Ian Harris: Living cable free?
We’re all living cable free, right? We’re the digital generation, we cut the cords, we use streaming services and we don’t pay for cable. But would we be better off if we did? While fewer college students have cable subscriptions than in the past, I would hazard a guess that most still watch an impressive amount of television. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Roku, YouTube TV, CBS All Access, Apple TV, HBO Go, soon Disney+ and more; the number of streaming services continues to increase year after year and the ways in which people of our generation pay for the right to watch slowly become more and more convoluted.
In many college units, at least one of the aforementioned services is being provided by a parental unit of some member of the household. How long will that last, though? My generation has slowly come to expect that all forms of media will be provided for them for free, but that’s not reasonable for the entertainment industry or a given consumer. Surely, Netflix and HBO know how many people share their accounts with each other, right? Is this something technology can stop, or is it simply a matter of time before this entire ecosystem begins to resemble the cable packages that everyone so despised?
No one knows for sure what the streaming landscape will look like in a few years, but most are in agreement that consumers are not going to shell out five to 10 dollars per network they want. Bundled streaming deals feel inevitable, and when they do come, it will be right back to where we started. Sports in particular have a difficult road ahead. Last year it was estimated that the NBA is losing billions of dollars a year on people illegally streaming the league’s games through sites as open and accessible as Reddit. Personally, I used to use r/cfbstreams all the time to watch college football games that weren’t being aired on a network someone in my house had access to. This fall, Reddit seems to have cracked down on the existence of threads like that, which just funnel people to illegal streaming sites, costing the corporate content creators boatloads of money.
I think one of the main reasons streaming is so prevalent is that it feels like a victimless crime. ESPN doesn’t need more of my money, nor does Disney, Warner Bros or any of the rest. Is it really so bad so deprive them of my five dollars so I can watch Michigan play a basketball game at Illinois? This is pure speculation, but I suspect many people who are guilty of illegally streaming would never consider stealing so much as a candy bar from a Walgreens. In reality, illegally streaming content is just as much of crime and just as much of a theft as stealing a candy bar is, but it doesn’t feel that way. Stealing from a store feels like stealing, whereas illegally streaming something from a billion dollar corporation feels like getting one over the man.
Even film majors like myself have seemingly little moral issue stealing films and TV show files from the internet and costing content creators money, despite the fact that they themselves one day hope to be the ones creating the content. Surely at that point we will hope that illegal streaming has been limited or erased entirely. Surely then we will see that what we are doing is wrong ... maybe. But until then, I’m going to keep watching Netflix on my parents’ account and borrowing CBS access from my roommate. I don’t need to pay money to watch the Lions lose on Sunday — I’ve got enough problems as it is.