Cutting the cable connection to coax connector illustrating retired people cancelling cable TV service

A Short History of How Cord Cutting Started & Why Cable Companies Still Don’t Get It


Cutting the cable connection to coax connector illustrating retired people cancelling cable TV serviceI often get asked how cord cutting got started. People want to know when it really began and what changed to make it happen.

So here is a short history of how cord cutting began.

First I need to define cord cutting. There have always been people who didn’t pay for TV through a traditional pay-TV company such as cable. So what is cord cutting if it is not about paying for TV? For this post we will define cord cutting as the act of picking streaming video over paying for traditional cable TV.

So with that in mind I put the start of cord cutting at somewhere between late 2007 and early 2008. That is the point it moved from a fringe activity to an easy, more mainstream movement.

So what made cord cutting start in 2007/2008?

Here is the hardware that helped kick-start cord cutting.

Two big things happened during 2007/2008 that made streaming content easier. The two big changes that made streaming content to your TV easy were the release of the first Roku player and Apple TV. This took streaming video from something you do on a computer to something you can easily do on your TV.

2008 is also about the time that streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon started to release apps for devices such as the Roku and Fire TV, putting a ton of great content at your fingertips.

roku-digital-video-player-j64-800So that is the hardware that made cord cutting possible, but why did people do it?

We know when cord cutting began and the hardware that helped start it, but why did people want to do it? This has a two-part answer.

First in 2008 TV hit the point music hit in the late 1990s as how people wanted to access their TV changed. The desire to watch what you want when you want it was a big part of that.

Second, and likely the reason cord cutting really got going in 2008, was the recession. At about this time the U.S. economy crashed and many people found themselves forced into finding ways to save money.

Cord cutting would have happened eventually, but the 2008 recession moved it up a few years. The technology was already there but it was far from the polished system it is today. However, the desire for many to save money pushed them into cord cutting even though it may have not been 100% ready for prime time yet.

So what kept people from going back to cable TV?

Platforms such as the Roku and Apple TV made it easy for people to cancel cable. Like I said, the 2008 recession pushed a large number of people to ditch cable to save money. But why didn’t people go back to cable after the economy improved?

It really comes down to control and content. Once you ditch cable TV and learn how cord cutting works you quickly discover how amazing it is to watch what you want when you want. The sacrifices cord cutters had to accept back in 2008–2010 still paled in comparison to the ability to have more control that cord cutters now have.

And, it took years for cord cutters to have access to content such as ESPN and HBO.

That is why cable TV still misunderstands cord cutters.

For many cord cutters price is the main reason they cut the cord; however, a growing number of cord cutters quickly see that there is so much more to cord cutting than saving money.

As more providers offer live TV to cord cutters it shows how they misunderstand cord cutters. Live TV is great and many cord cutters want it, but there are 20 million cord cutters and it is estimated that there are only 3 million subscribers to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and DirecTV Now, making it clear just putting cable TV online is not what most cord cutters want.

Whenever I hear people say cord cutting is about saving money and nothing more all I think of is the music industry. Sure the ability to buy just one song saved money but it was more about the ability to pay for just what you wanted.

That is the truth behind cord cutting that to this day many cable executives miss.

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  • frankinnoho

    Actually… wrong. Streaming didn’t make cord cutting possible, just the opposite. Cord cutting made streaming possible. Cord cutting really began with two refinements of existing technologies, and it began way before 2007.

    While the first HDTV broadcast was in 1996, HDTV’s themselves were not available before 1998. Starting in 1998, HDTV’s where VERY expensive! Worse than the price was the fact that their was nothing to watch. The first broadcast I can remember were PBS adjunct stations broadcasting via antenna nature scenes in HD 24/7. This was followed by local stations broadcasting the occasional ball game in HD via antenna!

    The major networks began HD broadcast with sports about 2000, and most primetime broadcast by were HD by 2004. BUT, if you were on cable, you were shit out of luck. Most cable companies didn’t convert to HD until they were legally required to do so! So if you had an HDTV, you had two choices: Satellite and OTA. Satellite was a very cumbersome and expensive choice, made very hard to justify by the fact that so little content was actually in HD. OTA, on the other hand, was drop dead simple, especially if you lived within 20 mile of a major metro area.

    So the first technology refinement to lead to cord cutting was HD Broadcast television, or, more accurately, cables decisions to drag there feet on implementing it. The second was the rise of the Home Theater PC. TV capture devices were available in the late 1990’s, particularly the ATI Wonders series, but the software was a bit kludgy. 2002 was a bellwether year for the HTPC. SageTV was released, MythTV was released, and a little company called Microsoft released a product called Windows Media Center.

    The PC’s of the early era 2000’s had all they could do to handle 480i content, but by the time Media Center Edition 2005 was on the scene, the horsepower was there not only for handling 720p and 1080i broadcast, buy was also there for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players weren’t even on the scene until 2005, and for the first several years they were ridiculously expensive and horribly slow. If you were going to shell out serious bucks for a player, you might as well just pick up a drive and some software and build an HTPC around it.

    These were the technologies that started cord cutting: HD Broadcasting and HTPC’s. With these two things in place, people began taking control of their content. Online streaming was only feasible because of this. Amazon Unbox, Hulu, Netflix Streaming… these thing would have been DOA, yes Frakking DOA, if not for several millions of homes with internet connected roll-your-own HTPC’s! The first thing those companies all did when they came on the scene was release Media Center plug-ins!

    Nobody has (well, not many have) HTPC’s anymore. Keeping those boxes humming along was, if we’re being honest, a PITA! And the constant desired, if not required, upgrades pretty much mitigated any savings from cutting cable. That, and the time and expense of building a private media library (I added a Windows Home Server in 2007), just isn’t justifiable in a time where everything you could want is inexpensively available for streaming. But THAT was the start of cord cutting.

  • Bill Eastman

    I first got an OTA antenna when KXAN and TW were having the annual contract dispute and it wasn’t on cable. I noticed the picture was much better and figured what am I paying for the bad pictures for. So the annual contract dispute led me to cord cutting. Then they started broadcasting sub channels.

  • FREETELEVISION

    When I started cord cutting, I had VONGO for a movie service. ROKU was a device that started streaming NETFLIX. I bought one from Wal-Mart and took it back. I had a computer hooked to a 42″ TV and streamed TV stations from their websites. I set up most of my neighbors with this because we could get internet 1.5 Mbps but not cable back then. Now I have 5 ROKU TV’s, NETFLIX, HULU, AMAZON, PS VUE AND VUDU. I paid $100 for Internet and $10.60 for VONGO. Now I pay $103.50 for everything and share it with my Daughter. She just pays for her internet. Even getting 4K now. Last year has been great for cord cutters. Never going back.

  • Joe Gillum

    I remember when all the boxes, Roku, Apple, Logitech, were all called Netflix boxes