Ding Dong, The Witch Is Looking Somewhat Less Wicked

Satan. Hitler. [Your cable provider.]  

The three great evils, although not necessarily in that order. Surely most people, including the devoutly religious and quinoa-munching pacifists, have fantasized about unspeakable acts of violence at the expiration of the four-hour window. Without mentioning any names, some of us are even the erstwhile creators of Comcast Must Die.

It was dedicated to shaming Comcast into providing some basically humane levels of customer service. We even had a jingle. It sort of worked. Many individual complaints were resolved, the company was forced into investing in its CRM infrastructure, and as a result, according to the latest survey of 277 companies by the consulting firm Temkin, Comcast has soared to 277th place. 

But Verizon, Time-Warner, Cox, AT&T, Dish…they aren’t much better. And they are all so maddeningly expensive and infuriatingly bundled that we all feel ripped off even in those rare instances when the signal is working fine. Compare that experience to:



God, orgasm, Amazon Prime, Netflix.

Selection, personalization, simplicity, value. For $10 or $15 a month -- versus $100 or $150 for cable -- you can stream to your heart’s content. I would never presume to rank the Pantheon of the Sublime, but ask God for Season 3 of Arrested Development and see what happens. 

As such, it’s hard to read about the cord-cutting phenomenon without a bit of schadenfreude -- and by “a bit of schadenfreude,” I mean naked, high-five-slapping glee. Gouge this, you rapacious crap-slingers. The latest Nielsen numbers show a 3.2% decline in cable subscriptions industrywide. Moreover, that doesn't even account for the “cord-shavers,” who reduce their services in opting for so-called “skinny bundles” at lower prices. If you’re wondering why Comcast is on an acquisition spree -- DreamWorks Animation, Rotten, a chunk of BuzzFeed and (rumored to be underway) Greece -- it isn’t because cable distribution has a bright future. Even cable for broadband is shrinking.

So rejoice! Ding-dong, the witch is dying. Which old witch? The cable witch. Ding dong, the wicked witch is dying!

Except, don’t set your expectations too high. It might be wise to put paradise and orgasm out of your mind and think instead about Libya and Iraq. Ding dong, Qaddafi’s dead, Saddam is dead, they’re both dead. Ding dong, the shit show isn’t dead.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Pandora, Spotify, Sling T, HBO Now, Starz, CBS All Access, TCM, Tidal. At last tally, there were a trillion competing streaming music and video services, with many more to come, offering exactly the a la carte selection we always thought we wanted. And once everybody connects the hardware that gives us a cable-guide-like interface for sorting among our streaming options, we will have the content world we demanded.

Whereupon cable might look, relatively speaking, like a bundle of joy. Because, as we all should have remembered, it’s a lot pricier to order a la carte than to eat at the buffet. And since, also per our demands, these pay services will come ad-free, there will be no second revenue stream to subsidize the transaction.  Oh, and as competition leads to price competition, acquisition budgets will suffer and so will content and…well, maybe Com-ddafi wasn’t so bad after all.

Or, put another way: be careful of what you subscribe to -- you might get it.




6 comments about "Ding Dong, The Witch Is Looking Somewhat Less Wicked".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, May 2, 2016 at 9:10 a.m.

    Another very good one, Bob. What so many of the unbundlers forget is the price. If it were true that the average person only wants 17 channels---a very dubious assumption based on a misreading of Nielsen stats-----and each of those channels cost, say $10 per month, not the $2 figure that some surveys claim consumers would be willing to pay---would we really be better off?

  2. Jeff Sawyer from GH, May 2, 2016 at 1:05 p.m.

    We're about to drop DISH TV and internet due to awful internet service. The other option up here in the mountains is Time Warner – yikes! But I agree that until one interface handles all the new options, and unless they are competitive on price, we'll be signing up with cable. 

  3. Maren Woodlock from Noble Advertising, May 2, 2016 at 2:50 p.m.

    The buffet analogy is perfect, but for me a buffet generally feels like too much food, a lot of things I don't like, and that I can't eat enough to get my monies worth, therefore, give me ala carte all day and I am happy.
    Buffets actually charge you for what they think you will eat, just like the cable companies.

  4. Chuck Lantz from, network, May 2, 2016 at 2:58 p.m.

    For anyone relatively new to the entire non-direct broadcast world (meaning every means of television signal transmission that doesn't exclusively use a transmission tower and a home antenna), here are two cliches that will help understand how we all got here:  "Consider the source" and "follow the money."

    Way, way back when cable was new-ish, I worked in live broadcast production for both TelePrompTer (proof of which is that I spelled it correctly), and Hughes, both before and after their merger.  Since I was a very young hippie dude, with long hair, full beard and tons of attitude, I was often pulled aside by the veterans of the early cable wars who told me what the scoop was regarding how cable originated, and who was involved.

    Without going into great detail, since I don't want to wake-up some morning with a horse's head at my feet, I'll just say that anything now being done to the cable/satellite consumer shouldn't be a surprise, considering that the entire industry was spawned by the real-life models for Godfather, I, II, and III.  

    So, our "relationship" with our providers could be much worse. All things considered, I'd much rather wait patiently for overdue cable or satellite techs than be forced to check under my car dashboard for bombs every time I complain about a bad TV signal. 

  5. Martin Focazio from EPAM Systems, May 3, 2016 at 2:30 p.m.

    Each year, I do a careful analysis of the cost of my "a la carte" media lifestyle, and, yes, I spend roughly 25% than I would on a cable video package. However, the media I get is packaged and delivered in a wholly different (and to me more satisfying) way. 

    I buy a few season passes for a few shows, no commercials, fully portable to my devices, don't have to set a DVR or anything. That's worth the $18.99 a season for 2 or 3 shows. The Roku device has cross-service search, I rarely, if ever, don't find what I want. 

    All in all, I don't care the cost of my media, I care about the experience. I simply don't like the video products offered any more than I would want to go back to a landline phone over an iPhone. 

  6. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, May 3, 2016 at 5:09 p.m.

    My vote? After all the dust settles, we're going to find out that Comcast with a TiVO and a streaming device to act as a video store is a superb setup.

    It's funny how all this chaos starts to make even Comcast look good. Here's my post "I want my TiVO. Cutting the Cable on Cable Cutting."

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