I just finished reading The Price of Free, by Nicholas Carr, published in this week’s New York Times Magazine. The article discusses the end of the era of the electronic hearth; video content is now being disassociated from major networks, affecting the studios and networks much in the same fashion as newspapers have seen in recent times, and our home lives are no longer centered around the TV set as we view more and more content online or on personal electronic devices.
Like Carr, I got fed up with high bills for content I do not consume. My combined cable, internet and phone package from Verizon recently doubled in price to $216 per month ($2592/year!), and I thought to myself, why am I submitting to this closed system that I barely use? I cancelled my service, bought an HDTV converter and antenna for $89 at Radio Shack so we get local channels, signed up for NetFlix ($15/month), and got Clear’s 4G wireless broadband service ($55/month for two wireless accounts, one for home and one for the road). My costs are now $828/year. That’s some major savings. Do I miss out on some stuff? Sure, but not enough to cry about – or to go back to the Verizon setup.
It’s not like the studios and networks didn’t see this coming. People have been calling for a la carte programming for ages. Now that bandwidth and speed have increased dramatically, people are choosing to view content via cheaper means. Is that surprising? Carr worries that quality may suffer if the studios don’t get enough money to produce programming. I doubt this. Production costs have dropped dramatically in the digital age. What may in fact happen is that the money will go to many smaller outfits producing only one show rather than 50. It’s a more artisinal approach to making content, and I think consumers will adjust to it readily – and pay for it, only in smaller, more easily digestible chunks.
This shift is not over. What comes after major studios, big networks, major record labels and newspapers nobody knows. As long as it means I can block out Kate Couric and Dancing with the Stars and watch things that truly interest me, I’ll be happy. Now, if I could only switch carriers on my iPhone…