The End of Paternalistic TV is Nigh

I rarely turn on the TV to watch TV any more. If not for upstate New York’s fickle weather, it is possible I would never watch “live TV.” When I’m not trying to figure out how to dress my kids for the day, streaming services, DVDs, and downloads, are my go-to content sources. Because of stockpiling and cord cutting, television watching can be both more efficient and more cost-effective.

time and money

Weather forecast: It’s raining time and money.

My relationship with television is not unique. Many media marathoners have “cut the cord” (eliminating cable and choosing to use an antenna and/or streaming services). According to a USA Today article, the Nielsen Company estimates that over 5 million households have cut the cord as of 2013, up from 2 million in 2007.

Cord CuttingCord cutting promotes stockpiling (waiting for a full season or full series to be released before one watches) because it keeps programs off one’s radar and minimizes the temptation to watch piecemeal. Dozens of media marathoners in my study engaged in the practice of stockpiling. Marathoner Jeff captured the stockpiling phenomenon when he explained, “I tend to search for shows that have already aired multiple seasons that I have not seen before so that I can move through the episodes rather quickly.” Good-bye, commercials. 

I have been reluctant to claim that television as we know it is dead, but I think hospice has been called.

Streaming site Hulu recently announced additions to its “Binge TV” catalog. Hulu’s CEO, Mike Hopkins, was  quoted in The Wall Street Journal saying, “The value of a current season to us as a limit.” Television has traditionally been a “catch it when you can” medium, employing what P. David Marshall describes as a “paternalistic form of delivery.” But now that television viewers have greater choices of how to watch, content providers are responding by giving viewers a greater choice of what to watch.

Both cord cutting and stockpiling have their downsides. Cord cutting asks viewers to take more initiative to find their chosen texts. And it may be challenging to find everything you want. With stockpiling, the major drawback is spoilers. I have been able to minimize the impact of these downsides, however, and I consider myself a satisfied and agentic television consumer.

I would love to hear about others’ experiences. Have you cut the cord? If so, how is it working for you? If not, why the holdup?

Are you a stockpiler who has been able to avoid spoilers? Any tips or tricks to share?



3 thoughts on “The End of Paternalistic TV is Nigh

  1. At the moment, I am trying to figure out how to pay the bills and decorate my first apartment on a soon-to-be college grad’s budget. One of the issues my future roommate and I have discussed is whether to get cable, and we finally decided against it. Assuming that TWC offers an internet-only package (fingers crossed!), we are going to depend on streaming services, iTunes, and DVDs for our entertainment. And, in my case, I plan on using Amazon to keep up with new episodes of my favorite shows. I’m sure I am not alone when I say I would rather pay $15-30 for a season of a show I watch than shell out $100/month for that channel and dozens of others I couldn’t care less about.

    I have never really thought about cutting the cord in negative terms. It’s true, I do take the initiative to watch my favorite shows online if I miss them live, but it has more to do with keeping up with the storylines. If I miss an episode of a show and do not find the time to find it elsewhere, that tells me I am not really invested. Hopefully, I will now have the option to only pay for what I watch. And I’m actually pretty excited about breaking away from cable.

  2. We cut the TV cable long ago. In addition to streaming and DVD, Time Warner would like us to forget how much is available over the air, for free, with nothing but rabbit ears on a TV. Rachel and others in Rochester should also check out Greenlight Networks (, a small start-up that offers fiber optic internet 10X faster than TWC’s Roadrunner for the same $50/month. Sorry to use your blog to promote a business, Lisa, but in this case it’s actually relevant to the content: Faster, cheaper internet (common in Europe and much of Asia) changes not only the experience of streaming video content but all kinds of civic engagement. Corporate patriarchs like TWC capitalize (in every sense) on the weakness of the FCC to keep us paying too much for too little.

  3. Thanks for your response, Ed. Any business that challenges TWC is something I would like to hear about. When getting rid of cable, my family was surprised by how much the cost of the internet rose after we “unbundled.”

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