What's behind the unplugging trend?

Published: Monday, April 15, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 at 5:38 p.m.

For many like me, our induction to the “connected generation” was cable television. I have vivid memories of those initial CNN broadcasts and was watching live when “video killed the radio star” christened the birth of MTV. Ditching the rabbit ears and UHF signals for a cable box opened a new world of content and connectivity.

How ironic is it now that for many the badge of connectivity is often accompanied by the act of unplugging. That means ditching cable, if you haven't heard.

So what's behind this trend? Is it money or do some folks actually prefer streaming content from the web. Perhaps it's both.

I remember those early cable bills being less than $10 and now it's nothing to spend more than $100 a month. If iTunes has taught us anything, it's that we don't want to pay for the whole CD when we can just get the song we want for a buck. The same can be said for television. Getting 3 gagillion channels is great but if you only watch The Voice on NBC, you're not exactly getting your money's worth. This creates a new market of consumers and the services are coming online to fill the need.

Streaming boxes that lasso content from the web and through the television are plentiful and cheap. Roku and Apple TV are two popular devices that are increasingly making their way into the living room. Services like Netflix Streaming and Hulu are just a couple that are piping in our favorite shows for pennies on the dollar. If you like a particular series, you can simply download it one season at a time.

These options are changing mindsets. This is an entirely different connected generation than the early adopters who watched “MASH” and “Punky Brewster.” Digitally recording shows to watch later has desensitized viewers from initial showtimes. Mediums such as Twitter have made it OK to skip watching the big game because real-time updates are at your fingertips. YouTube has also become a viable entertainment as I can attest when my daughter recently came home for Spring Break and watched hours and hours of YouTube content. Of course, the whole premise of cable is being tied to a fixed television and if mobile has taught us anything, it's that we can consume content on the go.

Technology does not seem to be evolving in favor of cable, either. Smart televisions are becoming the next evolution in television as they bring social media and other mobile options into the living room. All that fiddling around at work on your computer just wasting time can now be emulated at home. Apple founder Steve Jobs expressed before his death that he had “finally cracked it,” referring to his vision of rebranding the television in much the same way he had the music and computer industries. My guess is if the mythical Apple iTV ever gets produced, it will be about as friendly to cable as iTunes has been to the music stores.

Regardless of the trends, cutting the cord is no small feat for the average couch potato. As someone who has a home theater and cherishes a good movie night, I have had more of a gradual withdrawal from satellite. I found that I could keep local channels and about 15 of the more popular cable networks for $15 a month. This includes my beloved Food Network and my wife's HGTV. Couple that with Netflix and Redbox and we have plenty of content. With the savings, we picked up an Apple TV device that can be best described as an interface that ties all the Internet streaming into one device. It works flawlessly for our needs.

Do I advocate such a complicated system for everyone? Not at all. Cable is still a powerful resource for those who like options. I currently have no access to ESPN and MTV, which would be bad if they ever played “video killed the radio star“ again.

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