Cable TV cord cutting intensifies in Southwest Florida

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This man’s “cutting the cord” epiphany happened last month, when he became the latest Southwest Florida TV watcher to modernize.

“I had enough,” said Jon Romine, 37 and a Cape Coral resident. He had been subscribing to DirecTV satellite service and had Comcast cable TV prior to that. “I was going through the channels, and I wasn’t watching 90 percent of them. I was thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’”

Romine had been paying $136 a month for DirecTV satellite, plus $89 a month for Comcast Internet service. He kept the Internet, which is needed for digital streaming, a trend that has been sweeping the nation and Southwest Florida. He cut the satellite cord in favor of a $35 monthly package with Playstation Vue, which provides content he streams over his Roku device. These are just two of many disruptors to the cable and satellite TV industry.

“It saves me $100 a month,” Romine said.

Traditional TV subscribers through cable or satellite peaked at 103.1 million across the United States in 2012. The number is projected to slide to 96 million at the end of this year, according to Yahoo Finance.

The numbers are tougher to track by region, as Comcast, CenturyLink and other TV providers would not disclose them. But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest the pace of cutting the cord is quickening in Southwest Florida.

As cable and satellite subscribers shrink, the number of Roku owners has risen to 14 million users in the U.S., the company said. About 6 percent of them live in Florida. Roku is one of the devices used to stream TV from the Internet.

“When is the point that most people become cord cutters? Sometime in the next five years,” said Luke Bouma, who turned the craze into a career. Based near Austin, Texas, he founded cordcuttersnews.com three years ago.

When Bouma, 34, launched the site, his server crashed with 62,000 visitors in one day. Bouma recognized an audience for cutting the cord news.

“In the first quarter of 2017, 2.1 percent of all traditional TV subscribers dropped their subscriptions,” Bouma said. “Every quarter, it’s getting bigger and bigger. We’re kind of seeing a snowball effect right now.”

Cutting the cord isn’t just a trend for millennials and younger viewers, Bouma said. Plenty of baby boomers and Generation Xers are moving to digital streaming, too.

A third of Roku users are over 55, and about 15 percent are over 65.

“Half of my readers are 41 and over,” Bouma said. “Half are female. People were saying for a long time that this is what kids are doing. But in reality, most people 24 and under are watching cable TV in their college dorms, or when they are at home, their parents pay for TV. It’s actually older people who are cord cutters.”

Fort Myers residents Mark and Jill Pope, ages 48 and 47, became part of the snowball effect last year. They were watching TV at a house where one of Jill’s friends had cut cable in favor of Roku and Sling TV, a digital content provider. The Popes, parents of a 7-year-old daughter, did the same thing.

“I’m completely satisfied,” Jill Pope said. “All in all, the savings are tremendous. I’m saving $30 a month. That’s an extra couple of T-bone steaks.

“As far as the quality of the reception of the TV, I just don’t see that it’s any different. If anything, I would say that it’s better.”

Setting the trend

Anthony Wood, who founded Roku in 2002, foresaw the shift to digital streaming TV. Anthony is the inventor of the DVR and founded Replay TV. He also served as the vice president of Internet TV at Netflix. Roku is his sixth company (Roku means six in Japanese).

Netflix, originally a mail-and-return DVD service, began streaming content May 20, 2008.

“He’s a very techy guy,” said Matthew Anderson, chief marketing officer for Roku. “What he realized was as the Internet speeds got better and better, and as the computer chip prices got lower and lower, it could be extremely affordable.

“We can choose from 5,000 channels. People are very value conscious. With Roku, there’s no monthly equipment fee. It gives you a lot more control. It’s more on your terms.”

Tyler and Kari Mitchell of south Fort Myers each said they love their Roku device and Playstation Vue subscription, which has helped them save more than $80 a month.

“What Comcast does, is they try to put you in cheap rates and slowly creep that up, which is very frustrating, because you have to keep on top of that,” Tyler Mitchell said. “At some point, I just got tired of it. I looked into the new online streaming TVs.

“You know exactly what you’re going to pay, and you can cancel any time.”

Battling the trend

Executives at Comcast and CenturyLink have been battling the loss of subscribers by improving their services and aligning with some of the disruptors in order to keep their TV clients.

Those subscription losses have been felt by networks such as ESPN, which laid off about 100 journalists earlier this year. ESPN, a channel typically bundled in basic cable packages, takes a financial hit almost every time a customer cuts the cord.

Not all of the numbers are dire for cable. Comcast reported adding 429,000 customers in the first quarter of 2017 vs. 2016.

“Competition makes us better,” said Tom Zemaitis, vice president of marketing for Comcast’s Florida region. “So the company is looking at, how can we integrate this? So Comcast got together with Netflix. And you’d think, these are two competing entities. How can they work together?”

When Comcast launched its new Xfinity 1 console last year, it integrated Netflix into the interface so Netflix subscribers easily could access those shows. Comcast also added a voice-activated remote control. It will unveil later this year an alliance with Google that will allow home viewers to display..

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