Even For Those Like My Mom That Don’t Watch Much TV, Cord Cutting Is Not Easy
Those who have read my blog before know that I believe that there is a lot of hype around cord cutting. Yes, it is taking place by some, but it's not a "trend" and the numbers we have seen to date show it's not having any major impact on the broadcast industry. We also don't know what percentage of people who are cutting the cord are doing it as a result of the economy and the desire to save money as opposed to the ability to get the content they want online. Many are quick to point out how easy it is to cut the cord but the truth is, even for someone who does not watch a lot of TV, it's not easy to cut the cord, as I found out from my mom over the holidays.
By all accounts, my mom is probably the ideal type of person that cord cutter supporters would say is the best candidate for getting rid of cable. She watches very little TV, does not watch any sports and up until the holidays, didn't even have an HD capable TV. She's also one of the many customers of Cablevision who is paying nearly $75 a month for a cable TV service that she barely uses. One would think it would be easy for her to cut the cord, but as I found out first hand after trying to help her dump Cablevision, it's just not that easy.
After hooking my mom up with a Roku box and Netflix account, one would think that the majority of her shows would be available via streaming or DVDs. But the one thing my mom does like to watch is live news and right now, I don't know of any streaming device that offers the ability to get live news. The Roku and other devices allow you to get live streaming of the news in an audio feed, but not video. And while Roku has channels that allow you to get the entire news show from the night before, nothing is available in real-time.
So in addition to anyone who watches sports, those who watch news can't easily cut the cord. I'm sure some will suggest that my mom could just hook up her computer to her TV and stream it that way, but my mom's TV is downstairs and her computer is upstairs and she's not about to put her computer in her living room. I could look at some wireless options for her but she has no line of sight between the devices and a lot of distance and barriers between the two devices.
In addition to live news, my mom happens to like a lot of shows from PBS and other non-mainstream channels which I thought she may be able to get via Netflix, but right now, Netflix does not have many of them for viewing, even in DVD form. The reality is, even for someone like my mom who watches only a few hours of TV a week, she simply can't cut the cord unless she wants to give up access to her shows.
Those who are quick to talk about how big a deal cord cutting is or how large a role it is going to play in the New Year never tend to talk about how hard it is for the average consumer to actually accomplish. Most of the articles I read of how families have cut the cord are written by someone in the household who is pretty computer savvy and already has a decent amount of computer or Internet knowledge but that's not the average person. The average consumer won't be installing antennas, building PCs or installing Mac Mini's to act as their DVR.
Rewind to a week ago when an older women from the Midwest contacted me through my blog thinking I was tech support for Roku. I actually get this quite often and always call or email the person to see if I can help them as it's great real-world feedback. In this case, the women was not getting the video quality she was expecting from her Roku and wanted to know what was wrong with the device. She was looking to get rid of cable TV but as I quickly found out after trading a few emails with her, she couldn't even tell me what speed Internet she had. While I put her in touch with Roku so they could fully diagnose her problem, I believe that she simply had a very low speed Internet connection and didn't have the bandwidth for good quality video. But showing just how new this is to the average consumer, she told me she hired a local video shop in her town to install a new router but it didn't help with the connection.
In order for cord cutting to become mainstream, over-the-top services need to be as easy to use as the TV, which they simply aren't. And most of the new services are all about teaching consumers a new way of doing something and changing the way they already consume content. The average consumer needs to be able to use these devices and platforms and right now, the majority of those using them are not the average consumer but rather early adopters like you and me who tend to forget the technical ability of most folks. That's also part of the reason why right now, the number of these devices that have been sold in the market, while growing, is still very small.
I don't see this as a failure of Roku, Netflix or any of the other devices and platforms in the market today only because this market is just starting out and this is all still so new. But it is an indication that right now and for the mid-term, the average consumer can't cut the cord and still enjoy the shows they want, at the quality they want, on the device they want, with ease. Those that suggest a large portion of consumers can and will cut the cord any time soon are simply in denial.