All Hail The Cord Cutters

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It was almost four years ago when we decided it was time to launch our online video blog, NewTeeVee. At the time, I wondered to myself how I could best understand the ongoing broadband-based video revolution in a way that would give me a window into the future – so I decided to do what was unthinkable at the time: I called Comcast and asked them to turn off my cable TV. And remember, these were the glory days of The Sopranos and Weeds, so it was a major sacrifice.

Nevertheless, my broadband sources were telling me that bandwidth-to-the-home was on an upswing and was seeking a killer app — and that video was most likely it. Large media companies were demonizing devices like Slingbox and bemoaning YouTube. These were signs that the big shift was about to happen. So just like that, I became one of the earliest cord cutters.

My cord-cutting adventure was helped along by a handful of services, which emerged as early players in the world of web video:

  • MLB.com and Willow.tv took care of my need to watch live baseball and cricket respectively.
  • Hulu, which despite my own personal skepticism became my best friend when I was recovering from my sickness.
  • Netflix, which brought streaming (and DVD rentals) into my life.
  • iTunes Video Store, which allowed me to purchase new television shows when I wanted.

This wasn’t a perfect solution, but it had one big upside – it freed me from the old school notion of television and allowed me to embrace the idea of “video” instead (read my essay — “There’s no new media. It’s all new consumption”.) In 2009, I compared Netflix to the iPod of broadband. When talking about the future of video, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (speaking at our 2008 NTV Live conference) said:

We want to watch what we want, when we want, where we want, and discover the content how we want.

His comments made perfect sense to me – just as mobile phones freed me up from thinking about communications as a static activity and turned calling and texting into part of my daily life, ever-present broadband (wireless or wired) would eventually make video part of my daily media consumption.

Two years later, Netflix is one of the major drivers for folks to sign-up for broadband services. Some folks claim that at its peak, Netflix streaming videos account for about a fifth of the traffic flowing through North American broadband networks. According to Cisco Systems’ estimates, video now accounts for about 26 percent of total traffic on the Internet (and that’s not including P2P.)

In other words, my quixotic adventure is slowly becoming mainstream. According to NewTeeVee estimates, about 500,000 folks cut their basic cable subscription in the third quarter of 2010 alone.  Are they all cord cutters? Not sure, but there are many who are. It is common for me to run into folks who tell me that they get their video-fix from Hulu, iTunes, Netflix and a handful of other services.

Whether it is the onslaught of new services (HuluPlus), Netflix embedded in televisions and DVD players, briskly selling $99 AppleTV or growing interest in Roku and Boxee, these days cord cutters are a whole new demographic. Like me, they are foregoing their cable or satellite television subscriptions, and instead opting for broadband-delivered video, which they consume on their own terms, on devices of their own choosing and at a time of their convenience. Last month, NewTeeVee launched a new GigaOM TV video show, called — what else — Cord Cutters (You can follow the show via @cordcutters on Twitter and watch the two episodes we have released thus far).

In a few days, we are going to host our NewTeeVee Live conference, and cord cutting is one of the major themes. To me, it is clear as day that we are at the cusp of another major shift in the world of online video. If the first phase of online video was about user-generated content and enthusiasm for new, fresh voices, the future looks to reinvent the past and old TV. (If you would like to join us at the conference, click here to get those tickets. And also check out the schedule.)

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