have spent two decades complaining about, only to shockingly wind up disappointed by the cost (gosh, it’s almost as if broadcasters dictate the pricing for both services!).

Each time one of these stories pops up (from Gizmodo to USAToday,) we note how these writers are completely missing the point. Cord cutters aren’t trying to precisely mirror traditional cable bundle, they’re simply looking for greater flexibility. Cord cutting provides just that, in that if you don’t like sports — for example — you don’t have to subscribe to any services that offer it. As such, “cord cutting is really expensive when I subscribe to every streaming service in the known universe” is just an odd narrative that just keeps bubbling up across various media outlets despite not really making much sense.

The latest culprit is the New York Post, which recently penned a missive declaring that “streaming TV is getting as bad as cable.” Why? Again, it’s apparently because when you sign up for every streaming service imaginable, it starts to get somewhat expensive:

“Home entertainment is really starting to add up. Want to watch ?The Crown,? ?The Handmaid?s Tale,? ?Transparent,? ?Game of Thrones? and ?Homeland?? Prepare to drop $51 a month ? minimum. And that number doesn?t even include your Internet package or basic options such as Food Network, Travel Channel and Syfy.

And just when we thought we?d reached maximum capacity, in September, CBS will resurrect ?Star Trek? for a new series called ?Discovery.? Fans rejoiced at the announcement ? they?d been without a ?Trek? series for 12 years ? until they made a rude discovery of their own: The new show would only be available on the CBS All Access app. That?s $5.99 a month to basically watch one show. Absolutely nobody is signing up for the ?NCIS? reruns. So now we?re at $57 a month.

So, several things. One, $57 a month is still significantly less money that what many people pay for cable. Two, writers like this ignore a number of obvious realities that can lower your costs further, including the fact that countless people share streaming service passwords (something most streaming companies don’t care about because they see it as free advertising). You also need to factor in things like over the air antennas (and the rising number of solutions that let you record this content to DVR), which provide additional options for less money — or free.

Writers like this also hysterically like to avoid so much as mentioning piracy. Too many writers bizarrely act as if you’re not allowed to even acknowledge piracy exists because it’s naughty. But if you’re “analyzing” how much it costs for an ordinary consumer to get TV content and you’re not factoring in piracy, you’re missing a fairly massive part of the overall picture. It doesn’t really matter if you or your publisher don’t like it, or don’t think people should be doing it. It’s happening, it’s part of the overall cost-saving picture, and it’s something companies have to compete with. Yet it’s never even mentioned in these reports.

That said, journalists pushing the “if I buy everything in the store it gets expensive” narrative are missing the most important point: actual consumers repeatedly say cord cutting saves them significant sums of money each and every month. And if any of these writers had actually bothered to, say, talk to actual cord cutters, they would tell them the same thing.

Every time a story like this pops up I enjoy heading over to Reddit where users quickly point out how cord cutting is saving them plenty of money. Why? Because it provides something most traditional cable providers aren’t willing to: flexibility and choice. With cord cutting, the end user gets to decide how to best balance their viewing options to build a content package that works for them and their budget. That’s in contrast to your cable provider, who’ll consistently pay empty lip service to choice and flexibility, right before it raises both your cable bill and set top box rental fee.

Yet somehow the reality that consumers are truly saving money escapes these pearl-clutching authors. Like in this recent story at Wired pushing the same, stale narrative. One user at Reddit put their objection to these reports rather succinctly:

“I don’t know why every article like this dives into recreating cable, and then laments that it’s not that much cheaper than cable. He’s way more concerned with watching channels than watching shows or entertainment.”

Look, if you really like paying a significant sum of money for 500 channels to a company with a worse customer service rating than the IRS nobody’s stopping you. In fact, if you truly need to access every shred of programming imaginable and have oodles of disposable income, cable remains your best bet. But the idea that cord cutting is somehow “failing” just because it’s not good at mirroring the abysmal value presented by the traditional cable bundle makes no coherent sense. At the very least, the next time you proudly declare that cord cutting doesn’t save consumers money — perhaps talk to some actual consumers first?

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Comments on “Tech Journalists Keep Completely Missing The Point Of Cord Cutting”

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aerinai says:

'Doing it wrong'

Something else these journalists are leaving out… the option to MONTH BY MONTH decide when to cancel a service… If I want to watch a single show on CBS’s streaming service, I can subscribe for ONE MONTH, then cancel it. Wait a year… do it again. Can you do that with cable? Nope… you have a $5 surcharge for changing anything on your account and that pesky 2 year service agreement and don’t forget install fees when you want it back…

You could easily subscribe to 1 streaming service a month and switch which one that is and only pay at most $15.

Good luck finding a cable provider that will let you do anything like that…

I feel like this is the same type of journalism like they had when trains were first coming out comparing the speed of a train to that of a horse… “Well the horse is faster in this very short race we set up, so obviously this new fangled train thing will never catch on…”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'Doing it wrong'

CBS has caught wise to the old “subscribe for one month” thing… they’re not putting on the entire season of the new Trek at once for marathon-watching. They’re gonna do it like they do it on regular TV: one episode a week.

Easier to pirate it, really. I imagine. 😉

XcOM987 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 'Doing it wrong'

It is indeed yes,

Most shows get added on to iPlayer just after airing and are on for a set period of time, 14 or 28 days, often they will put entire series of things on from time to time, for example to celebrate dad’s army one year they put the entire collection on to watch.

But that isn’t an apples to apples comparision though as iPlayer isn’t a subscription service, it’s paid for by the tv licence holders, (Acctually come to think of it you sort of are paying for it if you have a tv licence)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'Doing it wrong'

If I want to watch a single show on CBS’s streaming service, I can subscribe for ONE MONTH, then cancel it. Wait a year… do it again.

But if people start doing that, how do you expect CBS and other networks to make money during periods like Christmas vacation and the summer when they’re producing absolutely no new content?

hij (profile) says:

Millennials Have Better Things To Do

Yet another generation that refuses to understand a younger generation. Few Millennials have time to watch much TV to start with. Even if they wanted all those packages and options they would not be able to use them. These reporters probably have colleagues who write those incessantly whiny articles about how Millennials are killing industries while ignoring why they are not purchasing crap that they do not have time for.

On the plus side the people who are cutting the cord likely have little time and patience to be overly concerned about the NY Post. So in that sense it is a win-lose proposition. The people who do not read win, and the people writing for people angry at clouds lose.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Millennials Have Better Things To Do


Yeah…. millenials don’t watch media.

Pull the other one.

They watch less tv of their own, so the story goes, because they’re freaking broke compared to previous generations. “Delayed purchasing patterns.”

I’d have more sympathy for them if they weren’t also a bunch of whiny, Communist clones who think the way forward is to take money from working class Americans and put it on their over-educated socialist’s tables and MOCK anyone who has a real job.



Re: Re: Re:3 Millennials Have Better Things To Do

People can be well versed in useless nonsense with no real street smarts or life skills or any capacity to work effectively in professions that normally require a 4 year college degree.

Some of that useless nonsense can actually get in the way of useful things, even useful academic subjects.

It’s much like being over trained in religion.

Crawshooks (profile) says:

Re: Re: Millennials Have Better Things To Do

Um. That’s not really where all the working-class money is going. Brass badges and hoods and crips. And even if it did go to things like over-educated socialist communist clones (yeah, what?) it’d be paltry “takings” as compared to the expenses that that same “working-class” shoulders when spent on things like forming rings around your rights.

Surely they’re not broke because of student loans and garbage-in / garbage-out economic principles, yeah?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“a new series called “Discovery.” Fans rejoiced at the announcement”

Ummm I guess they haven’t done much research on it because Discovery is breaking the cannon of the damn universe its based in… which REALLY makes fans excited. o_O
The show runner walked, but they kept name to fool people.
They won’t come clean about what universe its going to be in.
And a whole host of other issues that have driven fan apathy to new lows.

Imagine how much cord cutting would hurt if we actually had competition in the broadband market where the major players rely on you having to table a bundle to help jack up costs.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Fools or tools

Honestly given how incredibly stupid such articles are you almost have to wonder if they’re attempts by the cable industry to fight off cord-cutting by making it look like a losing proposition via third-parties.

Between unintentionally missing the point by miles or deliberately avoiding it I can’t say which is worse, but I can say that neither leaves the ones writing the articles looking good.

JOHN NEMESH (profile) says:

JUST cut the cord, did NOT get a "cable replacement"

I just cut the cord a week ago, after a YEAR of paying for cable service and not even having the box plugged in. I live with 2 of my younger brothers, I am 45, and they are 25 and 29. We didnt miss “traditional” cable AT ALL! The few shows I HAD to watch, The Expanse and Legion, I just bought on Google Play, and I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and (while GoT is airing) HBO Now.

I have ZERO interest in a “cable replacement” such as Sling, PS Vue, or DirecTV Now. Why? Because I REFUSE to watch ads or PAY for the “privilege” of watching ads. If you want to air advertisements, fine, make the programming FREE! If you want subscription revenue, fine, just dont put in ads! You can’t have it both ways guys…either you get ad revenue or subscription revenue, but I am NOT going to give you money to be advertised to! Nor will I pay RENT on overpriced, underpowered hardware!

I am still getting gouged by Comcast for Internet (now $95/mo for 200Mbps service), but my bill was over $180 before. I WONT be going back to the “traditional” model. CORD CUT!

shane (profile) says:

Re: JUST cut the cord, did NOT get a "cable replacement"

And that’s the thing.

Cord cutting happens when you are not a media addict and want to stick your thumb in the eye of both the media and the distributors.

I am getting “gouged” by Google, but then I was getting gigabit service.

Come to think of it, I am getting Google for free right now, since for whatever reason they credited me for a deposit on my hardware.

Google will give you free, lower speed internet if you have their hardware…

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Funny, I just wrote this same article in a comment to a /. thread on the same subject. Except mine wasn’t as well written, and you published first. I simply didn’t see this one until afterwards. 🙂

But T/.FA was what you were talking about — somebody kvetching how cord cutting isn’t cost effective. At least he added caveats about keeping the content. But he was dismissive about it at best. The whole article was based on the premise that one wants — no, needs — to watch all the content that cable provides.

My response was pretty much the same as what you’re saying here: if you’re just trying to save a few bux on your cable bill but feel a need to keep all the content, then you’re not ready to cut the cord. You’re in the wrong demographic. Just… stop talking about it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, nothing’s more annoying than people who go “cord cutting isn’t for me… therefore anyone who does it is stupid!”. There’s 100 years of TV and movies to choose from by various methods. Not feeling the need to watch whatever’s being marketed right now is not a failing.

I subscribe to exactly 2 services and don’t feel the need to subscribe to more just to get content (though, in truth, I would subscribe to Shudder and Filmstruck if I wasn’t blocked for being a dirty foreigner). It’s rare that a specific title makes me want to go elsewhere, I just choose from the catalogue that’s already larger than I can reasonably watch.

s2lim (profile) says:

The neat thing is that we have the tech to empower copyright owners to make money directly by simply maintaining a registry of their digital arts to which any of us, large or small, can connect, query and get a license to play, use, slice, splice, meme. etc., or whatever.

Oh, right, buggies, horses, cows, clowns and pigs.

So we get shit 2.0 with a bunch of workarounds, patches, hacks and, fuck, basically tone-deaf delivery, again. Oh, surprise, here’s a disproportionate extortion fee you need to settle or, whatever.

… I’m still waiting.

shane (profile) says:

Decade Long Cord Cutter

Yeah. I cut the cord I don’t even remember when. Sometime in the mid 2000’s. The point of cord cutting is you’ve had about enough of media. I still have to pay a cable provider. Google in my case. But I do not use any of the tv stuff.

The next step is attacking copyright, and frankly I am on the cusp for the first time in my life of fully endorsing piracy. I will never break the law myself, but it is becoming clear to me that, for those brave souls willing to go that route, piracy is a blow for democracy, free speech, and free markets.

I mean… I might buy a grey market DVD or something… 😀

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? They made me decide whether I would stop watching mainstream media or else risk going to jail to pirate.

I chose path 3 – fuck you, I don’t need your stupid horse shit.

madasahatter (profile) says:

J-School = Clueless

It seems like J-school graduates have trouble with critical thinking. Cord cutting is done by many to reduce costs but also to get control of the what they watch. There are too many cable channels I will never watch and they are included in a the cable package. Ditching cable and satellite with selecting the services that I want will probably reduce my costs and will definitely allow access to shows I want to watch. Cord cutting is only an option because cable companies do not offer ‘a la carte’ selections of channels.

Median Wilfred says:

Cut the cable February, 2009

I cut the cable in February of 2009. Comcast did not seem to want people to stay on their basic cable tier – they lowered the quality of the digital provisions to less than the analog quality they were sending out in December of 2008. Between the incessant, lying, ads and the higher cost for worse signal, I just bailed out. We had Netflix on various iPads, got it on the Wii, eventually bought an Apple TV. Now, I don’t have to wait to watch re-runs of “Speed Racer” or “Johnny Sakko and his Flying Robot”, or “Mr Robot”. Also, no lying ads to debase the language.

We didn’t even want a direct replacement – we just wanted decent quality moving pictures without disruptive, untruthful advertising. We never watched ESPN anyway. ESPN can get stuffed. All they want to do is talk (!!!) about football 24/7.

Graham J (profile) says:

Wrong reasons for being right

Karl, I agree that such comparisons are all wrong, but it’s not for the reasons you state. Sharing passwords and piracy aren’t the reason cord cutting can’t be compared to cable nor the reason it’s cheaper, it’s that it allows us to simply have less and pay less.

Many people simple don’t want a million channels for $100/month. Now we don’t have to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Okay…. For the record…. I have access to netflix and crunchyroll both, and I on occasion watch them both. You want to know where most of my viewing entertainment comes from though?


Lets plays, fan animations, animated music video’s, independant musicians, science shows, competitive friends goofing around, theory channels, news, video game and movie reviews… Whether I want something educational, entertaining or simply background noise, I don’t need cable, streaming services or things we aren’t allowed to discuss here to be entertained.

Also for the record, I do pirate and torrent some things. Mostly, it’s fan-subtitled japanese programming that I really don’t have easy access too. Super Sentai and Kamen Rider, Gaki no Tsukai, up-to-date manga releases… used to be Anime but I’m even starting to find decent alternatives to staying up to date with japanese anime releases!

Also I’ve been working on a Big Brother collection…. Yes I like reality TV! Sometimes you want fancy home cooked meals… sometimes you just want junk food.

Point of the matter is Reality TV, Game Shows and Cartoons are about the only things I actually >miss< about traditional cable, and even then keeping up with cable’s scheduled programming has always been a pain for me since I have NEVER been good at sticking to a schedule. Frig I’ll be up all day one day, then sleep in a few times and suddenly be a night owl for a week!

XcOM987 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I second pretty much all of this,

I use netflix and cunchieroll for tv shows, movies and anime, but YouTube is my main source of entertainment, the main thing I like is custom shows or fan made shows, and recently the latest is artists like “Steam Powered Giraffe” doing live concerts on YouTube to which you can watch for free and donate if you enjoyed it which I tend to now and again.

Saved my soo much since I’ve cut the cord and I am in the UK where we have a little more competition but still only have 2 main cable/tv providers, but if your not fussed about the extra channels you can use Freeview here where 95% can get HD TV for free with an EPG


Another reason to cord cut

I cut my cord several years ago, but another bonus that never occurred to me before cord cutting

With cable, you are tied to one place only – your house.

With Netflix (or whatever floats your boat) and a £18pm 4g unlimited data plan – I can visit my parents, my siblings, go away on a business trip, holiday, or even waiting in the departure lounge for 4 hours for my delayed flight, – and still be able to watch my programs as and when I want.

Try doing that with cable

eaving (profile) says:

Rotating anyone?

The other thing they leave out, even if you eventually want to see everything, is the concept of rotating. Most of the streaming services keep their core offerings the same month after month after month. So you run Netflix for a few months perhaps, drop it and move onto Hulu for a bit while they phase in and out some more material. Before John Oliver came along we were subscribing to HBO purely for the GoT months and dropping it the remainder of the year. I would bet a large number of them include the cost of Amazon Prime towards their cord cutting math, ignoring the fact that many were subscribing to prime for the free shipping well before Prime Video became a thing and just view that service as a nice bonus… Anyway you look at it though, even if it was the exact same $$s per month its worth it just to not hand the money over to comcast.

PaulT (profile) says:

Quick story from outside the US – my Mum’s moving house soon and has started cutting back on a lot of things. She was paying (IIRC) around £50/month for Sky. She wasn’t really watching most of the channels, and even the channels that did interest her got boring (e.g. movie channels endlessly repeating movies she’s already watched). Half the time, she was watching things that either were available over the air, or on demand stuff not related to a channel.

So, I’ve recently visited and managed to get the package cancelled completely. She’s found half the things she watched on a broadcast are still available to her, and I’ve installed Netflix for her, sharing my account until after the move. She has everything she actually wants for the most part, and will pay a maximum of £7.99 if she gets Netflix for herself after the move. It’s possible that she’ll miss out on a couple of shows that would only have played on Sky, but she’s generally not that bothered. She’d rather save the money and spend it something better.

This is the reality. It’s not about “millennials” not bothering, it’s people paying 5 times more than they actually need to pay for the service they use, and opting to do other things. It’s well said about the fact that most people won’t bother with all the channels. But, you know what those shows mentioned in the article all have in common? My mother would never watch them, but she had been forced to pay for them through her old package. Now she pays for none of them.

“Fans rejoiced at the announcement — they’d been without a “Trek” series for 12 years — until they made a rude discovery of their own: The new show would only be available on the CBS All Access app. That’s $5.99 a month to basically watch one show.”

They also remained quite excited until delay after delay, jettisoned show running and weird on-set stories requiring reshoots started happening. I know a few people who went from “crap, but whatever I’ll pay for it anyway” to “I might pay if it’s any good and I can get a free trial to check out the first few episodes” over the last year.

Well, in the US this is the case anyway. The rest of us will just wait till it’s on Netflix at the same time ;P

Phalen (user link) says:

Re: Re:

It’s possible that she’ll miss out on a couple of shows that would only have played on Sky, but she’s generally not that bothered. She’d rather save the money and spend it something better.

I was sort of worried about missing some "water cooler" shows when I cut the cord too. But what ended up happening is a bunch of us cord cutters found our one friend who wants and has a full cable package, and now we have a once-a-week party whenever a new show that we like is airing. Better Call Saul and Rick & Morty being the most recent.

Order pizza, get beer, watch the new episode, and discuss it all afterwards. It’s great fun.

I’m in the city, so I know this option isn’t available to everyone, but there are more than enough public viewing parties happening when the really BIG shows are debuting. It seems like every bar has Game of Thrones parties when that time of year rolls around.

And same thing with sports. If there’s a game I want to watch I go to a sports bar and watch it the same way everybody did before cable was ubiquitous.

I kind of feel like cord cutting helps engender that old-school ideal of event television and people all watching something together. I would think advertisers would hop on board* like it’s the last train out of the station.

*Speaking of which, is there some reason why YouTube shows such a limited number of commercials to me? God bless the Physics Girl, but if I have to see the first five seconds of that ad again… "Watch what happens whe–[SKIP! SKIPSKIPSKIP!]"

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Another possiblity is dishonesty

I quit reading Cnet after their corporate owner, Viacom, interfered with their product reviews (they wanted to give a Best in CES award to a device CBS didn’t like). So there are certainly cases where editorial positions have been compromised by moneyed interests.

But it’s also entirely possible that all these people writing the same basic piece about how expensive cord-cutting is are just out-of-touch old people yelling at the kids on their lawn.

tom (profile) says:

Most cord cutting people aren’t doing without TV which is what a lot of cord cutting stories imply. Most are replacing corded cable with a cell data plan and/or land based ISP and one or more streaming plans. Chances are, if you add up the cost of the data plan, fees, ISP, more fees, and streaming plan(s), the cost of the substitute TV plan isn’t much cheaper then cable, just sourced differently.

True cord cutting would be OTA TV supplemented as desired with DVD/BR of shows and movies.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m saving a lot of money cutting the cord. I’ve been gut now for 5 years or so. I get a lot of my TV from the Antenna, using a TIVO to record it all. Then it’s Netflix which these days has a ton of content. I just finished Binge watching “The Defenders” which was good.

These other streaming services like DirectTVNow or SlingTV, etc. are basically doing the same dumb Channel bundling. You can sign up to these things without getting ESPN for example!!! It’s the same old bundles!!! You’re just paying someone else for the same old thing.

What I can’t see, I can’t miss, right? If I want to watch GOT on HBO, wait for the season to be over, and sign up for 1 month and Binge Watch the whole season, and anything else you want to see. It makes the 1 month subscription worth it. It’s not worth $15 a month otherwise. Do the same with CBS all Access. Yet another service not even worth the $6 a month for. Wait for Discovery to be over. Seasons for shows are so short these days anyway. Then pay the $6 and binge watch. That might be worth the cost. It sure as hell isn’t worth $6 a month, let along $10 a month for no commercials. Ya, you still get limited commercials paying them $6. How does Netflix run their service Commercial Free at a low cost and everyone else, forces you to pay even more money for the same honor?

I’ve tried a bunch of these services for a month, and found that I just NEVER watched them. I don’t have that much time to sit around the TV. Back in the OLD days of no computers. No iPads, no iPhones, etc and there was nothing else, there was TV. But people’s time is taken up by so many other things these days.

Schmames says:

Not even for free

They are missing the most important point. It’s not cost. I wouldn’t take cable for free, because of the ads. I’ve gone to a friends or family members house and tried to watch some traditional TV, but can’t for more than 10 minutes. Having my viewing interrupted every 5 minutes is intolerable.
Secondly, bing watching. I’ll forgo the hot new show for 6 months or a year just so I don’t have it drip fed to me and I can consume all in one go.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

TV news

As I think I’ve said here before, there is exactly one thing tying my household to cable television:

Live TV news-and-analysis programming.

When it becomes possible to reasonably get CNN and MSNBC (and possibly a couple other such channels; for myself, I’d like C-SPAN) separately rather than with a cable subscription, we’ll probably cut the cord in short order.

Time was Comedy Central would have been on that prerequisite list as well, but with Colbert et al. having moved on to other things, I don’t think there’s anything there which we can’t get just as well elsewhere.

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