There was a time when there were only a handful of channels available on television. In this time of yore people did other things to pass the time like read a book, work, have a hobby or go outside. Those times have changed and one of the primary causes of this is facing serious challenges to its long term sustainability. Is cable TV as we know it dying? Today we will take a look at whether cable TV as we know it will be recognizable in a decade and what TV or other personal entertainment services will be available to us.

Cable Was Cutting Edge….50 Years Ago

History was made in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1963 when Ralph Roberts and two others purchased the American Cable System which transmitted 5 channels to its 12,000 customers. Before this the only way to get TV was over the air which was not always practical or reliable. Cable changed that. As long as a home could be connected with a wire a cable signal could be brought in and that customer could view TV. Since changing its name to Comcast in 1969 the world of television has never been the same.

1,000 Channels And Nothing On

Today we have potential access to thousands of different channels that can be brought into our homes by a cable or through the air. Recently though we have seen a rise in Internet based programming, with services like Hulu, Netflix and Sling gaining popularity, almost to the point that cable seems to be a dying industry.

Cable or FiOS, It Doesn’t Matter

Customer complaints aside cable as we know it is dying. The technology of 1963 and even later advancements like fiber optic technology can only take us so far. The world is going wireless and with 5G wireless services the speeds needed to stream video is almost upon us. Cable will not die a quick death to be sure and it may still exist in one form or another for some time, or at least until 5G service has complete national coverage.

That aside TV has always been a medium for change. From Pay-Per-View to Video On Demand Services to now streaming services TV as we know it has been changing dramatically. TV programs are produced for streaming services like Netflix or Hulu only, sporting events are broadcast over the Internet or social media. In a way live sports programming is the only reason that many people have stuck with traditional cable services and preventing Netflix from taking over the world.

To Know When Cable Is Dead Keep An Eye On Ad Revenue

Now in a way cable as we know it is not dying, or even close to being dead. Ad revenue, which has fled from magazines and newspapers alike, has remained steady with TV. Nearly every home in the US has a TV and Americans are still spending a lot of time watching it, more on average than people spend on social media. We will continue to consume TV but when the ad revenue begins to shift away from traditional cable to streaming services will signal the beginning of the end.

Replacing Cable Is Not An Easy Proposition

Streaming services have a long way to go to catch up to that. It cost billions of dollars to create new and fresh content. Long entrenched networks like NBC, CBS, FOX and ABC still have the deep pockets to do that and can afford to have a dud in their programming lineup. Streaming services also lack much of the ad revenue that TV brings in. Of course there is a subscriber cost and the lack of ads is a major selling point but to truly break past cable streaming services will need to dramatically boost their revenue so that more content can be provided. TV in a way has been perfected and its replacement has a long way to go to reach that perfection.

Streaming Is No Longer Netflix’s Domain

To truly kill cable as we know it advertising will have to move from that medium to streaming or online and that will not necessarily be easy to do. Advertisers know what medium gets the biggest bang for their buck and that is still cable. Smart broadcast and cable companies know that will not always be the case. Disney recently ended its partnership with Netflix and launched its own streaming service as well as a sports live-streaming service for Disney-owned ESPN. While some consider ESPN to be a dying entity (but that is a whole other story) Disney believes that they have a winning model. Sports after all is what is keeping most people tied to cable.

Could something like this be a winning model? Modern cable is filled with hundreds of channels, most of which people never watch. Many cable customers would like a more a la carte programming selection and a streaming service may be just what they are looking for but how much will they be willing to spend in the end? That is even before social media services throw their hat into the ring and begin producing their own content like Facebook has. Facebook and YouTube have no gumption about taking in advertising revenue and that huge chunk of change that is currently going to cable will begin to shift.

The Cord Will Not Be Cut For At Least A Decade

Cable will not die immediately. It may take a decade or two for it to disappear as we know it. There are a wide variety of streaming services to choose from, almost too many, and more are throwing their hat into the ring seemingly monthly. CBS has tried its own service for premium content like Star Trek Discovery and it has been growing. Comcast has also started a streaming service called Instant TV. As much as customers like to knock them they have been at the forefront of many advancements in cable so this could be a harbinger of things to come.

Of course Comcast and other cable companies have a vested interest in streaming. Cord cutting has become more and more common with around 250,000 people cutting the cord each quarter. These are particularly younger people who are migrating to streaming services so considering that these people will be potential customers for much longer than Baby Boomers or Generation Xers this is a matter of survival. The problem is that everyone will begin their own streaming service and at $15-$20 a pop people will only pick up so many of them. After all, eventually these will become more expensive than cable.

So, streaming services will eventually kill cable, especially as 5G services and whatever comes after that provide faster speeds and more bandwidth. The streaming model will change as well as the allure of advertising dollars will allow them to reduce their prices making their service more competitive. Live sports will be the final straw and as streaming services are able to offer more live sporting events cable will be in trouble. Cable companies are well aware of this and are changing. You can count on that.

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