08/24/2010 08:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is Cable Dead? (POLL)

With the rise of Hulu, Netflix and other Internet streaming services, some are wondering: is cable television dying?

Probably not, according to the New York Times. Definitely, says columnist Michael Wolff.

To some, it may seem as though cable is becoming irrelevant, since you can get so much content for free online. But while it's true that many network shows can be watched easily online, many cable shows are simply not freely available on the Internet; unless you're willing to get them illegally, they won't be on Hulu or Netflix, and you might have to buy them on iTunes.

That's the situation that Bill Mitchell, who spoke to the Times, ran into:

He canceled his Time Warner cable service and connected his flat-panel television to the Internet to watch sitcoms and his other favorite shows, using products from Apple and Boxee. His experiment lasted 12 months. Recently, grudgingly, he returned to his $130-a-month cable subscription, partly because his family wanted programming that was not available online. "The problem is, we're hooked on shows on HBO and Showtime, like 'True Blood' and 'Dexter,' " he said.

The Times also ran a poll with CBS. It found that 88% of viewers still pay for traditional cable service, and that just 15% would be willing to drop cable for a YouTube and Hulu television diet. However, younger respondents were much more interested in dropping their cable.

Still, Wolff — who writes for Vanity Fair and runs the website Newser, and whose blog posts are regularly featured on the Huffington Post — said that cable was on its way out. On Monday's edition of CNBC's "Street Signs," he debated the issue with Business Insider's Jay Yarrow.

Wolff compared cable's current position to that of the newspaper or music industries before they were hit hard by the rise of the Web.

"Of course cable is imperiled," he said. "There's a massive behavioral shift going on."

He called Netflix a "replacement for HBO" and said that it was only a matter of time before cable is made obsolete.


Yarow made the same point to Wolff that Bill Mitchell made to the Times: that locating and watching cable shows online is frustrating and not easily done.

"Remember when they used to say that about music?" Wolff asked.

Actually, Yarow said, "it was a snap" to download music online from the start. He went on to say that, if cable programs became more available online, they would most likely be attached to some kind of subscription service managed by the cable companies and networks.

What do you think?