Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Twilight of Cable Television

Cable television has existed since the 1950s, and it is one of the more regulated, expensive, and left-wing media.  Shows like The Newsroom and Bill Mahr outnumber shows with alternative views. Libertarian views are mostly unknown, with one or two exceptions like Reason TV and John Stossel.

The unregulated Internet has a greater diversity of views, and not surprisingly, innovation has occurred at a faster rate on the unregulated Internet than on regulated cable television.  In my rural township, Olive, New York, there is only one cable provider that can come to my home, Time Warner, and its prices are high.  The high prices may not be surprising because of my area's sparse population, but in the more competitive Internet field prices are not so high, even where I live. Government regulation harms rather than helps consumers.

Websites like and Netflix are increasingly offering  online video that works better than cable, at least in my area, and Netflix makes new programs.  Amazon has a collection that is available for free to its Prime subscribers.  The last time I looked Prime cost $79 per year or so while my cable subscription, which includes a premium package and some purchases of on-demand videos, costs over $300 per month or $3,600 per year.  ISP subscriptions run $29 per month or so, and Netflix costs $16 per month.  If you add $7 per month for Amazon Prime (which includes free shipping on Amazon-based sales, so the real cost is much less and most likely zero), $16 for Netflix, plus $29 for an ISP service, the cost of home entertainment only needs to be $52, rather than the astronomical $300 cable bill I pay each month.  My cable bill is almost enough to lease a new Lexus ES 350.

Netflix series like Lilyhammer with The Sopranos' Steven van Zandt (Silvio) and a cameo appearance by Tony Sirico (Pauli Gualtieri) and House of Cards with Kevin Spacey are as good as the HBO and Showtime series.

I don't mean to detract from the excellent TV on cable, both on prime time television and on the premium channels, but cable television's business model doesn't work. It is a financial drain on the consumer, and it takes advantage of a regulated market that prevents entry and competition--with the result of exploiting consumers.  My brother-in-law has discarded both his land line and his cable subscription, so he relies on a cell phone and the Internet.  He's a professor of physics, a smart guy, and I think he has the right idea.