Well surprise, surprise. The chief executive of Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., says that broadband is the anchor service of the company’s future, not television. And while that may be a no-brainer for most of us observers in the industry, it’s still a pretty big deal for a cable company to admit their future isn’t in cable.
We’ve all seen this coming. Not one of you readers is surprised. This is kind of like when Pete Rose finally admitted that he bet on baseball… no one was really all that shocked because we’d already come to that conclusion on our own long before.
Cord cutting is growing, though it still has lightyears to go before it becomes mainstream, and online video is on the rise. Internet-connected TVs are selling more than ever (and are even on track to be the main Internet device for U.S. households by 2015), and the cable companies are starting to see the forest for the trees. Television, in the traditional sense, is dying.
If Time Warner Cable and Comcast and their competitors are going to stay alive in the future, they’re going to have to find something to sell other than TV service (or they’re going to need to just buy NBC and call it a day).
Here’s Time Warner Cable CEO, Glenn Britt:
“Clearly the relative importance of the video business has declined over time. I think broadband clearly is becoming the anchor service.”
The good news for viewers, obviously, is that entertainment video isn’t going anywhere. It’s just going to be found more on the web than through cable boxes. And Time Warner isn’t going anywhere either. They’re moving online, just as Comcast did with Xfinity.
But I’m not sure these cable companies should expect to get as large a slice of the pie with online video as they have traditionally gotten with cable. There are already serious competitors in grabbing online viewers, such as Netflix or Hulu. There are a la carte purchase options like iTunes or Amazon, where users can buy a single episode of a single television program rather than a subscription that includes shows they don’t care for.
So shifting online won’t necessarily be a smooth transition for Time Warner Cable. It’s not just the same business in a new delivery system… it’s an entire new marketplace. They’re going to have new competitors and a bit less of a stranglehold on the market once television shifts online. Which isn’t to say they won’t succeed. They probably will.
But the days of cable as we know it are beginning to wind down. The web just offers too many choices for consumers for how to access their content. Even though cord-cutting is still a long way from being mainstream, pretty much everyone can see the writing on the wall… even Time Warner Cable.