Fans of disruptive technology cheered as cable and satellite television providers began to shake subscribers.
Cable giants were starting to post sequential declines in subscribers. Media market researcher SNL Kagan confirmed the trend last summer, when it revealed that the pay-television user base suffered its first ever quarterly decline.
Premium television now has an unlikely cheerleader coming to its defense. Speaking to Kara Swisher during last week's D9 conference, Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) CEO Reed Hastings painted a rosier picture of the industry he is presumably disrupting.
He doesn't see his celluloid smorgasboard model or the buck rentals at Coinstar's (Nasdaq: CSTR ) Redbox as annihilators of the traditional boob-tube mind-set. He believes that the recession, foreclosures, and the lack of household formation led to the temporary slide in pay television. Hastings points out that the industry has actually bounced back by adding 500,000 cable and satellite television subscribers in the latest quarter.
He's right about that much. Market leader Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) continues to shed video customers -- 39,000 during the first three months of this year -- but weakness in cable has been more than offset by gains for ambitiously marketed AT&T (NYSE: T ) U-verse and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) FiOS. Satellite television has also picked up new couch potatoes.
This is a sensitive time for all parties. Netflix passed Comcast in sheer number of subscribers earlier this year, and Hastings doesn't want to come off as the villain.
It's not just because Hastings is a nice and likable guy. He can't afford to anger service providers that also watch over massive content vaults. Comcast recently closed on its NBC Universal deal. Every studio that Netflix is dealing with relies on a predictable stream of money from pay television through channels or video on demand.
However, it is unrealistic to expect the convergence of televisions and online connectivity to leave traditional providers untouched. It's hard to justify $80 a month when more and more content is available online. Why can't the future be high-def antennas for local channels, Wi-Fi televisions pulling in Web-served content, and just $8 a month for Netflix's streaming service? Outside of live sports, can you think of a good reason to keep paying your cable bill? Even the hottest premium cable shows are available piecemeal these days.
Cord cutting isn't a myth. Convergence is coming one way or another, and fans of disruption will be the ones having the last laugh.
Is cord cutting real or just a 2010 blip? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.