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The Fall of Cable and the Rise of Streaming Services

Imagine the year is 2006. It’s Friday night and you turn on the TV to your current show anticipating the season finale that is airing tonight. Each commercial break raises more suspense as you get closer to the end of the episode. You rush to get a snack or use the bathroom before the five-minute commercial break ends so you don’t miss any part of the show. As you finish the episode, you ponder on the fact you have to wait so long to watch the next season. Ten years later, you find the same show streaming online thinking about how the simple act of watching a show has changed over time. 


Before the creation of streaming services, cable TV had been operating for over 50 yearspeaking in the 2010s. Community Area TV (CATV) was first broadcast in 1948 in a few areas in Arkansas, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. It allowed homes to receive TV signals with cable wires to get adequate video reception. In 1974, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed the launch of the first geostationary communications satellite. HBO, founded just two years prior, used that to broadcast “Thrilla in Manila,” an anticipated heavyweight boxing match in September of 1975. Soon after, multiple broadcasting networks began debuting. CBN was founded in 1976, followed by Nickelodeon and ESPN in 1979, and CNN, BET, and USA in 1980.


According to the FCC, there were 875 broadcasting stations by the end of 1970, not including AM and FM radio channels. Three decades later, in 2000, the number of broadcasting stations (except radio) was 12,073. By 2010, the number rose to 16,011. The number has continued to grow, reaching a total of 18,083 stations in 2023.


Although the number of broadcasting systems has kept growing over the years, the amount of people abandoning cable has also increased. In 2006, there were 98 million subscribers to cable television in the United States. The following year, Netflix began its online streaming services. The number of people who used satellite or cable television didn’t decrease immediately. By 2010, the number jumped to 105 million, which is considered to be the peak of cable and satellite television. However, with the introduction of Netflix’s streaming services, commercial breaks would decrease, and streaming would soon take over. Today, there are around 70 million subscribers to cable TV. The last time the number of cable and satellite subscribers was below 70 million was in 1998, when it was at 66.5 million.


As the idea of cable dwindled, the amount of streaming services exploded. As of 2022, there are a total of 206 streaming services. The life of watching TV has changed drastically in just 10 years, moving on from broadcast and cable TV to streaming services. Not only is the public making this change, but many of the top networks have moved their platform to provide a streaming service, including:




  • Peacock, which includes NBC and Universal Studios




  • Max, previously known as HBO Max




  • ESPN+




  • Starz, owned by Lionsgate




  • Disney+, who also owns ABC




Many of these streaming services used to be a channel on a TV network. Most of them have the shows they produced over the years available on their services. For example, any NBC show like The Office, This is Us, America’s Got Talent, and The Tonight Show can now be found on Peacock. Before, fans of these shows would have to wait weekly for new episodes and risk missing important information regarding the plot if they missed one week unless they had the luxury of recording it. Now, fans can continue watching new episode releases every week but have the opportunity to watch it whenever is most convenient for them rather than a scheduled time. On top of that, rewatching the entire series is much easier through streaming services rather than buying the whole series on a DVD. 


Other popular streaming services include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV. Most streaming services are producing their original shows and movies that have grown in popularity amongst various fanbases. 


It has been an interesting experience living through this change over the past decade. At first, Netflix was the sole service in the streaming market. Although it remains at the top of streaming services with over 200 million subscribers, there are many more competitors now compared to a few years ago. 


As of July 2023, streaming services have overtaken the demand of the public. According to a Nielsen report, the total TV consumption from streaming services, including the ones listed above and others, is 38.7%. As for cable TV, the total consumption sits at 29.6%, and 20% for broadcast TV. 


Is this a problem?


Not necessarily. So far, streaming services have been a huge convenience. No longer is there a need to spend money every week on one or two movies from Blockbuster or RedBox, there’s no need to tape over shows to watch later, and there is no need to wait for a commercial break to go to the bathroom. Now, a household can pay a certain amount every month for a service that has hundreds of movies of different genres and contains multiple shows and series. As the digital era continues to grow and thrive, it’s almost impossible to escape all the technological advances that are being created. From my point of view, it’s okay to give in to the conveniences being offered to us every so often. All we know is that everything is changing day in and day out. Who knows how things will be ten years from now? Holding on to old tendencies will not stop technology from advancing or life from changing, so why not give in to the comfort of streaming services while we can?


 


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