By Chris Brass
2017 is in the rear-view mirror and 2018 is upon us. I’ve been reflecting about the past year and while I admit that I’m usually the most cynical voice of events, I do try to be honest. I can’t say that I believed that 2017 was the year that Streaming made it’s biggest advances, but I can’t say that it was its worst year ever either because while streaming devices grew more popular in the last 12 months and while cable companies acknowledged that more people were getting rid of cable service, we ended the year on some notes that have me concerned about the future.
The cable industry is hurting. While I don’t wish to sound like a sadist, the current situation that the cable industry has found itself in is a creation of its own making, so it makes it difficult for me to feel a whole lot of sympathy. If you make something so expensive that it creates a financial burden on those you depend upon for support, they will leave. Individuals are getting rid of their cable and satellite services much more readily than ever and the growth of digital TV makes it possible to have more TV channels available over the air than was possible 20 years ago. An antenna plus streaming devices and the services that they offer, make it much easier to get rid of that financial burden and get something that is lighter on your wallet. I’m finding more and more people commenting on social media that they are getting the most basic cable service, not because they miss cable, but because in doing so they are getting cable and internet bundled together cheaper than they were paying for Internet alone. That tells me all that I need to know about how much they are charging for internet and cable service.
Something to chew on
Not only is cable facing some stiff competition, but the whole entertainment industry is as a whole. Amazon and Netflix have made their mark by creating original content for its subscribers in much the same way that AMC and HBO did and the entertainment industry has taken notice. Fuller House (Netflix) and The Man in High Castle (Amazon) created almost as much buzz around it as AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Game of Thrones. No doubt House of Cards would have continued on as a popular series if it’s star hadn’t been… well… yea…
Growth of 4K Streaming
While I like to tease Apple for being latecomers to the party, they did release a 4K capable device in 2017, that means that even more material will be available in 4K for streaming. Here I don’t have any reservations about gloating. To my knowledge no broadcasters are yet transmitting in 4K, no cable networks are 4K complaint yet, no cable companies are making 4K material available on demand, to my knowledge anyway, so that means that if you want to watch something in this newer technology you have two options. Buy it in 4K on disk or stream it via Netflix, Amazon and Vudu or YouTube. Yes, I find it gloat-worthy that the services that were once considered a flash in the pan are now leading the cutting edge of technology.
Digital TV Explosion
Digital TV is making cord-cutting much more palatable. If you were around before cable was available you know that one of the biggest draws to people getting it was that it gave the viewers choices. Before cable you had four or more channels to choose from, if you were lucky to get all four. That’s including PBS, a channel that would rarely broadcast anything most people were interested in watching once you got out of the single-digit age group. I remember when current Fox network became active in my hometown, it was a huge deal because they might have something you would like to watch. Now there are far more choices, many of which your local cable TV provider might be avoiding bringing to you. Digital tier channels like Laff, MeTV, Antenna, Grit, Comet and Hero’s & Icons are just a few of the digital sub-channels that are broadcast alongside ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW. Even PBS provides digital sub-channels to make more of it’s content available. For cord cutters, this is gold because we can still flip through more than just 4 channels to find that nothing interests us. But even more amazing is that in many ways your local channels are being forged almost seamlessly into your streaming devices.
If you own a Roku TV once you have an antenna set up you’ll be able to go to Pluto on your Roku TV and not only watch what they have available to watch with its cable like TV guide interface you can also see your local TV Channels. You can do the same with AirTV via Sling TV too. I’m now seriously contemplating getting an AirTV and a Roku TV just so that I can plug my AirTV into my Roku and have three different ways to watch my local TV stations on what would seem almost like two competing cable services as well as unhindered by any cable service at all. Yes, I’m very easily amused and entertained….
Speaking of Sling, other services are becoming more readily available to us. Hulu with live TV, YouTube TV, CenturyLink and DirecTV are introducing services to cause you to question your need for your local cable provider and despite many in the industry who tried to make streaming more expensive than getting cable, streaming is still gaining in momentum and popularity. 2017 has pushed streaming into the American conscious and made it clear that it’s in for the long haul.
When Comcast and Time Warner were talking about their mega-merger in late 2016 it was unresolved going into 2017, but it was nipped due to concerns about making Comcast a huge monopoly. 2017 ended with the end of Net Neutrality and Disney merging with Fox along with AT&T taking control of Time Warner. I’m not a huge fan of these super merger conglomerates at all, Comcast has an established reputation of using hardball tactics to get its way and I’ve long been critical of Disney and it’s strong-arm tactics against other animation studios.
While I agree that the best answer to the concerns regarding Net Neutrality is to have more internet providers, I’m not seeing anything that provides me with any comfort that regional ISP’s are going to be sprouting up to provide some choices. While I hear the argument that the merger between Disney and Fox will in many ways make more material available for streaming, I’m holding onto my “let’s wait and see” attitude. Politics always has a way of twisting the truth, and the subject of mergers and net neutrality is no different, it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, left or right, both sides have their merits and reasons for concern and both sides are doing their best to mislead the public on the issues to bolster their argument. It’s gone, so now we’ll need to see what the result will be.