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The rise of streaming services and the fall of cable TV

| Forum Editor

More so today than ever before, media companies outside the bounds of cable TV are stepping up their game and producing widely popular, intriguing, critically acclaimed content. It’s unsurprising that consumers are choosing to switch from cable to streaming services, since those services offer equal (if not higher) quality content and greater convenience at a significantly lower cost.

If you check the “Most Popular” TV Shows on Rotten Tomatoes right now, you’ll see a strong presence of content from digital streaming sources (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu). These shows are innovative, celebrity-studded and more raw than their competitors on cable (mainly on channels like Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC and the CW). “House of Cards,” “Transparent” and “The Man in the High Castle” are just a few of the phenomenal titles receiving incredible praise from fans and critics alike. Given the success of these shows, it is not out of bounds to argue that TV content from online providers is surpassing cable TV in quality.

Take “Transparent” for example. The show was created by Amazon Studios and has outdone its very similar predecessor, “Modern Family,” by pushing even further into issues of sexuality, gender identification, divorce and drug use. Jeffery Tambor, playing a transgender woman who is the head of her large family in Los Angeles, has won an Emmy for Outstanding Actor and the show itself won Best Drama in 2015. The list of shows from the studios of these streaming companies making a similar impact on the TV industry is impressive. Cable TV may still be a power to be reckoned with, but its online competitor is swiftly rising to relevance.

Streaming is also incredibly convenient, and it redefines the way we watch TV. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have all adopted a policy of releasing seasons of original (and old) TV shows on a specified date. Now, instead of waiting three months to watch a season of a TV show, you can consume it within a matter of hours. This phenomenon of “binge watching” has become a part of the world’s TV experience. For the average young professional or college student, that flexibility is very appealing.

Netflix and Amazon have also fundamentally eliminated advertisements from their TV viewing experiences. One of the most frustrating parts of cable TV is that there are, on average, 15 minutes of ads during every hour of TV. Streaming allows you to bypass this irritating feature completely. Sure, DVR can eliminate this problem on cable, but it is an additional expense and much more irritating to manage than simply resuming a show you started on Netflix recently.

Streaming also happens to be incredibly economical compared to cable. Currently, many cable TV contracts come bundled in larger packages from telecommunications companies. You are supposed to be getting the best “value” by buying services like Internet, home phone service and cable together. Through Time Warner Cable Inc. the introductory “triple” play bundle goes for $89.99 per month.

As home phones and cable TV become less necessary to the average consumer, it is becoming much more economical to purchase Internet service ($44.99 at Time Warner Cable) from a telecommunications company and then separately purchase your TV access from a streaming company like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon (with costs between $7.99 and $11.99 per month). If you are willing to leave behind access to your favorite cable TV channels, you can save hundreds of dollars a year leaving behind traditional offers from companies like Time Warner Inc.

Of course, that’s where the argument becomes more complex. You may not be willing to leave behind your cable shows. This is where consumer interests come into conflict: We tend to enjoy a lot of the shows produced by cable studios and would be wary to give those up. We may love the shows produced by Netflix, etc., but those are only a fraction of the shows that viewers have adopted as their favorites in the past decade. However, one of the things that makes streaming so attractive—aside from the exclusive content some services offer—is that they also host content from cable TV. When the same content is available from a more convenient and economical source, it’s easy to understand the declining appeal of cable TV.

So, consumers will have to make tough choices in the coming years and decades: How can we use our purchasing power to keep the elements of both streaming and cable that we like? It seems to be that streaming services are helping make the decision for us by cutting out the need for cable TV. In that case, the TV industry may be suspect to some displeasing dramatic shifts.