Mark MacLaughlin - the Online Experience Manager at Audi and Volkswagen of Naples, FL - wiggles out from under his man cave's TV remote to talk candidly about America's Desperation with Cable TV.

Cut the CordNovember 20, 2014

broadcast + new media - By: Multibrand Media
mark_maclaughlin

Mark MacLaughlin is the Online Experience Manager at Audi and Volkswagen of Naples, FL, an Emmy Award-winner and a former child news and sports producer/prodigy.

This week, he wiggles out from under his man cave's TV remote to talk candidly about America's Desperation with Cable TV.

In November of 2013, I made the decision to cut the cord and break away from my cable company. It was a conclusion I came to out of a very small amount of cost-consciousness, but a huge amount of spite. I was sick of paying the ever-increasing bills for 450 channels I didn’t watch, to a company that didn’t value my business. My relationship with our cable provider, and the content they pushed into my home, reminded me too much of that girl I dated for two weeks sophomore year; a lot of fighting, not enough intelligent conversation, and the proclivity to drain my brain and wallet. The only difference? It took me five minutes of soft conversation to ditch that brunette, but it took me forty minutes and my entire repertoire of colorful language to turn this ‘X’ into my EX

Unfortunately, regardless of all the stories of sunshine and roses that we hear each month from the government, radio and television broadcast jobs are becoming increasingly more difficult to acquire and maintain. Long time veterans, people with marquis names, are being put out to pasture. Often these are people for whom broadcasting was a lifelong career. Now, at ages that apparently exceed the tolerance threshold of some Boards of Directors, these pros are, as Joel Denver used to say, “On the Loose.”

As I embarked upon my new adventure, I was surprised just how easy it was. I switched my Internet service to a different, kinder ISP. Cheaper, just as speedy, and infused with feelings of sticking it to the corporate succubus. My main ‘smart’ television turned into a wireless media streaming HQ for my home. I equipped the other televisions in our bedrooms and my den with a laundry list of streaming devices (an Apple TV, a Google Chromecast, and a Sony PS4) which I already had on hand. Because of a pre-existing arrangement with the community we live in, I still received my local stations in HD without a decoder box. Threats of scrambling that signal had never come to fruition. The lack of a Digital Transport Adapter in my home only prevented me from watching basic cable channels in an SD format. Surprisingly, I never once craved some late-night infomercials in the mold of Ronco’s amazing Super Bass-O-Matic ‘76. However, I did use some of the $1,920 cable savings we would see over the next year on a ridiculous new blender for my wife. “Fast and easy and ready to pour, mmm-mmm!”

Some would think that by cancelling a cable subscription, your intake of content would decrease. I certainly thought so. Oddly enough, we actually started ingesting more video than ever before. Our habits changed, and we found ourselves watching high levels of QUALITY programming instead. In the past, I had not been focused on the show before me, and was generally also on my mobile device. Now, I was engaged in most of what I was watching. Instead of “Best BBQ Dive of Sherbrooke Quebec,” my nights were filled with HULU or Netflix binge watching of “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” A foray into some health conscious documentaries actually changed my eating habits, and helped me lose over twenty pounds. I subscribed to MLB.TV and NHL GameCenter, and was watching my native, out-of-market New England teams with renewed passion. The white noise of endless commercials shifted to more focused grabs at my attention. A smart product placement here. A content-aligned spot there. A different feeling came over me when I turned on the television after a hard day at the office; I was happy and I was informed. I was choosing to participate in the things I cared about, rather than numbly scrolling through endless drivel. I felt empowered by only paying for the services I wanted, rather than blindly writing checks to get obtain extras that are completely irrelevant in my life.

I felt empowered

by only paying for the services I wanted

You see, there is a general misconception about those of us who were kids in the 80’s and 90’s. Most think we won’t PAY for content. That we have a growing hatred of organized business and we somehow get off on stealing. We earned that reputation, to some degree, by downloading millions of songs into our dorm rooms, and with our growing fascination of torrents and free streaming services. But I’m here to tell you we ARE willing to deplete our hard-earned PayPal dollars or Bitcoins on good content. It just better be what we want, when we want it, and delivered in a seamless and timely manner. You can advertise, charge for service, and make steady profit by catering to our narcissism. Trick us a little bit, and we’ll fall right into your hands. You might even create a fiercely loyal customer for years to come. The creation of iTunes showed that if you can provide content of quality and with ease of use, we will flock to it like a wave of flannel-wearing Hipster lemmings. The same model works for video content. Paying $5 out of every cable bill to the screaming heads on sports television, is akin to buying the entire Carly Rae Jepsen library when you just want to jam out to some “Call Me Maybe” on a Friday night. We just don’t want to do it. With more and more streaming choices available for television content, we don’t have to do it.

We don’t have to do it…at least, until we HAVE to do it.

On November 9th, 2014, almost exactly a year to the day after I happily cut the cord, I had to swallow my pride and mend the cable. You see, on that morning, instead of waking up to the friendly faces of my local news team, I woke up to a black screen of death with the following heart-wrenching message: “Your Cable Provider Has Scrambled This Channel.” Those evil, sadistic bastards! They had taken away the one and only thing I actually needed from them…LOCAL CONTENT in HD. You see, I live nearly 30 miles from the nearest HD transmitter, and a small antenna just doesn’t get the job done. I’d need a rooftop unit, and a mile worth of wiring to get back my beautiful HD picture. Everybody knows the general laziness of Generation Y, combined with the prevalence of skinny jeans, actually prevents us from scaling rooftops, right? Generalizations noted, I have antihero weaknesses that the generations before me did not. Heights and manual labor are not my friends. That DTA box and community cable service I mentioned before? Well, that would get me back those local channels I was already paying for, but I’d only get them in a sad and fuzzy 4:3 aspect ratio. On a 60” centerpiece? For shame! What was a boy to do? With my tail between my legs I walked back into the life of the largest media company on the planet. Slinking into their brand new storefront, with it’s bright lights, ticketing system and long wait, was just like walking into one of Florida’s greatest theme parks — just without the funny rodent or any semblance of joy.

I once again have three shiny new HD boxes, the 50GB Internet supremacy that they compare to a shuttle launch, and a monthly bill that makes my wife want to throw knives at me. I’m back in their clutches, and not one ounce of me is happy about it. You cannot be happy about getting back something you never missed. I told everybody I knew to follow my lead, and throw the remote in the garbage. Now I am a shamed hypocrite. I’m Henry David Thoreau extolling the virtues of a lush forest, while working in a wooden pencil factory.

My cable company is safe for now; the failure of Aereo and my geographic disadvantage almost ensured that. But, the days of one-provider content are surely numbered. The next wave of streaming content is on the horizon, and consumers are getting more aware of their options every day. They may have gotten me for the next twelve months, but I can guarantee you the landscape will be vastly different a year from now.

In blockbuster story lines, the good guys almost always win. If Comcast doesn’t believe that prevalent cinematic theme, they should check out what’s playing in the ‘On Demand’ movie section on Channel 100.

Post by

Mark MacLaughlin

Mark is a self-described verbal assassin and recovering TV newser. He likes cars, puppies and sarcasm. Mark is an accomplished producer and photojournalist and social media expert. He has migrated his skills and applied them to consumer experience marketing in the automotive industry. MacLaughlin was one of the youngest recipients of an Emmy Award for Best College Newscast at his alma mater, Lyndon State College. He currently resides in Estero, FL with his wife, Tracie, canine companion Riley, and a couple of cats that plot against him on an ongoing basis.

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