The Fable of Cable: Staying relevant when you’re in the middle.


I finally pulled the plug on cable and I’ve never felt so free.

A person driving a car

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…or at least for now.

I’m not going to lie the move was scary. What would I do now that I can’t enjoy endlessly flipping through 300 channels I never watch?

Bottom line, it got expensive and, like most customers, I changed providers each time my contract was up and moved on to the next best offer. In the end, all cable/satellite distributors were the same: 500+ channels, pricy, poor customer service, and constant outages.

The fall of bundled cable packages is a lesson in intermediaries failing to stay ahead of the competition and find customer-centered solutions to meet the demands of changing consumer behaviors.

Wall Street Journal reports that cable and satellite providers lost 5.5 million traditional customers in 2019. With the rise of mobile device use and over-the-top services (OTT), streaming started filling the gap that cable and satellite distributors missed.

Customers wanted flexible, affordable, and on-the-go options. While we saw apps such as DirecTV Now spring into action, it still hasn’t been enough to compete with Hulu, Netflix, Prime Video, and, now, Disney+ – all manufacturers, so to speak, distributing content directly to the consumer. Even YouTube TV came into the picture offering viewers access to local channels and popular networks.

Moreover, families can now share subscriptions between households (up to 10 devices for Disney+), giving audiences the access without pricey equipment fees and hidden terms and conditions. The situation has been further propelled by the COVID-19 crisis with families staying at home. We are seeing movie distributors about to suffer a similar fate. Just a few weeks ago, Trolls World Tour made over $100 million in straight-to-streaming rentals. Bottom-line profits for studios were unprecedented, bringing in 80% of sales – a figure that studios would normally have to split with intermediaries, theaters.

While I am finally rid of the grasp of cable, I find myself owning a streaming stick with endless apps like Hulu, YouTube TV, Disney+, Plex, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix totaling more than my original cable subscription. I anticipate there will be a new wave of frustrations as demands continue to evolve. When it comes to product and service distribution, innovation and agility is key to success. More importantly, intermediaries must stay steps ahead of consumer needs and expectations to remain relevant and valuable in the distribution process.

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