This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

The death of cable television has long been predicted, but it really could be.

A decade ago, almost all Americans – more than 85 percent of US households – paid for packages of television channels from cable or satellite companies. That started to decline hesitant at first and then much faster in recent years.

The proportion of American households that pay for conventional TV services is now approaching the 50 percent mark, according to the latest estimates by the investment analyst Craig Moffett and S&P Global Market Intelligence Kagan Research group.

By comparison, cell phones existed for decades before the percentage of Americans who didn’t have a landline phone at home hit 50 percent in 2017 a third of American adults have a landline.)

Perhaps it seems inevitable and predictable that cable television will take the landline route. I promise you that it was not necessarily obvious, even when Netflix started taking off. Old habits are hard to break. Old industries that make many people rich are dying harder.

And don’t forget that some new technology habits quickly take hold, but don’t stick. Notice My place? Or predictions that Electric scooter or Segways would become a popular means of transport for city dwellers?

What could be an ultimate demise of the American cable television industrial complex is a big deal. It shows that technology can change entrenched practices slowly and then suddenly with profound ripple effects.

Ian Olgeirson, a research director at Kagan who has followed the American television market for about 20 years, told me he was surprised at how quickly the monthly cable bill went from the standard to the obsolete for many Americans. (Protocol had more on this in a new newsletter.)

Olgeirson and other television experts I spoke to did not single out a turning point in the great shrinkage of cable television. You said the downtrend was more like a series of creeping changes that pile up.

Netflix offered us sofa sitters a happy alternative to paying for 500 TV channels that we mostly didn’t see. In the TV industry, too, it was slowly becoming apparent that sticking to the old ways could be fatal. Cable television companies stopped fighting so hard to keep people from overflowing and were happy to sell you fast internet service for streaming revelers instead.

As the cable TV building began to crumble, entertainment companies like Disney decided they couldn’t do anything to shore up the system they had maintained for decades. You would prefer become their own Netflix.

The old TV still has some life. Americans for the time being spend much of their television time watching traditional television instead of streaming videos. Streaming is also possible tough business. And including the quasi-cable TV services from online companies like YouTube and Hulu, about two-thirds of US households pay for some old-school TV channels. An optimist would say it’s amazing that cable television has stayed so resilient.

But it is clear that the cable television system that has given millions of Americans the pleasure and headache for decades is being phased out. The wild card, as Moffett, the investment analyst, wrote in a private report to his clients this week, is whether Americans are slowly turning away from cable and satellite television or whether it collapses “abruptly like a Jenga tower”.

And the ripple effects may have only just begun. For example, major sports leagues like the National Football League have thrived on the money in the cable TV system. If the cable model tips over, it could torpedo Sport as we know it.

I have always loved TV. I felt like a real adult when I started paying a huge TV bill, partly to watch my favorite soccer team. I had cut my cable TV package, but a few months ago I was told that my bill would increase by about $ 10 a month. That was it. I’m a wireless household now too.


Tip of the week

Brian X. Chen, the consumer technology columnist for the New York Times, brings his tech geek on the hunt for a Covid test at home.

I’m sure some of you were in the same situation as me over the holidays: I wanted to get tested for Covid-19 before visiting a family member. For me it was my 1 year old niece. Local businesses were wiped out Tests at home, and I had no luck on the CVS and Walgreens websites.

So I used that same approach that I took to buy the PlayStation 5 video game console and outsource the hunt for computers.

After a quick web search, I found the product tracking page Now in stock had a whole section on Covid test kits. My colleagues and I have already recommended this website for tracking down popular electronics, including video game equipment and laptops.

NowInStock automatically searches retailers’ websites for home tests of various brands and provides a comprehensive overview of where kits are available. I was checking out the site late at night when Walgreens lit up with some test kits available. I quickly ordered a few for myself and my brother-in-law and they got it in about two days.

NowInStock allowed people to set up email notifications when new stocks became available, but the website was overwhelmed. It now only offers warnings via the Telegram app. But I found that manually checking the website for Covid tests was fine for my needs.

This is not a suggestion grab unnecessary Covid tests. But there are times when we need rapid tests. Unfortunately, in this time of scarcity, methods like these can efficiently buy what we need. Good luck and stay healthy!

  • One year since the Capitol Rising: Online chatter about celebrations and rallies marking the first anniversary of the January 6th riot in the US Capitol was relatively mute and it appears that it is “unlikely to translate into significant real-world effort,” report my colleagues Sheera Frenkel and Ryan Mac. You write that last year it shows a fragmentation of right-wing extremist groups on the Internet and a focus on local rather than national political engagement.

  • How crypto fever led to a political battle: People who “mine” virtual currencies, including Bitcoin, have moved to a city in Paraguay where electricity is cheap. Laurence Blair, a contributor for Rest of the World, writes that the crypto boom is now part of a battle between Brazil and Paraguay for one of the most powerful hydroelectric plants in the world.

  • Precious distractions: My colleagues recommend their favorite video games, including one that introduces players to the details of high school life and the latest version of Halo.

Enjoy that Giraffe bends down to have a drink. (My colleague Melissa Kirsch shared that in the newsletter at home and on the go.)


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