'Cable Cancelers' and the Digital TV Transition


Analog over-the-air TV broadcasts are set to blink off next February.

Many MSOs seem to look at the DTV transition as an opportunity to pick up incremental subs — though they have differed on whether it’s a significant opportunity. (See It’s Now For ‘Nevers’.)

But the advent of free, high-quality digital HDTV could just as easily give people a reason to ditch their cable TV.

The idea: Digital broadcast HDTV looks pretty darn good, and any other programming can be supplemented through free Internet video sites or paid video downloads (Hulu.com or iTunes) and movie rental services (Netflix, which also offers Web streaming).

Dozens of message board postings and bloggers indicate that some portion of the U.S. population is looking to cable TV. 

Some dude’s even put up a site outlining steps for how to do it: CancelCable.com.

Here are just a few other data points: USNews.com’s Get Your Free DTV and Cancel Cable from last month, this blogger ("Canceled cable. Now what?") and an older ZDNet post with an inflammatory metaphor: The Comcast Cancer: Is Web 2.0 the Cure?

Heck, even Multichannel News has weighed in on this. We commissioned Paul Strassmann (formerly an I.T. exec at Xerox) to pontificate on whether one could get by without a cable TV subscription — see his essay, Life Without Cable.

It’s not clear how many potential "cable cancelers" are out there. My guess is it’s not a huge number. People really, really like cable TV (Americans watch an average of 127 hours and 15 minutes of television programming per month) and are buying ever-bigger HDTV sets. 

I don’t see myself getting my sports fix without ESPN HD. Nor would the kids be happy to lose Nickelodeon and Disney even if Dad said: "Sorry, guys, but look at all the money we’re gonna save not paying for cable!"

And of course, these anti-cable guys have to get their high-speed Internet from someone. Cable, not DSL or wireless, is still the fastest pipe in town in most areas, and MSOs have been packing on the broadband subs in recent quarters.

All the same, it should be troubling to cable companies that some of their customers are finding the core video service expendable.