Digital May Kill Lazy Viewers (If They Don't Kill Digital First)

I don’t think anyone can deny that laziness is a big reason for the success of television. So is the notion of “free” television. Free and easy beats choosing and paying.

In a way, it’s why the success of cable and now digital streaming providers like Netflix is so scary. Millions of people are now paying for video, and the very fact of that payment makes them more engaged and demanding. That’s scary because engagements get cut off when the user is disappointed, as cable is learning.

The cry from consumers for the last 15 years has been for cable to create an ala carte menu. Now that there are increasingly more ways to get around the cable programming gatekeeper, things are changing.

A story from cites data from Deutsche Bank marking the cable channels that have lost the most subscribers between 2011 and 2015 when streaming got bigger — and the recession was a very fresh memory.

Prominent on the list are cable networks that another banker, Barclay’s, calls “inertia channels,” a delightfully acerbic label that is really describing what might be termed “channels you watch only because you’re too lazy to look for something more compelling.”

Tops on the Deutsche Bank list of cable networks losing their mojo is The Weather Channel (down 11 million according to the chart) followed by Spike, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, Country Music Television (CMT) and Pop (formerly TV Guide Channel), all losing a little less than 8 million subscribers.  

In that same batch are ESPN and ESPN2 and Golf Channel.

Business Insider implies those channels are losing out because in a digital era, viewers now have a specific better someplace to be. The channels above (at least the nonsports ones) are “channels that aren’t deemed necessary.” They were resting places for the weary surfer too defeated by choice to try harder.

The idea seems worth it. Back in the day, I watched a lot more cable than I do now. I hung out on The Weather Channel far more than my actual interest in barometric pressure or Stephanie Abrams would seem to warrant. It was nice noise, interesting here and there.

I doubt many of those cable network losses stemmed from actual viewer cancellations or viewers lost to digital — as much as they were cable system disconnects for a variety of reasons, including irrelevance. 

But in time, there will be no way you'll watch something you don’t want to unless you’re in a dentist’s chair. 

Those channels, Barclay’s and Business Insider say, are challenged by a new reality — places like Sling TV and other specific niche apps you’ll pay for — from AwesomenessTV to YouTube Red to the new FilmStruck SVOD that Turner Classic Movies just announced.

Jim O’Neill, the resident thinker at, just wrote about the wide and potentially wonder world of niche SVODs, opining there’s a great “opportunity to deliver a somewhat narrow band of content to a totally engaged viewer that’s passionate about the content and, potentially, the cloud TV channel that delivers it.”

He’s right about that, but I still wonder. It's different when you pay for the specific content you want. Because passions change. 

If content services become like magazines, with all those subscription charges tacked onto to your Visa bill, how soon before you decide you aren’t such a big fan of anime after all and don’t want to pay $6.95 a month for Crunchyroll anymore? Or Fullscreen? Or Vevo? Or Showtime?

Ala carte might be liberating for consumers. It will be a bear for content creators.

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