With the arrival of services like Dish's SlingTV, Sony's Playstation Vue, and looming standalone offerings from HBO and Showtime, 2015 is finally the year that Internet video finally starts gaining some serious traction. As such, we're now seeing oodles of breathless analysis focused on what this means for you
and whether now is the time to cut the cord
. Usually in these fluffy pieces, there's a heavy emphasis
on the fact that once you've subscribed to all of these streaming services, you're probably paying the same as you already paid for traditional cable. Gosh -- it's almost as if the same people responsible for setting absurd cable TV rates are setting streaming video rates!
But there's one recurrent theme among TV sector analysts that has always annoyed and amused the hell out of me in equal measure. Almost all of the "cord cutting" analysis I've read -- whether it's a local news outlet
, the Associated Press
or a major paper -- goes out of its way to pretend that piracy doesn't exist. As in, when discussing the options available to consumers, piracy isn't even mentioned as a commonplace practice. Since the pay TV sector competes with piracy (even though they've long been loathe to admit it), that always strikes me as immensely myopic.
So it has become a sort of ritualistic entertainment for me to watch writers go miles out of their way not
to acknowledge piracy for fear they might be seen as condoning it. And as streaming options increase, stories breathlessly warning consumers that they won't save money with Internet video (if you conveniently ignore that piracy is a real thing
) are simply everywhere. It's like they're being built on an assembly line in Topeka
One specific case in point is a well-circulated bit of analysis over at the Wall Street Journal
, where author Geoffrey A. Fowler proudly proclaims that despite recent progress in streaming options, cable TV still "beats the Internet." To prove his point, he offers up this handy graphic explaining that you'll still wind up paying a ton of money if you subscribe to every Internet video service under the sun:
Yes, "what's missing" are all the things millions of people are pirating. But we can't mention that because -- why? We'll be smitten by the gods? It's now standard practice in the media to pretend that piracy doesn't exist
, then pretend that none of your readers are smart enough to notice your glaring omission. Seriously, even the barest mention of piracy is mysteriously absent from an ocean
stories, all claiming to give viewers a full accounting of the TV viewing options in 2015. There are simply countless examples of this, where authors profess to be asking the hard questions about cord cutting without mentioning the giant orange elephant standing in the corner
"But there's one whopping big question that nobody's asking: Can you replace cable with streaming Internet TV and get the same experience — and save money? After all, if you can't make the switch without missing your favorite TV shows and saving money, then what's the point?"
Except they can! Through piracy! One gets the sense that media outlets feel like if they so much as even acknowledge that piracy is a real thing -- they'll somehow be taken as advocates for piracy. It's as if piracy is some kind of angry and strange Lovecraftian god, and even mentioning its name will invite unspeakable terror upon the local village. And it's not just the media -- I've seen countless professional firms paid millions to analyze the state of the pay TV sector similarly just pretend that piracy doesn't exist -- in large part because tracking these users can be difficult to impossible. As such, it's best to just pretend piracy doesn't exist and isn't even worth trying to monitor. Nobody will notice, right?
If you were to do an honest analysis of cord cutting options in 2015, you'd note that most cord cutters are doing everything and anything to avoid skyrocketing cable rates. That may involve subscribing to Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming, but it also may include using BitTorrent and a Plex media server to pirate all of their favorite HBO and Showtime shows. I don't advocate this behavior (did I need to say that?), but if you're seriously going to discuss the current state of pay television (and how we can improve it) -- ignoring the standard practice of millions of frustrated, potential customers strikes me as a very peculiar type of willful blindness. It's a form of willful, collective obliviousness that only helps the cable industry pretend that piracy isn't a useful metric in determining just how badly they're failing to meet consumer demand.