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Why No One's Talking About 'Cord-Forevers'

Livestreaming services like Sling and CBS are eroding the defenses of even the most avid cable stalwarts.


We’re all familiar with the terms “cord-cutters” and “cord-never.” But “cord-forevers”?

Haven’t heard that one, have you? That’s because in the ever-evolving world of online video, even those who seem most likely to stick with the familiarity and comfort of cable and satellite TV are being tempted to say that forever is too long.

It may come as no surprise that Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds) are leading the cord-never movement. What may surprise you, though, is the number of Gen Xers (35- to 49-year-olds) and 50+ Boomers who are also eschewing traditional TV models. These viewers, along with the younger demographics, are making the switch for a variety of reasons, including greater control over viewing, access to top-notch programming and cost savings.

Let’s take a look at some cord-related trends and the drivers behind them:

Don’t fence me in

There’s no doubt that cords cramp a viewer’s style, limiting watching to the real estate where the TV rests. But a growing number of people across all ages are refusing to be fenced in, opting instead to watch their content online — on the go and at home.

The proliferation of mobile devices, in all their various shapes, sizes and functionality, is advancing the trend by making anytime/anywhere viewing easier and more enjoyable. Developers and media companies are churning out apps designed to enhance online video viewer engagement, and delivery systems have improved playback, creating an online viewing experience that more closely mirrors what consumers are accustomed to with TV.

As a result, we’re seeing an increase in people of all ages watching on untethered screens. Evidence of the shift is everywhere: Consumers are tuning into their favorite programming on public transport, in restaurants, on college campuses, at the office, and in the kitchen and rec room. Viewers are taking full advantage of their reign in the cordless kingdom, moving between devices as they move through their day, and often watching on multiple devices simultaneously.

A recent Nielsen report found that, from 2013 to 2014, digital video viewing (on PCs and mobile devices) grew a staggering 53 percent among 18- to 34-year-olds, 80 percent in viewers aged 35-49, and 60 percent in people 50-64 year-olds. Clearly, Boomers and Gen Xers aren’t letting any moss grow under their feet.

Stop the clock

Viewers aren’t sitting still for a system that requires them to keep track of when their favorite shows are airing, or worse yet, forces them to choose between two shows they love, or tortures them with an incessant influx of ads. Life is busy, unpredictable and complicated enough without entertainment being a hassle. Today’s huge array of online programming gives viewers of all ages ample motivation to break their date with linear TV programming and ads, and simply tune in online to what they want, when the time is right.

A comScore report found that the majority of viewers are saying “stop the clock,” with 56 percent of respondents reporting they prefer to watch TV on their own schedule and another 52 percent saying they watch online for the convenience. Once tuned into their favorite show, cordless viewers can watch until they’ve had their fill of a series, and they do: Binge-watching has become a habit prevalent among more than 50 percent of adults.

Like most online viewing trends, binge-watching is here to stay — the term was added to the Oxford Dictionaries this year, and Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad,” recently credited the cultural phenomenon with saving his series.

Don’t break the bank

Viewers of all ages have long loved to hate the high price of cable — the chief complaint being that they’re paying for dozens of channels that they don’t watch. There’s some truth behind that assertion; a 2014 report from Nielsen showed that the average American television household receives 189 channels — yet watches only 17 of them. And, thus far, despite competition from streaming services, those cable bills aren’t getting smaller. NPD Group found that monthly TV rates have grown an average of 6 percent per year, and expects the average pay-TV bill to reach $200 a month by 2020.

With online content that runs the gamut from drama to comedy to cutting-edge original series, from nightly news to sports channels to niche programming, Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials are finding content they love, unbundled, online. And they are getting creative in putting together a cord-free model to suit their needs, paying under $10 a month for movies and series from Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon, buying PPV movies as one-off purchases, getting their sports fix with alternatives like YouTube’s Whistle Sports, and even dipping into free content, like ABC’s “The Oscars Backstage” coverage airing on Facebook, and NBC’s free online streaming of the Super Bowl.

More than ever before, new online content and a wider range of online services are giving cable a real run for its money. Proving, once again, that online original series (like “House of Cards”) can be award-winning material, Amazon took home a Golden Globe this year for its series “Transparent,” marking the first time a streaming provider won the award. The recent announcement of CBS’s $5.99-a-month streaming service opens the doors for unbundled viewing of network programming. And Dish Network’s Sling TV, at $20 a month, marks the introduction of the first OTT livestreaming service, with access to live CNN news and live ESPN sports.

Until Sling TV, the availability of live sports online had been one of the chief reasons that cord stalwarts, particularly among the 50+ demographic, were holding dear to their cable subscriptions. But livestreaming services like Sling TV and CBS are significant steps toward eroding the defenses of even the most avid cord-forever viewers.

Ever more tenuous ties

Going forward, we’ll surely see changes that will make the cord’s hold on viewers of all ages ever more tenuous. Content providers will create more attractive packages and programming to move the cord-cutting dial even further. Complementary supporting services, such as personalization and discovery for viewers, more reliable and cheaper video delivery, and friendlier UIs, will add to the cordless model’s appeal. While it may not be tomorrow, it won’t be long before we’ll see the majority of Boomers and Gen Xers kissing the cord goodbye. Because in the evolving world of online video, forever is too long.

Jay Fulcher is CEO of Ooyala, the industry’s fastest-growing video technology company. He oversees all aspects of Ooyala’s strategy and operations, with a special focus on growing Ooyala’s business around the world. He was previously CEO of Agile Software (acquired by Oracle), and served in executive roles at SAP and PeopleSoft. Reach him @ooyala.

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