Daniel Schueppert, MJLST Executive Editor
More and more Americans are getting rid of their cable TV and opting to consume their media of choice through other sources. Roughly 19% of American households with a TV do not subscribe to cable. This change in consumer preferences means that instead of dealing with the infamous “Cable Company Runaround” many households are using their internet connection or tapping into local over-the-air broadcasts to get their TV fix. One of the obvious consequences of this change is that cable TV providers are losing subscribers and may become stuck carrying the costs of existing infrastructure and hardware. Meanwhile, the CEO of Comcast’s cable division announced that “it may take a few years” to fix the company’s customer experience.
In 2011 Ralitza A. Grigorova-Minchev and Tomas W. Hazlett published an article entitled Policy-Induced Competition: The Case of Cable TV Set-Top Boxes in Volume 12 Issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. In their article the authors noted that despite the FCC’s policy efforts to bring consumer cable boxes to retail stores like Best Buy, the vast majority of cable subscribing households in America received their cable box from their cable TV operators. In the national cable TV market the two elephants in the room are Comcast and Time Warner Cable. One of these two operators are often the only cable option in certain areas and together they provide over a third of the broadband internet and pay-TV services in the nation. Interestingly, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are currently pursuing a controversial $45 billion merger and in the process both companies are shrewdly negotiating concessions by TV networks and taking shots at Netflix in FCC filings.
The current fad of cutting cable TV implicates a pushback against the traditional policy of vertically integrating media, infrastructure, customer service, and hardware like cable boxes into one service. In contrast to the expensive cable box hardware required and often provided by traditional cable, internet media streaming onto a TV can usually be achieved by any number of relatively low cost and multi-function consumer electronic devices like Google’s Chromecast. This arguably gives customers more control over their media experience by providing the ability to choose which hardware-specific services they bring into their home. If customers no longer want to be part of this vertical model, big companies like Comcast may find it difficult to adjust to changing consumer preferences given the considerable regulatory pressure discussed in Grigorova-Minchev and Hazlett’s article.