The Cord Cutters Are Right

The pay-TV feature set has finally met its match and, even if you don't cut the cord for budget reasons, you should give some other options a try.

Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief

July 29, 2019

3 Min Read
The Cord Cutters Are Right

In a week I'll be out from under my most recent two-year contract with DirecTV and, like a lot of other people -- a LOT of other people -- I'm going to cancel the service in favor of an OTT experience.

Here's why: There's no feature set available on DirecTV -- or any pay-TV platform in my service area -- that matches what I can get with a streaming box and a few apps. It should be noted, too, that I live outside of Comcast's reach, or I'd probably get Xfinity Flex.

I think there's an argument to be made for cord cutting just to get a better selection of content and services. And I've had a while to think about it.

I've been an AT&T pay-TV subscriber for more than a decade; I was one of the first U-verse subscribers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Back then, I really liked the idea of getting all my services via one wire (DSL); getting more flexible DVR options (when compared to my local cable provider); and having a clean, web-like interface on the pay-TV channel guide.

After years of being perfectly happy with U-verse, I got a sales call telling me I should switch from that silly old platform. It was AT&T. They wanted me to move to DirecTV.

The sales pressure was palatable. The introductory price was insanely low for the same channel selection when I switched from U-verse to DirecTV. When AT&T finished outpricing AT&T for another AT&T-owned product, then AT&T began telling me how much better the DirecTV service would be now that it was part of AT&T.

The DirecTV 1-terabyte DVR held a lot more shows. U-verse TV suddenly seemed like its technology roadmap was going to end at a cliff. It was never going to provide 4K TV and, at least during the time I was a subscriber, U-verse never made good on its promise to deliver a fully connected TV experience. I never could watch the same programming on my phone, on the road, that I could in my living room.

I switched and it was fine but I quickly realized that DirecTV also could not provide that fully connected TV experience. The apps have improved in the last year, but they've always been more clunky and awkward than Netflix, Hulu, YouTubeTV and others. My teenage son couldn't figure out how to watch The Office on DirecTV's app, but he could (and did) on Netflix.

Why cut the cord?
The OTT experience just seems better. Every company -- even traditional cable and pay TV providers like Comcast -- is bringing their "A" game to streaming. Giving up a bundle of hundreds of channels in exchange for a bundle of four apps I'll actually use makes sense.

"Bundling itself is not dead at all," said Light Reading's Cable/Video Practice Leader Alan Breznick in a conversation with me last week. "It's just that now consumers want to make their own bundles and their bundles may not necessarily be what the cable companies want."

Each OTT service or show that I subscribe to now has a fast, intuitive mobile app; high-quality streaming; cloud-based storage or a cloud DVR; and excellent search and personalization features.

Telcos and cable companies are certainly capable of matching OTT providers step for step, feature for feature. But I wonder if many of them ever will. Giving people what they want just isn't in their DNA.

And, I should add, I'd switch back to pay-TV if the feature set was right. But, in just one week of testing an OTT service, everyone in my family suddenly has their own personalized library of recorded and live TV shows, available wherever they want. So, I'm not saying it's impossible, but it will be a really tough sell.

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Phil Harvey, US Bureau Chief, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Phil Harvey

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Phil Harvey has been a Light Reading writer and editor for more than 18 years combined. He began his second tour as the site's chief editor in April 2020.

His interest in speed and scale means he often covers optical networking and the foundational technologies powering the modern Internet.

Harvey covered networking, Internet infrastructure and dot-com mania in the late 90s for Silicon Valley magazines like UPSIDE and Red Herring before joining Light Reading (for the first time) in late 2000.

After moving to the Republic of Texas, Harvey spent eight years as a contributing tech writer for D CEO magazine, producing columns about tech advances in everything from supercomputing to cellphone recycling.

Harvey is an avid photographer and camera collector – if you accept that compulsive shopping and "collecting" are the same.

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