Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Internet Based Television

Let's start with what's good about streaming television over the internet: I can watch more curling than I ever have before. And now that I have a Chromecast, I can even stream it directly to my television. It's pretty sweet.

Sure, the internet gives you more viewing options than ever before, but regardless, I'm not really a fan of this trend towards internet-based television. It used to be, you just had to pay your cable or satellite provider so much money per month, and you would have access to pretty much all of the television that's out there. Back then, all the best television shows were on widely-available television networks, either on cable or over-the-air. Today, if you want access to all of the best television shows that exist, you have to:
- Pay for a Netflix subscription
- Pay for an Amazon Prime subscription
- Pay for a super fast internet connection that allows you to stream high definition video
- Pay your cable/satellite provider more than you did 10 years ago, even though a much smaller share of the good content is available through cable/satellite compared to 10 years ago
- Pay extra on top of that for channels like HBO and Showtime, which used to just show movies, but now have a lot of very good original programming

So...who says we have to keep that cable/satellite subscription, anyway? Especially now that you can get an online HBO subscription separate from cable/satellite? Well, here are several reasons why cable/satellite is still the best way to watch television, compared to internet streaming...

You need to pay more for internet. I currently pay $30/month for a "basic" 6 Mbps internet connection. It's good enough for my purposes, but it's not quite good enough to stream a single consistent HD picture, let alone multiple HD pictures at once, in case you don't want to watch whatever your kids are watching. If you do a lot of internet streaming, you really need to pay at least twice that much for internet.

Picture quality through cable/satellite is still superior, and much more reliable. Even if you do have a super fast internet connection, video quality through cable/satellite is still superior to the internet, both in terms of picture quality, and reliability. Especially reliability. People complain about the DirecTV signal going out when it rains, but that happens very rarely for me, certainly much less often than when the online service you're streaming from goes down, or the internet in general goes down. Satellite television is actually extremely reliable in comparison.

Commercials. Internet streaming forces commercials on you, and you can't do anything about it like you can with a DVR.

Sports. If you like sports, you can't get by (legally) without a cable/satellite subscription. Many professional sports leagues offer internet-based subscriptions, but they're expensive, and only worth it compared to cable/satellite as sports viewing options if you were thinking of paying for MLB Extra Innings / NHL Center Ice / etc anyway in order to watch a non-local team.

About sports, which is what keeps many people from "cord cutting": it may not take that long - a decade? - for enough online streaming subscriptions to pop up for sports, which will cover the majority of the sports that are currently available on cable/satellite. When that happens, you'll probably start seeing even more "cord cutting"...but when we get to that point, are the cord cutters really going to be saving any money? People talk about the "a la carte" model, where you pay only for the channels you watch, but the general consensus is that if the TV industry went full "a la carte", most of us would end up paying more for television, not less. The online television marketplace is pretty much already "a la carte". It didn't seem like it at first when it was just Netflix, but now you have all these other companies trying to get their foot in the door, and it's only going to get more crowded, not to mention more fragmented. Before long, even the "cord cutters" will be paying over $100/month for television. Hopefully by then, internet streaming will be as reliable and crisp as cable/satellite.

I'm actually glad internet television exists and is growing, because somebody needs to keep the cable/satellite industry in check, but the growing number of shows you can only watch online bothers me. There may come a day when watching television through the internet is better than watching television through cable/satellite, and at that point, everything will be fine...but we're not there yet.

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