Catching Up To Cord Cutters

My family uses Sling to watch live TV. This service allows you to watch 25 or so channels of live television via broadband without a cable subscription. It’s not perfect, but it suits our viewing needs (like a lot of tech-savvy families, we watch the lion’s share of our programming via streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime).

Watch your favorite program on Sling, and it will become evident very quickly that you are not watching it via your cable subscription. It’s not the show itself that looks different – it’s the commercial breaks. Instead of two minutes worth of ads and promos, you get an un-skippable slide that says something like “this is where commercials go” and elevator music. It takes a little getting used to (my teenage daughter actually pines for the days of commercials sometimes).

Most disturbing to me isn’t the ridiculous dubstep that fills breaks any time that Bravo graces our TV (in general, I try to go to another floor of the house when it happens). No, it’s the fact that there are 120 seconds of prime real estate going to waste because neither the ham-fisted programming geniuses at Bravo (only on Bravo!) nor the tech gurus at Sling have figured out how to put them to work.

Whether it’s the embarrassingly wobbly HBO NOW crashing just as Westeros was getting steamy or CBS All Access stuffing their anemic “lineup” with ancient Star Trek re-runs (spoiler alert – don’t get too attached to the guy in the red shirt), I’m constantly surprised at how unsuccessful our “successful” media companies have been at adapting to the new paradigm created by cord cutters.

Netflix seems to have hit the sweet spot with the good old-fashioned subscription model, but anybody who has found themselves in that no-man’s-land between House of Cards and Narcos can tell you that there is room for improvement. There is a place for live programming on the internet (NBC learned this the hard way during the recent Olympics as people gladly shifted away from their traditional network partners), and I believe there is even a (limited) place for tried-and-true commercials. But no one can find balance, and it’s due to greed.

TV networks (both broadcast and cable) caused “commercial fatigue” by simply showing us too many of them. Network executives are like addicts. If one commercial is good, then 10 commercials must be 10 times as good! Between 2009 and 2014 the amount of time devoted to commercials on cable TV went up by 8%. In other words, the entertainment industry’s brilliant answer to viewers leaving because of too many commercials was to show more commercials. As consumers get more and more legitimate alternatives (like Sling or Playstation Vue), those same tv executives are flailing around like blindfolded kids with a birthday piñata, desperately whacking one another on the noggin as they try to figure out where all their viewers went.

TV commercials work, but they are subject to the law of diminishing returns: show us too many in a row, and we get bored. I pay a subscription to Sling, which means that I indirectly pay a subscription fee to networks themselves. However, I still wouldn’t mind seeing one 30-second commercial spot now and then instead of those teeth grinding music breaks. 30 seconds? Not even worth fast forwarding through as I chug along on the treadmill. If that compromise – a little bit of subscription plus a little bit of advertising – allowed me to both choose my own entertainment options and save money on them, then I would be glad to do it.

What do you think? Would you be willing to watch a few ads here and there if it meant you could affordably watch whatever programming you chose (including sports) whenever you wanted? Network execs: It’s time to see cord cutting as an opportunity. Give me a call if you need some ideas.