“Cutting the cord” is the term that analysts have given to the growing movement of consumers who have disconnected themselves from the traditional utilities. At first, it meant users who got rid of landline telephone service and rely instead solely on cell phones. Now it also applies to folks who are now watching so much television content from the Internet that they are turning off their expensive cable and satellite subscription television service.
But what does it mean for a broadcaster to “cut the cord”? In one case, it could mean severing the connection between the production facility and the broadcast transmitter. What’s that? How can you be a television station without transmitting?
Well, a new report entitled “A Future for Public Media in New Jersey” makes a radical solution for public television in New Jersey. Sandwiched between the giant Philadelphia and New York City markets, the New Jersey public television stations exist primarily to provide coverage of state news that does not always get in-depth coverage from stations in the adjacent states. The report suggests selling off the stations’ broadcast licenses (for a lot of money) and just relying on cable and satellite services to carry the programming. In cash-strapped New Jersey, this could create an endowment that could sustain the network for a long time without having to rely on state funds.
The idea is that a huge majority of the audience already subscribes to cable or satellite services already, and the broadcast systems are a reduntant and expensive luxury. One problem is that the local cable companies are not obligated to carry programming from stations that are not broadcast locally, so the New Jersey public television system would have to get some sort of assurance that their shows would be distributed. Still, it’s an intriguing concept, and raises questions about the future of terrestrial broadcasting of televsion program in general. If the content is available online or by subscription service, why bother taking up valuable broadcast spectrum?
I don’t expect terrestrial broadcast to end any time soon, this does open the way to some alternative futures.