In june, Time Warner Cable and Comcast appeared (along with Spirit Airlines) at the very bottom of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. So as alternatives have proliferated, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the number of homes with cable dropped by more than 1 million last year. Cord-cutters have been turning for a while now to Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and iTunes, but this year, ESPN and HBO—arguably the biggest jewels in cable’s crown—released streaming services outside the traditional cable bundle, too. Showtime and others appear likely to soon follow suit; YouTube, meanwhile, is building up its own stars and series. As Les Moonves, CBS’s chief executive, admitted to investors this spring, “The days of the 500-channel universe are over.”
This is good news for pretty much everyone who isn’t Les Moonves. Cable customers have long subsidized fare like Botched (subject: plastic-surgery disasters), Dating Naked (self-explanatory), and other curiosities that are unlikely to truly delight many viewers but might draw some in anyway, because they’re perceived as free. Streaming brings market forces—the brute logic of the box office—to bear on home entertainment. We are living in a golden age of television in large part because HBO and Showtime and other premium channels needed to produce shows that people would actually pay for; cable’s unbundling will allow for even more of that kind of Darwinism. The end of cable’s monopoly may mean further fractures in our culture—lowest common denominator does, at least, contain the words common denominator. But it also means, on top of so much else, that we can gain more control over where our entertainment dollars go—and where the culture goes along with them.