In the early days of television, the few channels that were around were free to everyone. If you had a television, you could receive the signal for free with an antenna. Then along came cable TV. Cable television was available through a paid subscription. Customers paid a certain amount, and they were able to get an expanded list of channels that continued to grow with each passing year. Unfortunately, the price continued to grow as well.
The costs of cable got completely out of control. Since there were so few providers and they seemed to have an agreement, at least of an unspoken nature, not to try to undersell each other, consumers were left with little choice. Either they could cut cable entirely or deal with a hefty bill.
Then streaming came along and completely changed the game. Cable companies have been scrambling ever since amid declining subscription numbers, and the only reason it hasn’t been far worse is because of sports. With no sports streaming platform operating at a Netflix-type level, the cable companies have continued to hold onto viewers who are willing to keep paying to watch their favorite teams play.
The Hubris of the Cable Companies
Cable isn’t dead yet, but it sure seems likely that it is heading in that direction. Once people really began to recognize the full potential of streaming, the writing was on the wall. Since Netflix began producing its own content, soon followed by other platforms like Amazon, viewers have been steadily abandoning cable in favor of the cheaper streaming options that offer increased viewing flexibility while avoiding ads.
Due to the superior viewing experience offered through streaming, it is likely that cable would have fallen eventually no matter how these companies had operated while they ran the show. However, they certainly didn’t do themselves any long-term favors by charging customers insane rates and offering some of the worst customer service on the planet.
People didn’t start dropping cable simply because streaming is better. Even if streaming were slightly worse in most aspects but was at least cheaper and had better customer service, there are many people who would have made the switch. You will be hardpressed to find a single person who likes their cable company. For decades customers have been hoping that a better option would come along.
When it did, many people were all too eager to jump ship.
Cable companies never thought that their day in the sun would come to an end. They were overconfident in their ability to stay on top. As a result, they treated their customers terribly, and they got away with it. Until they didn’t. Now the cable companies are seeing their subscription numbers drop at a much quicker rate than they likely would have if they had operated like other companies that have to compete for the business of consumers.
Sports Are Keeping Cable Companies Afloat
There are only two reasons that cable companies are still holding on at all. Older viewers and sports are the two table legs upon which the cable companies are trying to balance. Unfortunately for them, the older viewer market is constantly declining. The next generation of older viewers will not stay with cable because they don’t want to learn new technology. They have already learned it.
That leaves sports as the one potential safety valve for cable companies to continue to exploit. Sports are the one thing that people generally still want to watch live. While there are personalized sports video streaming softwares (https://www.feedconstruct.com/ott) available for viewers to watch while bypassing cable, there is still no platform that has adopted a Netflix-type approach to streaming sports.
However, you have to figure that eventually there will be. The NFL is the most-watched professional sporting league in the United States. Despite that, it is not part of what is keeping the cable networks afloat. That’s because Monday Night Football on ESPN is the only weekly game not available for free through broadcast television.
Even with the MNF game, if your home team is playing, the game is required to be available through broadcast TV in your area as well.
The new agreement reached between the NFL and the major networks set up more streaming options than ever and really signaled that the wave of sports, is headed online. While allowing the broadcast networks to simulcast on their streaming platforms, the biggest change was the deal reached with Amazon for exclusive streaming of Thursday Night Football games starting in 2023.
As with the Monday night games, these Thursday night games will be available for free through broadcast television in local markets. Amazon has simulcast Thursday Night Football games since 2017, and last year reached an agreement to include one exclusive regular-season game a year. This new agreement is next level, though. Getting full access to the entire Thursday Night Football lineup is a huge step forward for sports streaming.
Is Amazon the Future of Sports?
For a while now it had been assumed that either a new streaming service would come along and provide a full slate of sports options, or an already established provider like Amazon or Netflix would make the move to negotiate terms with the major sports leagues.
Netflix has shied away from the idea of expanding into sports broadcasting in recent years. With this deal between Amazon and the NFL, it looks like we might be starting to get an answer to what platform will dominate sports.
While it is entirely possible that there will be multiple streaming platforms offering sports streaming, it seems unlikely that it will be spread too thin. People aren’t going to want to have to pay for five different platforms in order to watch the five major team sports leagues, not to mention other possible options needed for individual sports and less viewed team sports.
The leagues may work out deals for simulcasting games across multiple platforms once streaming has become the primary choice for sports viewing and they begin to cut ties with cable. However, in the beginning, we can expect one platform to really move into the forefront for sports broadcasting. At the moment, it looks like Amazon is the platform that is going to do it.
If Amazon can acquire exclusive rights to a significant number of games for MLB, MLS, the NBA, or the NHL in the next couple of years, the cable companies will be put on notice that the end is truly coming. From then, the transition of sports from cable to streaming will likely quickly snowball.
For now, though, people hanging on to their cable subscriptions against their better judgment in order to keep watching their favorite teams will simply have to wait and hope that the end of the ties between cable and sports are nigh.