Cutting It Close


This graphic snagged my attention this morning, hard to do when my eyes are still learning to wake up. The Axios blurb isn’t much, but the picture tells the story always and I’m interested.

The overall numbers are the most interesting. Rounding up, as if you couldn’t do this yourselves, 10% of Americans use an antenna to get their television programming. No surprise there; OTA television is free, always has been, and depending on the region you can pull in a surprising number of channels, many uncompressed high definition and a much better picture than with cable, believe it or not. This is the way we watch the NFL and the occasional other broadcast. I have no idea why the largest antenna users are in my age group (50-64).

Of the remainder, it’s essentially 2:1, with 60% cable and 30% streaming. The demographics are interesting if only because they show the future, but there are no surprises there, either. I’m sure I know young people with a cable subscription; I just don’t know I know them. The ones I do know seem completely uninterested in cable, and probably would never consider such a thing.

I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve been cable-less here (I find the term “cord cutter” odd, and is that just me? No one refers to cable as a “cord” and it’s not erring on the side of alliteration, obviously); years, maybe 6 or 7? It was my call, something my wife was uneasy about at the time, but she knew what I did; we watched maybe two hours a week, and it started to feel dumb.

And we were riding the streaming wave. I not only bought an antenna but an early Roku box, and there was plenty of television. In the summer of 2012, I learned a couple of tricks to get Olympics coverage, and I managed the biggest problem (sports) by first buying annual subscriptions to MLB and the NFL, and then deciding I could live without it (if necessary). We’re not going back, no matter how old we get.

Lately we’ve been augmenting our Netflix and Amazon choices with standalone streaming options. I did a free trial of Sling TV, for example, so that my wife could watch the U.S. Open, a joyful summer experience for her after a lot of missed seasons. My tenant splits HBO with me, so that he could catch up with Game of Thrones. I did a Hulu trial, only so I could binge some Buffy, but my son tossed 11 bucks at me the other day to keep it at least another month, since he’s found a lot of material.

Most striking about this, though, besides all of us living long enough to see true a la carte choices, is that we’re rapidly approaching a 50/50 split between cable and streaming as the biggest cable consumers (people 65 and older) do what people do, which is die.

This isn’t a technology divide, either; it’s a cultural one. First, people who watch cable just watch more. Second, the problems with cable news are now cliché but still real, and the major cable news network (Fox) has long since abandoned their pretense of “fair and balanced” and just accepted their role as the propaganda wing of the Republican Party.

This is The Great Unspoken in our society; we acknowledge the division and polarization and at the same time ignore the largest cause, which seems to me obviously our media diet. We didn’t elect a savvy businessman, a deal maker, to the office of President; we elected a reality television star. We can talk about social anxiety and latent racism, but I suspect the proof is in the programming.

Chuck SigarsComment