Like Eliza Doolittle, the poor flower girl yearning for a better life in “My Fair Lady,” I long for the perfect “no compromise” cord cutting solution—which sadly does not exist today. In my last column, I discussed how the market environment continues to improve and conjure up better solutions for customers to cut the cord and save hundreds of dollars per year, without making huge compromises to getting reasonable access to premium content. With the options currently available, however, there are still certain sacrifices the customer must make. With that in mind, let me outline the 5 key components that I would look for in a theoretical, perfect cord cutter solution.
#1: I want it my way
The single most strident complaint that consumers have with their cable or satellite company (beyond cost) is that they historically have been forced to purchase content bundle packages with channels that they seldom or never watch. Over the past year or so, some companies have offered so-called “skinny” bundles ( AT&T is a good example) at lower monthly costs, but even AT&T ’s skinniest bundle (at $35 per month) gives you 60 channels. You might recall from my last column that countless studies have shown that most consumers watch 20 or less channels, 80% or more of the time. In my view, the ideal solution allow consumers to pay a modest monthly fee ($25 per month or so) and select the specific 20 channels (from a consolidated list of local, network and premium channels, like HBO or Showtime) that they want regular access to. Should a consumer desire to watch a channel outside of their regular subscription list, they could pay a metered fee to watch that channel (e.g. $2.99 to watch a local channel, HBO, ESPN or Netflix , for 24 hours). While this approach scares the living daylights out of the Multiple-System Operators (MSOs) (because of the business implications of the 80/20 rule), my belief is that there is a financial viable model that could mostly make up for this. Why hasn’t it been attempted yet? The simple answer is that it is incredibly difficult to pull off, due to the complex labyrinth of content provider contractual agreements, and the legal stranglehold that network affiliates have on local news, sports, and weather content. The good news is that there has been some industry movement in this direction over the last 18 months or so. However, it’s going to require a breakthrough by some large content entity to do this, and do it in a compelling (and courageous) manner that it isn’t just another gimmicky skinny bundle. I’m holding my breath for what 2018 might have in store for consumers in this area.
#2: We live in a mobile world… deal with It
Let’s face it—the days of consumers watching all their content gathered around the living room TV are long gone. Without going into a sociological rathole around the dissolution of the nuclear family, one of the unmistakeable and powerful trends that smartphones and tablets have enabled and accelerated is that video is increasingly consumed outside of the home and on the consumers’ own terms.
Sling Media’s revolutionary Slingbox, announced in 2004, allowed consumers to not only watch their local and premium TV channels outside of their home, but literally anywhere in the world with a broadband connection. While some cable and satellite operators now begrudgingly offer comparable “placeshifting” functionality as part of certain subscriptions, these typically come with restrictions like geo-blocking (restrictions on accessing content outside of the United States) and access to less than 100% of the channels that a consumer is subscribing to.
The point to all of this is that Slingbox is on the right track; the perfect cord cutter solution will require low-latency access to all content, in a multi-platform manner, that can be streamed outside of the home. The good news is that there are several innovative technology companies (Pixelworks deserves mention, with its recent acquisition of ViXS Systems) that already facilitate high quality streaming of video content—crucial to delivering an optimized video experience in environments with less than desirable broadband connections.
#3: An integrated and intuitive user guide is a MUST
At the risk of stating the obvious, the best cord cutter solution would offer an intuitively designed user guide that consolidates both Over The Top (OTT) and Over The Air (OTA) content into a single guide. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the great pain points that consumers have with standalone OTA solutions is the TV digital tuner’s primitive user guide–a horror show (pardon the pun) to quickly access and discover content. Best-in-class guides will not only integrate consolidated OTT and OTA content in the linear format that most consumers are accustomed to, but will also take advantage of universal voice recognition so that users can invoke keywords (e.g. program name, actor, sports team) to access content quickly and effortlessly. From my vantage point, Comcast ’s Xfinity voice recognition capability is among the best in the market today; on more than one occasion, it has saved me from unnecessarily purchasing or renting a movie that was available to me free of charge with my Netflix or Hulu subscriptions. A best-in-class user guide will also be designed in such a manner that it can be easily viewed from a 10 foot (living room-style) distance but also with an interface format that is suitable for tablets and small screen smartphones.
#4: DVR functionality doesn’t die with OTA
It should be said that having access to DVR capability is no less critical with a best-in-class cord cutter solution. Since many consumers will be watching live events (generally sports) broadcast on OTA channels, a perfect cord cutter solution will have the ability to record OTA content on a local USB or SSD (Solid State Device). Better yet, DVR content should be allowed to be stored in the cloud for archival purposes—it could present a great subscription revenue opportunity for companies.
#5: Powerful wireless support
Finally, the perfect cord cutter solution will offer 802.11ad, a new wireless standard expected to make huge inroads in 2018. 802.11ad uses the 60GHz spectrum (instead of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies used by most WiFi connections today). Because 802.11ad has the potential of offering transmission speeds up to 7Gbps (more than 100% faster than today’s 802.11ac sec), it is ideal for managing best-in-class cord cutter solutions (which might feature multiple tuners in order to enable more than one user to access an OTA channel at the same time). As it is likely that most consumers will have a single external antenna mounted on the roof or near the window, the perfect cord cutter solution would act as a video “server”—strong wireless support will be needed to connect with other devices throughout the home.
Some closing thoughts
So there you have it—five critical elements that I believe are necessary to really kick cord cutting into overdrive. As we are on the heels of the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I’m optimistic that we’re going to see products that push the ball a little further down the field towards a best-in-class cord cutter product. I’m less optimistic we’ll be seeing anything resembling the new subscription service offering I outlined at the beginning of the article, but hope springs eternal before the commencement of CES. I will be reporting back on what I see—stay tuned.