I’ve written many stories about the subject over the years as well, and I’ve been making how-to videos for people interested in cutting the cord.
But lately, all that rhetoric about cord cutting has been sounding awfully familiar, and I started to wonder: Where had I heard that before? And then it hit me: Cord cutting is the new file-sharing.
Of course, I don’t mean to say that all cord cutters are pirates. Sure, a subset of them are definitely getting their TV show fix from BitTorrent sites and cyberlockers after ditching cable, especially in countries where no legal alternatives exist. But in the U.S., many people instead turn to Hulu, Netflix and even free over-the-air TV once they cut the cable cord.
Still, cord cutting and file-sharing have a lot in common. On the surface, both are about paying less for movies and TV shows. But take a closer look, and you’ll realize that money is only part of the equation. What really unites cord cutters and file-sharers is that they want to take their media consumption into their own hands.
Cord cutters don’t just want to watch what’s on TV at any given time anymore, and they don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars a year on channels they don’t need, or don’t agree with. Instead, they want to have access to the media they want, when they want it, on the devices of their choice.
The same is true for file-sharing. Sure, one of the reasons that people download torrents is that they’re free. But more often than not, free is the only price point that TV shows or movies are available at to begin with. It can take months before U.S. TV shows become available in Europe or elsewhere, and broadcasters in countries like Germany still think that their audience would rather listen to horrible dubbing as opposed to the English original. In many cases, the only way to get that new TV show episode everyone is talking about on Twitter and Facebook is BitTorrent.
Finally, both file-sharing and cord cutting are driving innovation, often against established industries that would rather keep things the way they are. If it wasn’t for file-sharing, Spotify & Co. wouldn’t exist. And if it wasn’t for people looking for alternatives to traditional cable, Netflix would still just be a DVD rental service.
But this potential for disruption doesn’t bode well with everyone. Movie studios and record companies have been waging a legal war against file-sharing ever since the days of Napster. These days, they’ve found another target: Cord cutting innovators like the New York-based startup Aereo that makes broadcast TV streams available over the web.
Chances are, broadcasters and Hollywood studios will win at least some of these battles, and cable companies will use their market power to keep their online competition in check. But just as file-sharers have done before them, cord cutters will prove their smarts and show us that some things just can’t be stopped.