To no one’s surprise here, cord cutting is on the rise. According to a new study released by the Pew Research Center this month, 15 percent of Americans who once had a cable or satellite subscription have decided to cut the cord.
Perhaps even more interesting is the number of people using the data connection off their smartphones instead of paying for traditional broadband Internet from one of the big providers. The Pew study says 13 percent of Americans now rely on their smartphones for online access, with a majority of those people saying the monthly cost of broadband Internet is too expensive.
Yes, cord cutting isn’t going away. In fact, some would argue it has only begun. As the consumer demands more of an a la carte approach to their TV watching needs and technology continues to improve, expect that 15 percent number to increase even more in the coming year.
That got us thinking at CutCableToday: What are going to be the biggest cord cutting stories to follow this year? In just the past few months, there have been several big stories that impact cord cutters.
Here are the ones we’re keeping our eyes on in 2016.
1. Data Caps: Sticking it to Cord Cutters
Comcast made headlines this year after customer service documents that shed light on the company’s data cap implications leaked online. Similar to what consumers experience with wireless smartphone providers, a data cap allows for a certain amount of data — be it streaming shows on Netflix or video chatting with relatives — before charging the customer an extra fee.
For Comcast customers in select cities, that means going over a 300 GB limit could result in a $10 fee, which comes with an additional 50 GB to use. The Internet service provider is also giving high bandwidth customers the option to pay $35 on top of their Internet bill for unlimited Internet. Understandably, customers are furious about their data caps.
If you’re not a Comcast customer and stream a lot of content, don’t think you’re in the clear. Data capping is expected to be a significant trend in the coming year that more ISPs are expected to at least trial.
AT&T and Cox have already joined Comcast in capping data, and there are published reports that Verizon FiOS is looking to do the same thing.
Andy Abrasion, CEO of Comunicano Inc. told us this year said data caps are directly related to the increase in cord cutters.
“These cord cutters are eliminating their cable subscriptions and choosing to get their content via over-the-top services like Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now and others. This is creating a net subscriber loss each month and is impacting the asset value of ‘average revenue per user’ and life time values.”
If this happens, expect more people to ditch broadband, as mentioned above, and use their smartphone data instead.
2. Will Sling TV Add Key Features Customers Want?
In 2015, Sling TV became the first true cable TV alternative. For $20 per month, customers get access to a healthy amount of channels, like CNN, Bloomberg, and most notably, ESPN and ESPN 2. They have $5 add-ons for news and sports junkies, too.
Did Sling TV have some growing pains over the last year? Absolutely. There were some notable service outages during high-demand events. However, the service has become considerably improved in recent months with updates to its user interface and vastly greater stability.
What we’ll be looking for in 2016 is what else Sling TV adds to its line of services.
While Sling TV does offer some on-demand content for certain channels in its lineup, including the entire HBO catalog, many customers want the ability to record their favorite shows. They want a true DVR service. They also want the ability to have multiple streams (perfect for spouses who want to watch separate programming). And some want more channels, namely the major networks.
If the folks at Sling can convince FOX, CBS, NBC and ABC to play ball, it could easily become the complete TV service for cord-cutters.
3. What’s Next for Apple TV?
After nearly three years with no hardware updates, Apple gave us an updated set-top box with a better looking and snappier user interface and the much-desired Apple TV app store.
At its launch, the fourth generation Apple TV isn’t too much different than its predecessor. All the same apps you had before are still available. This time, you need to download them from the App Store. (There are games in the App Store, which some people will really like.)
What we’ll be watching for is what starts popping up in that App Store.
Today, you can download WatchESPN, CNN and all the four major network’s apps, but all of them require a cable login to watch any full-length content.
What if you could download the app and then subscribe to that content for a monthly fee? What if Apple allows us to bundle those purchases at a discount rate?
There were rumors of Apple creating its own live TV streaming service, but the computer giant has decided to focus more on the App Store for now, according to a recent Fortune report. Apple was reported to be in negotiations with several TV networks and create a 14-channel bundle for between $30 and $40 per month.
4. More Original Programming from Streaming Services
2015 saw some great original programming from the major streaming services, especially Netflix and Amazon. From Daredevil to Making a Murderer and The Man in the High Castle to Transparent, the streaming giants have put out some highly rated and even award-winning original content. Expect that to continue at an even greater rate in 2016. Netflix has already announced it will be doubling its original scripted shows in 2016 and is investing $5 billion in programming, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has grand ambitions of his studio producing an Oscar-winning film for its Prime Video service. We’re beyond excited to see what new original content hits our screens in the coming year.
5. ATSC 3.0 Continues to Move Closer to Reality
An often-overlooked option for cord cutters is a good ole fashioned antenna, which has the ability to give you free network TV in crystal-clear high definition. That means free live football on Sundays, free nightly news and your favorite sitcoms and dramas.
Some would argue, though, that over-the-air television is outdated. It can’t easily reach mobile devices and it doesn’t satisfy our on-demand appetite.
That’s all about to potentially change. In October, the Advanced Televisions Systems Committee adopted a candidate standard for the next-generation broadcasting system called ATSC 3.0. It’s a standard that’s expected to be capable of 4K broadcasts and the ability to simultaneously broadcast to mobile devices.
The antenna can be tiny for this type of broadcast, which could make it more attractive for people who simply want to plug it into their HDMI port on the back of their television.
I wouldn’t expect any stations — even the big market stations — to begin investing in equipment to broadcast ATSC 3.0, but expect to see more trials at upcoming Consumer Electronic Shows.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on this comeback story.
6. PlayStation Vue Goes Mainstream
Sony’s PlayStation has always been a great gaming machine, but is it also going to be the next ultimate cord-cutting device?
It was announced earlier this year that ESPN was coming to PlayStation after Sony reached a deal with Disney. Will this set the stage for Sony to also strike deals with any other major networks?
Sony’s offering isn’t exactly cheap at $50, per month, but there’s no contract. And you get access to a pretty big lineup of channels, including CNN, CNBC, Fox News, FS1, and FS2, in addition to a slew of other channels.
We’ll be watching to see what other deals Sony lands and if the service, which is only available in a handful of major U.S. cities, expands its reach so that more consumers can try it out. And we’ll also be curious to see if Vue becomes available on different hardware platforms.
7. Can Sports Fans Cut the Cord without Missing Out?
There was a magical moment for cord-cutters this NFL season: The Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars played on Oct. 25 in London and the whole world could watch the game for free on Yahoo. It marked the first time the NFL streamed a game for free.
Expect more of that in the future. Maybe in 2016?
Industry experts have reported that the NFL wants a company like Amazon, Apple, Google or Yahoo to stream Thursday Night Football next season, non-exclusively.
If the NFL hops on board with streaming — even if it just is Thursday Night Football where the bottom feeders of the league tend to play — it’s a no-brainer for other leagues to hop on with similar free broadcasts.
Maybe Fox would stream the baseball playoffs? The NBA could pick a handful of marquee matchups for the year to put online for free?
Even more importantly, will 2016 be the year that local blackouts are abolished? While services like MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, and NFL Game Pass offer a ton of live sports content, the major drawback they all share is that fans can’t stream their local team’s games live due to blackout restrictions. Hopefully, these restrictions will be lifted in the near future.
Live sports has traditionally been the biggest hurdle for cutting the cord, but 2015 saw more new options for watching sports online than ever before. This is going to be a big a story to watch in 2016.
What did we miss? Let us know your cord-cutting predictions for 2016 in the comments below.