Death Of Cable Won't Come At The Hands Of Streaming Players Any Time Soon

The cable bill is not going away anytime soon.

There was a glimmer of hope that subscription services like Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, which allow people to watch television shows and movies on demand, coupled with streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV and gaming consoles, would finally free us from our expensive cable and satellite bills.

But despite the proliferation of new technologies and services, most people aren't ready to cut the cable cord in favor of streaming players.

Nearly 85 percent of people who own streaming players, like Apple TV and Roku, also subscribe to cable or satellite, according to the technology research firm IDC. And analysts say it boils down to content.

"You can't replicate what you get from paid TV cobbling together Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime," said Greg Ireland, research manager of multiscreen video at IDC, adding that some sports and other live events aren't yet streamed.

Streaming players, like Apple TV and Roku, connect to your television and play on-demand web video from a host of subscription providers, like Netflix, HuluPlus and MLB.TV. While the specific content offerings on the players varies, both allow you to rent and purchase movies.

But people with streaming players who don't subscribe to cable or satellite, or to premium services like Netflix, HuluPlus or MLB.TV, will miss out on live sports, the current seasons of many hit cable shows and the latest content from many of the top channels, like ESPN, HBO, TNT, USA and Discovery. (For Apple TV users, some current shows are available for purchase on iTunes.)

With an Apple TV, you may be able to watch all seven seasons of "The West Wing" on Netflix, but if you don't have cable or aren't willing to pay $35 to download the entire season from iTunes, you're going to miss out on the latest season of Mad Men as it premieres.

The number of households with streaming players pales in comparison to the 100 million households in the U.S. that pay for TV.

Apple didn't respond to an inquiry from The Huffington Post, but TechCrunch reported earlier this year that more than 10 million Apple TVs have been sold since the first version of the product was released in 2007.

Roku, for its part, said in April that it had sold 5 million streaming devices.

And Roku doesn't market its product as an alternative to cable and satellite, but rather as a way to enhance the experience of watching paid TV.

Steve Shannon, general manager of content and services at Roku, said that the company's biggest opportunity is the 4-year-old TV Everywhere initiative, which allows paid TV subscribers to watch on-demand content online and on mobile and streaming devices.

Shannon cited as an example HBO Go, which allows HBO subscribers to watch the cable channel's shows through the Roku, among other devices.

"It's the best way to watch HBO," Shannon told The Huffington Post. "It drives engagement on our platform. It drives device sales. And it generally gets us in a better spot with our customers."

"In a lot of ways these things are complementary," IDC's Ireland said of streaming players and paid TV. "They're providing content that we otherwise don't have through paid TV as well as giving us access across a variety of devices beyond the television."

Some cable subscribers are fleeing, albeit in relatively small numbers, but their desertion appears to have little effect on the major providers' bottom lines.

Comcast, the largest cable provider in the U.S., saw a 17 percent increase in profits last quarter, even though the company lost 62 percent more subscribers than during the same period a year before, according to The New York Times.

The immediate future of paid TV may depend less on new technology and more on industry regulation. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act, legislation that would allow people to pay for the channels they wanted à la carte, rather than having to pay for expensive bundles.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the cable TV trade group, called McCain's legislation "a lose–lose proposition."

"As countless studies have demonstrated, subscription bundles offer a wider array of viewing options, increased programming diversity and better value than per channel options," the NCTA said in a statement on its website. "In today’s video marketplace, consumers enjoy more choice than ever before."

In an op-ed published Wednesday in the Los Angeles Times, McCain cited an FCC report that said that cable bills rise by an average of 6.1 percent each year, and by 2020, the average bill could be $200 per month.

"The American people are being ripped off," he wrote.