We can see the numbers as well as anyone. Each quarterly report shows cable companies are losing television subscribers.
Many people are migrating to IPTV services offered by telephone companies, which are aggressively marketing an alternative to cable, even though what they are providing is essentially a different type of cable with a few more Bells (pun intended) and whistles.
The novelty factor could wear off soon with cable providers stepping up their own game; Cogeco last year began offering TiVo (subs only), Rogers is planning its own IPTV service and Shaw intends on utilizing Comcast’s X1 platform for its TV customers.
Still, many people are leaving “television” services altogether. Boon Dog Professional Services issued a report last month showing that Canada’s publicly traded providers of TV service — even when factoring in the growth of IPTV — lost a combined 153,000 customers during the first three quarters of 2015. That was seven times higher than it was a year earlier.
The numbers could escalate further next year. In fact, this might be a structural trend that becomes more pronounced in future years, considering the fact that younger people are the ones less likely to subscribe to TV service.
Then again, some research indicates many of people who forgo any kind of TV service will give it a try next year when new regulations kick in that ensure cheaper starter packages and more choice over the channels they get.
During the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV hearing in 2014, Rogers’ regulatory vice-president Ken Engelhart said that the TV system, as we know it, could survive another two years or another two decades — but make no mistake, its days are numbered.
Engelhart was not saying the practice of watching some kind of story, sporting event, informational program or live entertainment on an electronic screen with sound is dying. Rather, he was talking about the way video content is delivered to your home. He feels the closed connections between homes and their TV service providers will eventually be replaced by a distribution model that involves the Internet.
The popularity of online streaming services such as Netflix, and efforts by major Canadian media/telecom companies to compete by offering services like Shomi and CraveTV, are likely indications of where things are going.
We’ve also witnessed some jarring changes with over-the-air TV operations, most recently at CHCH and CTV. You might view this as another sign that the boob-tube business is going belly up, but you would be mistaken. The business model behind conventional TV, where advertising is relied on for virtually all of the revenue, is broken.
But we must keep in mind that people still spend a great deal of their lives watching screens for entertainment. It just seems more of it is being done online. One can understand why the Internet is an appealing way for companies to get TV content to people. Businesses can avoid mandated Canadian-content quotas and all kinds of other hoops the CRTC makes companies jump through for the privilege of a broadcasting licence.
Yet, some people would rather watch content on the living-room TV than a tablet or computer, and they don’t feel like trying to figure out what gadget will get an Internet signal to the main set. Traditional TV subscriptions hold some appeal for these people. Many providers, such as Bell, Telus, Rogers and Cogeco, now help you connect the TV right to Netflix through the set-top box. Yet, the real and perceived hassle of connecting Internet to televisions, especially as more of them become “smart” TVs, should lessen in future years.
The plumbing behind the infrastructure might change, but we will remain a TV-obsessed culture. Look at the evidence. Great inventions like the Internet come along and what do we do with it? We find a way to use it for TV. Even the latest buzz about virtual reality is how it can be used to access TV content.
People will — for the duration of my lifetime and many generations into the future — continue to be entertained by electronically generated images that tell a story, inform or provide some form of entertainment, whether it’s on a movie screen, a television set, computer, smartphone, tablet or maybe even a 3D hologram.
The baskets that have been used to collect money from this cultural habit are no longer working, and the eggs that have been placed in these baskets are cracking. The trick now is to find new baskets that work.