Media Enchanted With 'Mythical' Cord-Cutting Creatures

Some dismiss the “cord-cutting” phenomenon — that cable TV subscribers are canceling service and watching shows and movies online — as largely a myth. (See Internet TV: Where the Puck Is Moving.)

But for many in the Fourth Estate, this will continue to be a tantalizing topic even though the evidence for now is anecdotal, and the “cord cutters” are small in number and tech-geeky by nature.

Note that, in fact, people are signing up for pay-TV services in bigger numbers than ever: DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and Verizon combined added more than 1 million new video subscribers in the first quarter. And while Comcast and Dish Network shrank subscriber rolls, the losses weren’t as bad as Wall Street expected.

In journalism lingo, the cord-cutting trend (however small) “speaks to” both consumer readers (i.e., most people pay for TV now) as well as business readers (i.e., distribution models/consumption patterns are potentially undergoing a dramatic shift).

Here are three stories that have appeared in the last three days, which follow recent coverage from the Economist, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, the AP and Multichannel News. [In our defense, MCN’s story from last fall emphasized that the numbers of cable-cancelers is only a fraction of the current total TV audience.]

* Washington Post, May 17: Paul Farhi’s “Click, Change” (subhead: “The Traditional Tube Is Getting Squeezed Out of the Picture”) suggests that the vanguard of online-video consumers could “alter everything about the creation, production and delivery of TV.”

The argument that Internet TV viewing is additive, Farhi writes, “could be wishful thinking; the trends plainly worry some in the TV business, particularly cable companies.” He goes on to outline the “authentication” plans being cooked up by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox for existing cable TV subscribers.

He quotes a 23-year-old editorial assistant in New York City who believes all media should be free: “I wouldn’t say that watching TV online is about saving money because it was never something that I expected to pay for in the first place.” Right, except that she apparently has a Netflix subscription.

* ComputerWorld, May 16: In a post titled “Cut your cable!” personal-tech blogger Mike Elgan claims that “After canceling my cable TV subscription, I realized that online TV is much better.”

How so? He says everything’s on-demand (”The missed episodes are always online when I want them”), there’s no DVR’ing necessary, searching for shows is easier, and there’s no cable bill to pay. While the quality is “not quite as good as HD programming via cable,” Elgan says online TV is “far better quality than analog TV or even DVD.”

* Entertainment Weekly, May 15:“Cutting out cable to save money? Here’s how to survive.” Very brief item, with links to USA’s Burn Notice, Comedy’s The Daily Show, MTV’s The Hills and ABC Family’s Greek. EW notes that AMC will “only occassionally” post new episodes of Mad Men to its site.