Read any recent piece on cord-cutting and you’ll find reference to consumers’ penchant for watching video “here and there.” There are so many choices for great programming that content producers and distributors are tripping over themselves to get eyeballs and attention. Putting “video everywhere” doesn’t necessarily guarantee getting viewers in front of content. The motivation for content consumption is the same as it’s been since the dawn of media: If it’s great content, it will get noticed. And unlike in the past, there is so much great content available that getting noticed is only half the battle. Achieving scale in a world that is generating hours of quality content each second is a real challenge.
The power and resources of major networks and cable companies to market their content skews the playing field in their favor. Not long ago, “traditional media” was perhaps considered less open-minded or adept at playing the digital game, trying to apply what works on TV to the digital world. But now, big media companies have the vision along with the talent, the experience, and the capital to support huge promotional strategies that provoke viewers to engage across all manner of platforms. One good example is Jimmy Fallon’s self-evident success over the past few months: He records “The Tonight Show” for late-night TV viewers, it’s then distributed over social channels in the wee hours of the morning, and just like that, the bits and pieces of one single night’s show light up the digital sphere for days. His predecessors didn’t live in (let alone tap into) the new reality of what is essentially a boundless content marketplace, which has almost nothing do with time slots and competing programming, and everything to do with access.
Perhaps “cord-cutters” is even too archaic a term, given that portable media has been taking viewers away from TV for more than a decade. What viewers are really doing is taking the upper hand, requiring quality and access -- or bust. Multiscreen viewers aren’t severing ties with networks, they’re reshaping their relationships with the networks, and the results have given a new dimension to entertainment viewing. This recent piece summarized the situation pretty succinctly by stating, “People who cancel their cable TV subscriptions may not miss their monthly bills, but they're also not missing out on some of their favorite broadcast shows.” Maybe instead of cord-cutters, we should start calling these people “network natives.”
Audiences will always watch what they like. Comfort and trust with the content make today’s video viewers no different than their predecessors, and their viewing habits confirm that major media companies’ evolving distribution models are alive and well.