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Making the Cut: Cable TV vs. the Internet

Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and countless other providers offer a service that has exploded in usage and popularity in recent years: online television.

In an Internet-dominated age where cable is beginning to look increasingly more unappealing and pricey, online viewership of television and movies is soaring. Rather than remaining gimmicky alternatives that one only resorts to when the television refuses to turn on, Internet television and video streaming have become some of the main venues for television viewership. Instead of watching a film at the movie theater or the latest episode of a television series on the actual television, more and more people are turning to online video streaming as an alternative. Since 2010, Internet television is the most common form of television in the United States. Some viewers are even choosing to “make the cut” by eliminating cable television entirely in favor of online television.

It’s easy to understand why online television is an attractive option. The switch seems like a reasonable decision given that the cost of Netflix is $8.99 a month while Comcast cable charges $39.99 a month for 140 channels, not including internet fees. The added appeal of being able to watch whatever you want, whenever you want, is even more understandable—who wants to wait until 8 pm when you can pull that episode up on Netflix at a moment’s notice? The icing on the cake comes from services like Amazon Prime that also provide music streaming services (akin to Spotify), free two-day shipping, and an e-book lending library for the Kindle. Compared to all those perks, Comcast suddenly looks a lot less cool. At College Prep, an impressive 64% of students polled used online streaming services to watch TV.

Cable, meanwhile, only claimed 24% of the viewership results, while 12% of the remaining students didn’t watch any form of television at all. The trend is clear: despite being a relatively recent development compared to the more long-running cable, Internet television is quickly increasing in viewership. Most students, however, were satisfied with the way they viewed television, with an impressive 89% stating that they would not change their television habits. Of the minority (13 students) who did want to make a change, 10 (or 8%) would switch from cable television to online streaming, while only 3 students (2.5%) would change from online TV to cable. It appears that for now, internet television is pulling ahead.

What does this mean for traditional television? Is it possible for cable TV to bounce back when

one-fifth of all households in the United States no longer subscribe to cable? Fortunately for providers like Comcast and AT&T, Internet television as a stand-alone is still largely unfeasible because it requires Internet access. The plethora of shows available from online streaming services mean nothing if you can’t get online in the first place. Therefore, cable providers have been able to stay afloat. Providers like Comcast offer Internet and cable in a bundle, while deals that provide Internet alone might actually end up being more expensive after all the Internet bill and streaming bills roll in. Not to mention the gap between when a show or film is aired and when Netflix decides to add it to their list of selections. For many, the wait is too long.

To top it all off, although all video streaming services are theoretically equal, they are not exactly the same. Shows on Netflix will occasionally be different than shows on Hulu, so if you want to see them all, you’ll have to subscribe to both. Some channels might not even be available on any streaming service, so viewers may still end up turning away from their laptops and cranking on the television.

At the moment, it doesn’t look like online television has caught up to the more “traditional” forms of cable TV. In the large scope of things, Internet television is a relatively new market and still has a lot of kinks to smooth out before it can dismantle cable entirely. It’s still likely that all television may be streamed through the Internet one day. But until then, cable television will be a common commodity throughout American households—and it won’t be relinquishing its hold anytime soon.

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