Rich white males issuing edicts on women's health -- while dismissing the medical details -- was not the only comparison to contemporary issues I noticed on Downton Abbey this season. As a cord-cutter, I could not help but see Lord Grantham and his resistance to modernization as a metaphor for cable TV.
Cord-cutters are those of us who have dropped the landline and bid adieu to pay TV. I began my cord-cutting journey in late 2007, which was before it was really a buzz-word. My TV became Netflix or iTunes or Hulu (I was a beta subscriber). I knew that Napster produced legal options like iTunes, unlimited long distance for landlines would eventually provide similar wireless options, and that Netflix streaming and Hulu would eventually push for a revolution in how we watch our shows.
It's true that cable still owns TV viewing -- and for as long as it holds the lion's share of sports viewing, it will maintain that heavy hand. But how long can that last really?
Until recently, cable executives have been known to treat cord-cutters like mythical creatures. Pay TV companies resist this change with some channels (like TNT) halting online viewing by pushing users to log in through their cable provider. Cord-cutters, however, are far from being unicorns, even if we are not yet the mainstream. According to a Convergence Consulting Group report in 2012, 2.65 million have dropped cable between 2008 and 2011 and Nielsen reported that there was a "22.8 percent increase in cord-cutters over the past year."
We cord-cutters are far from being the biggest threat to traditional markets, however. There is a burgeoning generation of "cord-nevers," those that grew up on alternatives to paid TV and thrive as part of a culture whose first instinct is to go to the Internet for what they want to watch. Cord-nevers, who are notoriously difficult to count, have already established their viewing habits. Cable has to do more than get them to revert to old habits, since they don't exist; it has to change an entire worldview.
Despite cable's lack of foresight, however, the options are growing. With Hulu and Netflix producing original programming, and YouTube and Amazon following suit, shows will be trending on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus that cable cannot touch.
For us cord-cutters and cord-nevers, there's never been a better time to make our push for a better marketplace. Netflix's House of Cards turns traditional TV upside down, creating a form of binge-watching with HBO quality that nearly eliminates my weekly trip to Spoilertv.com for previews.
And this brings me back to Downton Abbey. Rather than throw my money at the mess of unwanted channels and shows that is pay TV, I'm free to buy a season of a specific show I want on iTunes. Normally, this means I'm a day delayed in viewing, but this year the entire last half of Downton Abbey was immediately downloadable in the middle of the season. I was ahead of the usual Facebook status spoilers of my pay TV friends. With boosts like this and shows like House of Cards, I think 2013 could become the year of cord-cutting.
To cable I say: It doesn't have to be this way between us. We can all get along if you decide to evolve with the times. Even Lord Grantham figured out Matthew was right and modernized. Lord Grantham! The guy who invested all his money in the Canadian railroad and lost it and almost joined a Ponzi scheme. Surely you're more forward-thinking than Lord Grantham.
Then again, you could just stick to your guns with your "resist the future" trend; after all, it worked well for the music industry and newspapers everywhere.
Follow Brandon G. Withrow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwithrow