According to a new report done by Bernstein Research, cable television is managing to maintain subscribers even as video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu make inroads towards becoming major content providers. First-run scripted programming is a large part of the advantage cable television providers have, but even that is becoming an area where Netflix and Hulu can compete, often offering network television shows and shows on basic cable networks like FX a week or so after their original air date. So what’s saving cable and satellite TV companies from subscribers “cutting the cord,” as it were? It turns out that live sports broadcasts are really what does it.
While there are avenues to stream live sporting events online, many are through cable subscribers, and the less reputable online streaming avenues (pirated cable and satellite, feeds, for instance) tend not to provide the high-definition picture quality that many sports viewers are looking for. Sites like ESPN3.com, which can be accessed by those with a valid cable subscription, do in fact offer HD feeds.
The major advantage cable companies have is contracts with the major sports leagues and the channels that broadcast them, including the broadcast networks, ESPN, and Fox Sports regional networks. Since sporting events are one of the few programs that must be watched in real-time in order to stay on top of things, Hulu’s and Netflix’s later streaming models will not work for live sports. It’s no use watching a football game the Sunday after it’s aired, a week later. Cable and satellite companies also provide the major sports packages, most crucially NFL Sunday Ticket, currently available exclusively through the satellite provider DIRECTV.
New streaming options for sports will likely become available, as teams and leagues develop their own content channels, but for now, the status quo is holding fast. Live sports are saving cable television, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.