Here's a chance to sort out this cord-cutting stuff

Jim BartholdA couple items last week seemed to put an exclamation point, if not a period, on the whole debate about cord cutting. First, an analysis by Horowitz Associates, the "Multiplatform Content and Services Study" revealed there's a cord-cutter generational gap.


It seems that people with a lot of energy, sharp eyes, free time and a willingness to use it and, most importantly, technological savvy are the ones who say they'd considering giving up cable TV. Of course these are the same people who either don't have the money to buy cable TV or who are too young to pay the bills in the first place or, even better, haven't found any reason to sit back and watch any kind of TV because they're too busy (and yes, there's some envy here) still living their lives.

Anyway, it makes sense. Youths explore; they discover new ways of doing things. You don't really need to do a survey to figure that the next generation would push past the idea of watching TV on a TV and go to a new dimension of watching something--let's not call it TV, let's opt for the vaguer "video entertainment"--on a pad or laptop or a computer.

This is certainly not be the traditionalist idea of appointment TV, but even the older generation isn't stuck on appointment TV anymore--except for live sports. Still, it also makes sense that the older generation would cling to the concept of more traditional TV while seeking a TV experience as rewarding as possible; thus an older person might pay more for a high definition connection (or two or three) or a premium service or higher data speeds but still sit down to watch a live or recorded show on a home theater system rather than firing up the desktop or PC. Let it be said, though, that the minute there's a button to be pushed that makes that home entertainment theater more interactive, the older viewer will be right there with the youngster exploring what's behind the screen.

This explains how cable companies can claim that cord cutters are immaterial (for now) because average revenue per user is going up. At the same time, it makes sense that cable companies are working to find ways to blend the next-generation viewing experience (including Web) into now-generation viewing. The young might not believe it, but they'll one day be the older generation and a 60-inch TV with the SurroundSound's going to be pretty appealing--even if it is carrying videos of the neighbor's dog skateboarding across a frozen pond.

The second cord cutting news wasn't necessarily cord cutting news at all; it was more like a litmus test of whether people are cutting the cord because, as they tell survey after survey, cable TV costs too much. Time Warner Cable has put its mouth where it's money is--or vice versa--with a low-priced package intended, so it claims, to sate those who just want the basics of cable TV; the top channels and some local channels with good pictures.

"We've heard loud and clear that customers would like more flexibility in video packaging, particularly in availability of smaller packages," TWC CEO Glenn Britt said during a third quarter earnings conference call when he announced the slimmed down channels package would be forthcoming.

Take-up on TWC's proposal should go a long way in proving whether price is, indeed, as big a factor as some believe or if something else is driving away the bottom slice of cable subscribers. It could be--and this is always a tough pill for the cable industry to swallow--that subscribers are drifting off not because of price but because of poor service and the perceived arrogance of an industry that's had it's way with the home television for far too long. After all, satellite and telcos aren't losing subscribers like sand through an hourglass.

One thing that is certain; despite the hoopla very few are cutting the cord altogether. They're looking for alterative media but, when it all shakes out they're looking at the same content being delivered via that alternative media. If you can get movies from Netflix, so be it; go with Netflix and cancel HBO. If you can get sports on the Web, all the better-unless of course you want the big picture and sound experience of an ESPNHD; then you might need to subscribe to cable or telco or satellite.

What makes cord cutting so intriguing is the myriad of explanations for why it's happening. In two news announcements last week, two more ideas were thrown forth and at least one method of determining the truth put out for all to see.--Jim