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There Are No Cord-Cutters

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Television industry analysts warn about "cord-cutters" -- viewers who forsake cable TV subscriptions and instead watch the shows they love online. Although in absolute numbers these digital rebels are not yet a major force, they are young trendsetters who threaten to disrupt the entire cable model in which consumers pay large monthly fees for packages of bundled cable channels, rather than pick and choose what to watch and to pay for.

My question is, Which cord would these dangerous tech-savvy youth actually cut? Not the cord that connects them to the Internet, surely; that is how their favorite shows and movies get onto their computer screens. And here, then, is the irony: The same cord that carries the Internet signal also carries the television signal, and for the large majority of Americans the cord is provided by . . . the cable TV company.

So there is really no such thing as cord-cutting. Perhaps the better term would be "cable-cutting"--nixing monthly cable television subscription service without cutting the cord altogether. Smart content-providers and distributors already understand this, which is why they are trying to figure out how to monetize content that is distributed online to the same extent that they get paid for content that is sent out via traditional broadcast and cable television channels.

What those traditional outlets have long offered, to content-creators and to audiences alike, is audience aggregation. People once knew to tune their sets to CBS or ABC or NBC, or to A&E or Discovery or HBO, because that was the easiest and most efficient way to find shows and films that entertained and informed them. The technology of television literally channeled viewers to tune into differentiated networks that presented programs at regularly-scheduled times. The challenge in the one-cord/online world will be to develop new and compelling ways to aggregate audiences for high-quality content, especially if -- or when -- people stop buying big bundles of "television" channels. Broadcast and cable networks are thinking about how to expand their brands and retain control of how their content is viewed in a non-linear way, whether by time-shifting DVR or by purely online options. Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and other Internet-focused entities are commissioning high-budget, well-crafted programming to attract customers to their digital, well, "channels". Still, all of this material will come to the consumers via a cord, and in most cases that cord is provided by the cable company.

So let us not fear the rise of cable-cutters, for they too will pay large monthly bills, mostly to the cable companies that offer them access to the Internet. Instead, let us figure out how to ensure that those large amounts of money are made available to the people who create the programs that entertain and inform, and therefore attract viewers to the digital screen.

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