A Brief History
On August 1, 1949, T.J. Slowie, a secretary of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), sent a letter to Leroy E. “Ed” Parsons, requesting he “furnish the Commission full information with respect to the nature of the system you may have developed and may be operating.” Earlier, Parsons had built the first cable television system in the United States that used coaxial cable, amplifiers, and a community antenna to deliver television signals to an area that otherwise would not have been able to receive broadcast television signals. The letter sent to him represents the first known involvement of the FCC in Community Antenna Television (CATV), as early cable was known (so named because of the literal sharing of a large receiving antenna by an entire community).
For years, if you wanted to watch the biggest and best shows that everyone was talking about, you’d have to get cable TV, put up with their hefty prices, and get nowhere with their customer service teams. But, then came the rather simple idea of streaming services, which has resulted in many online platforms becoming integrated into everyday life. Nowadays, you’re more likely to be asked what Netflix show you’re watching rather than if you caught the show on HBO or Showtime.
This has led to experts predicting that, in just 13 years, cable and satellite TV subscriptions will have reduced to just 60 per cent of their current counts. But, as this article reveals, it’s far more likely that in 13 years, TV subscriptions are more likely to be close to zero. Quite a shocking statement considering how centric cable TV has been to the everyday American over the last few decades, but it certainly stands its ground when looking at the many perks of streaming services as well as the customer perception of each form of entertainment provider.
People like things to be convenient
Even with television recording devices, such as TiVo, people are still restricted to what is usually a weekly time slot for their shows. Some providers release their original shows all at once in box sets, but many have to slowly reel them out to get money through advertising. On top of this, for the most part, viewers have to be sitting down in a certain room of the house to watch the cable TV shows.
With online streaming services, new shows are usually all placed on the platform at once, allowing the users to binge and watch the program whenever they see fit. Also, thanks to the power of mobile devices and VPNs, users can watch US shows on the go and whenever they go abroad, as shown in this guide. The convenience of being able to select where and when to watch is a huge factor for users.
Money is always going to be a factor
One of the primary grievances for many cable TV customers and prospective customers is the price. $103 per month is said to be the average household cable bill in this study, and yet the cable provider likely doesn’t provide anywhere near the number of shows that a streaming platform does, despite its cost. Take Amazon Prime, for example, which costs just $8.25 per month. It is regularly updating its virtual shelves with movies and television shows to the point where over 17,000 are available right now.
Just this simple monthly cost comparison is enough to sway many people, potentially paying a mere ten per cent of their usual bill to get even more movies and series. Some may argue that the quality isn’t always there with streaming platforms, and yet the top streaming services are releasing many of their own original shows alongside the massive haul of older titles. In fact, Amazon Prime is spending $1 billion on creating a The Lord of the Rings show.
The customer’s always right
From a study concerning customer satisfaction between cable TV providers and streaming services, this piece reveals that US pay television received an average customer satisfaction score of just 62 out of 100. The highest of the pay-TV providers was Mediacom at 55. Streaming services clocked in an average score of 75 out of 100 with the lowest rated service, Crackle, still beating the average pay-TV provider with a score of 68.
Simply put, online streaming services have cable TV providers beaten along the major factors including convenience, cost, and customer satisfaction. As more people switch to streaming services, the shows become more of a talking point, leaving those on cable TV as less watched and less discussed. It seems entirely foreseeable that cable TV will be all but gone by 2030.
Questions for students: How has cable television changed American culture and society? Do you agree that cable television may be eclipsed by streaming services in the coming years?
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For more information, please see…
Lotz, Amanda D. We Now Disrupt This Broadcast: How Cable Transformed Television and the Internet Revolutionized It All. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Peter Trieb of a coaxial cable used to carry cable television onto subscribers’ premises, has been released into the public domain by the copyright holder of this work.