Wednesday marks a very special birthday for us over here at GigaOM’s NewTeeVee: It’s been exactly a year since we published the first episode of Cord Cutters, our web series about watching TV in new and interesting ways that don’t require a traditional pay-TV subscription. Since then, we’ve published a total of 36 episodes, held a nationwide meet-up and grown our presence on Twitter and Facebook. Most importantly, we’ve learned a whole lot about how countless viewers reinvent the way they watch television every day.
Here’s our very first episode of Cord Cutters, published on Oct. 19, 2010:
Hey, you, how do you watch TV?
NewTeeVee has covered the future of video since late 2006. We often focus on the business aspects of reinventing television, simply because the story behind the ascent of companies like Netflix and Hulu — and their recent struggles — is fascinating.
Of course, we’ve also paid attention to the consumer side all along, covering new devices like the Roku, the Apple TV and the Boxee that bring online video content to the TV screen. However, we didn’t want to become yet another gadget blog. Instead, we wanted to get a sense of how people were actually using these devices and what difference they were making in their everyday lives.
We briefly contemplated visiting people at their homes and taking tons of photos of their setups. But then we realized that it isn’t just about the boxes you stack under your TV and the cables you use to connect them — even though, for geeks like us, that can be a lot of fun as well.
No, there is something more fundamental going on, something that’s at least as disruptive as the introduction of the DVR in 1999. With online video maturing from cat videos to long-form content, people are watching TV on their own terms, liberating themselves from not only the schedule but also a single category of devices and finally from a bunch of previously pretty much mandatory services. Some people watch whole movies on the iPad, others stream Hulu content to the Xbox, while others again rediscover over-the air-television as the best HD signal there is.
We’re a nation of cord cutters
A big part of this has been cord cutting, as the act of giving up your traditional pay-TV subscription is now known. The economic crisis has forced many of us to take another look at monthly expenses, and pay-TV providers are starting to feel the consequences. Pay-TV subscriptions were down for the first time ever in two quarters of 2010. There was a slight rebound earlier this year, but things aren’t looking too good for the rest of the year. Some predict that nine million households won’t have cable by 2016.
We decided to devote a whole show to this trend not because we hate cable companies (even though everyone else seems to) or because we don’t think that the traditional $100 a month cable bundle is a very good deal for consumers (which it isn’t).
We did it because we noticed that those cord cutters were the very people who were at the forefront of reinventing television. They are the folks in the trenches who take their TV viewing back into their own hands and experiment until they find a solution that works best for them — and not the one-size-fits all approach that’s still at the core of pay TV.
And there was something else we quickly noticed: Cord cutters are everywhere, including at GigaOM. Check out this video we did late last year with a number of our employees:
Here’s to the alpha geeks
Granted, not everyone is ready to cut the cord and give up on cable or other forms of pay TV. Most households probably never will be — and working on Cord Cutters has given us a lot of invaluable feedback on why people stick with Comcast or U-verse. Sports is still a big reason; falling in love with a certain show or network that isn’t available online is yet another.
However, cord cutting still matters. Not only financially, as pay-TV providers see their slim growth margins breaking away, but also to innovation in this industry. Tim O’Reilly has long been talking about the alpha geeks — the people who impact our collective future by inventing and crash-testing it today. Cord cutters are the TV world’s alpha geeks. Watch them watch TV and you’ll get a sense of where all of our TV consumption is going.
Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a misconception, leading many people to believe that alpha geeks all work at some hot Silicon Valley startups. It’s true that folks in tech seem to be the most vocal about cord cutting and many other tech trends. But if you look at the history of technology, it’s more often than not folks outside the Valley that got the ball rolling.
Minorities, not startup CEOs, were the first to embrace cell phones in the U.S. Teenagers in Europe were getting blisters from texting long before mobile messaging became fashionable stateside. And farmers in rural Kenya have done mobile commerce long before you and I even heard about Google Wallet.
It’s not about geeks vs. have-nots
Why does this matter? Because with cord cutting, some industry insiders want to differentiate between the tech-savvy and the economically depressed, arguing that most people simply give up on pay TV when things are tough, only to sign up again once the economy recovers.
But at least judging by the feedback we’ve gotten from people of all ages and backgrounds who watch Cord Cutters, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Cord cutters are general contractors, priests, politicians, retirees, teachers, students, liberals, conservatives and libertarians — and they’re all united by a desire to watch TV differently.
Helping our viewers to make that happen — and learn a whole lot about the future of TV in the process — has been the most satisfying part of producing Cord Cutters. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
Visit the show page to browse our entire archive.
We would like to hear from you: What do you want to see on future episodes of Cord Cutters? What else should we do, or what should e do differently? Do you want more product demos, more tips and tricks, or more meet-ups? Let us know in the comments!