The recession: bad for cable...good for the Internet
As we all know, and are probably tired of hearing because it makes us so damned depressed, the recession is hitting everyone hard. Businesses are closing left and right, people are losing their jobs, and unemployment rates are hitting levels not seen since the days of leg warmers, headbands and tainted Tylenol. It's bad enough that even if people still have a job, their employers are taking extensive belt tightening measures to make sure they are prepared for the worst.
One of the things being eliminated from families' budgets during this belt tightening is their cable or satellite hookup. With costs that can total over $100 a month, families are just not ready to dump that kind of cash on something they feel doesn't have any value. That doesn't mean they are going without television (especially after the DTV switchover) and turning to a simpler life of canning vegetables, making quilts, and attending square dances. Rather, they are switching off their hi-def flat screens, turning on their computer flat screens, and getting their TV fix over the Internet.
Yes, the continuing convergence of television and the Global Fat Spider Filament (World Wide Web, for the non-replaceable) seems to be picking up speed as the recession continues to bat us down like a cat playing with a catnip mouse. What's happening is people are beginning to realize that a majority of the content they are watching now is available, somewhere, on the Internet, whether it be a network site, one of the video sites like YouTube or the (despised by some) Hulu, or the various torrent sites. And, while there are monthly fees for Internet usage and hardware, most of the time they are half the cost of having both cable/satellite AND web access.
Doubt me? I knew you would, so look at this: in December, Hulu recorded its highest number of unique views with a total of 24 million hits. Joost, another content provider, racked up a nearly 900,000 hours of video hits in January, which was a 25% jump from the month before. All told, viewers in the U.S. watched a record 14.3 billion online videos in December -- a 13% gain from the month before. Granted, 14.2 billion of those videos were on porn sites, but it's still a HUGE number.
Now, as I have mentioned many times when talking about TV on the Internet, standard television viewing is not dead. As not everyone is adept at hooking their 42-inch LCD screen into their PC (myself included), they still rely on standard television when they have the money for it. There's also the broadband factor; not everyone in America has high speed Internet access. Add to these items the fact that not all TV series air on the Internet (like CBS' The Big Bang Theory ... stupid Paramount!) and you still have an imperfect TV-like environment for the Web.
Still, more and more studios and networks are airing their content online and through devices such as Netflix's video streaming box. So, while we can't say, again, that television is dead, we can certainly mention in confidence that a nail has been hammered into its coffin. How long it will take to complete the coffin will depend on government and industry funding for broadband, agreements between Internet companies and studios, and the willingness of the public to switch over. Which means that TV will be around for a long, long time.