cord cutting

Cord cutting in 2021 is pretty terrible

Television is pretty much ruined.

Can you believe there was a time when The X-Files was free to anyone with a TV antenna? That show — to me anyway — is the highlight of an era when most good TV existed in one place. If you were within range of a broadcast station, or if you were willing to fork over money for cable, you could watch what everyone else was watching.

There was no secret FOX hiding somewhere that you couldn’t access.

It was simple.

Most subscribed to cable because it was easy. But after some time, many got tired of paying for channels they never watched. They were starved for some kind of alternative. Cheap options like Netflix showed up. Netflix scooped up loads of legacy content, then started making its own TV shows. And it wasn’t long before Amazon and Hulu joined the fray.

For a time, pretty much all good TV — both old and new — existed on those three services. Things were great.

Now cable networks have come roaring back, bringing with them something far worse than the thing we all hated. We now have a television Hydra, where cord cutting one head off causes two more to grow back, each hoping to charge you a monthly fee to watch a show you’re interested in.

Do you have any idea how many streaming platforms there are in this world right now? Almost every single cable or broadcast network wants a slice of this pie, so much so that if you put a “Plus” after the name of a network, the odds of it existing are pretty good.

I can’t watch the one reality TV show I can stand — Hunting Atlantis — anywhere after it airs except through the $4.99 per month Discovery+. If I want to check out the new iCarly reboot (because who doesn’t?), that’s at least $4.99 more for Paramount Plus.

Disney+ and ESPN+ are separately asking for your hard-earned dollars, even though The Walt Disney Company owns part of Hulu (where many ABC shows live). And along those same lines, NBC’s Peacock exists for some reason, even though Comcast (which owns NBC Universal) also retains an ownership stake in Hulu.

Also, there’s: HBO Max, AMC Premiere, Apple TV+, BET+, FX+, History Vault, and so on. Every network is bidding hard for the best content. Each is now keeping its past treasures to itself.

The current TV apparatus almost makes cable look attractive again, if not for the fact that many networks are now pushing their good exclusives onto their streaming services. So if you’re a die-hard fan of TV and you want to watch all the best the medium has to offer, you may end up paying more than you did for cable — perhaps supplemented by some kind of skinny bundle for access to live sports. And that’s not even mentioning the headaches that come with managing like 19 different accounts.

I can’t help but think that, when it comes to cord cutting, we should’ve been more careful about what we wished for. What we ultimately hoped for was cable TV, but on our terms: some grand service that would make choosing channels as easy as plucking songs out of an album on iTunes (err, Apple Music), and would keep things cheap. And hey, not to get carried away, but maybe competing services that did the same thing!

Instead, TV has fractured — perhaps beyond repair. And it’ll likely get worse from here.

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