Now and then I get tempted to read one of those crowdsourced articles from Buzzfeed just to kill a little time while I wait for something. No, they are not good journalism and are very much clickbait. But the reason I read them is that they can give me a little insight into things in a way that scientific polling and industry white papers can not. Most of them are just lists of people’s random ass opinions like reading Facebook or Twitter status updates around a certain topic but a recent list contained a nugget that gleams like a diamond. People talked about the thing that is not only driving the decline of cable but even why people have not flocked to lower-cost cable replacement services like Sling TV and Hulu with Live TV, Ect. It’s just as much about content as it is price.
I have contended since I first began to publish that the cost of cable, while a definite factor was actually less important than what it actually delivered. Because yes it’s expensive. But people pay for expensive things all the time without being angry. Some people buy Heins Ketchup instead of a store brand or just a cheaper brand like Hunts. When I buy snacks for a gathering buy Nacho Cheese Doritos. I never ever buy any other kind of flavored tortilla chip. Because they deliver exactly what I want better than anything else I can get. We could go on an on just about grocery store items from Mayola Milk to Del Monte foods vs other products. Closer to our world the same goes for Sony, LG, and Samsung TVs. There are less expensive large-screen 4k sets, yet there are lots of people who would not bring another brand into their home theater system. People buy trucks that get bad gas mileage instead of smaller cars, Nikes instead of Filla, Chick-Fil-A, Star Bucks, and tons of rather expensive fast foods. Financial gurus like Dave Ramsey talk about that kind of spending all the time as invisible costs that you can eliminate. But for many, they are comfort items that they consider worth it even if they could say make coffee, and buy a half gallon of sweet cream and throw it over ice. This may not describe you, you may be an avid cost cutter across the board. But there is a reason many Americans carry a great deal of debt. But with cable/pay TV all people write about is dissatisfaction with the price.
But there has from the start of the decline of peak cable been another narrative. It doesn’t actually provide what it advertises. The Buzzfeed article I read asked the randos on the Internet about things they once respected that they do not respect any longer. And within the responses and even the comments were a lot of people talking about things like The History Channel, The Learning Channel, Food Network, HGTV and MTV. They said things like “I remember when the History Channel had programming that educated you about historical events but now it’s stuff like Ancient Aliens”. One person talked about how A&E went from showing movies like Sense and Sensibility to showing Duck Dynasty. I’m not judging the shows, but they have a point. People paid for cable, when there was little choice for a variety of channels for years. But for a long time there was a feeling that they were getting what they paid for. Nick Jr had Kids shows for young children, MTV played Music videos and documentaries about bands and artists, and The Learning Channel informed people about scientific knowledge. It was not all top-shelf university-level stuff, but you knew that if you had a channel specifically titled as something you would see that programming there. Science Fiction shows and movies on The Sci-Fi channel, Sliver screen classics on “American Movie Classics”. And when that changed coupled with economic conditions deteriorating during the “Great Recession” it was cable that took the beating instead of Ketchup and coffee. Why? I think it’s because yes Heinz is expensive compared to other ketchup brands. But it is a product that lives up to its advertising. It’s thicker than others, it’s redder than others. I buy the cheapest ketchup I can find myself but I’m hardcore about savings, but I know people who scoff at anything else. I think very much so, that if cable channels gave the people who are cutting their service what they actually expected or wanted to see then they would keep it.
Take a look at the top 10 cable networks. No1 Fox News. Would you say that Fox News delivers content aimed at right-wing conservative viewers effectively? Now what if Fox News decided why not make half our programming Pickle Ball and another third of it reruns of the Price Is Right, but still called themselves “Fox News”. Do you think their viewers would keep cable just to make sure they didn’t miss the content? ESPN “The Sports Leader”. Yes it is number 2, no matter how many people say they hate it and stopped watching it over the NFL or various hosts’ commentary. ESPN has sports and sports news, and sports discussion shows with a smattering of sports documentaries thrown in when not showing football, basketball, baseball, hockey and other live sports content. But what if it decided to instead fill half its time with reality TV about NBA player’s ex-girlfriends or illegitimate kids of NFL Stars in place of college football on Saturday? These kinds of moves are what too many cable networks did in the 2000s at the same time the providers like Comcast, Spectrum and (insert your local provider here) raised their rates and the country went through an economic downturn.
Interestingly enough some of the networks that occupy the top ten are the ones people complained about in the article I referenced. This goes to show you of course that those kinds of stories are not truly representative of every American. Some folks love Ancient Aliens. On January 25 History will be playing the reality show American Pickers non-stop from 7 am to 9 pm then break things up with “Dirty Old Cars” for two hours followed by American Pickers from 11 pm- 3 am. If you like programming that teaches you about History why would you sit through that? If you want History you might instead get the History Vault, a streaming service owned by the History Channel that has all of its old actual history docs and shows. Or Wonderium, a collection of documentaries and college-level courses about any number of things.
Cable channels are dying a slow death because they started targeting a certain segment that may well be the largest one, but locked them in at the expense of people who really don’t want to pay for their programming as it is, even if they can get it for less with something like Philo or Sling TV. People are seeing Avatar 2 in droves and probably buying popcorn and 6-dollar sodas even though movie tickets have more than tripled in price in the past 30 years. They saw Top Gun Maverick too. People haven’t stopped buying Mcdonald’s even though they don’t have a dollar menu anymore. If more cable channels delivered value, viewers would come back or at least reconsider dropping. Just let Star Bucks cut their sizes in half and stop carrying the most popular items and see how long it stays popular. Cable killing itself. And there might be no way out of the cycle now.