Cable vs. Netflix: Why Cable Should Win

The latest debate in the entertainment industry seems to be about the way people are watching television, because habits have evolved with rapidly advancing technology. With the advent of services such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and Amazon Video, there is a certain amount of convenience that comes with being able to catch up on shows anytime, anywhere. It is easy to go back and watch favorite episodes; a whole day can be spent binge-watching entire seasons. Despite this, traditional cable television has its benefits, and they outweigh those of streaming services.

Take suspenseful, thrilling shows like “Scandal.” Nearly every episode ends with a plot twist or cliffhanger. Half the fun is having to wait until the following week to see how things turn out, to give yourself the chance to turn over all the possibilities and to discuss with friends. While flying from one episode to the next with the goal of finishing the entire season in one weekend, there isn’t enough time to appreciate the subtleties and suspense that the writers so painstakingly build, and any cliffhangers are laid to rest within minutes.

Second, there is the issue of spoilers. Viewers are at high risk of being exposed to spoilers as they wait out the months it takes for shows to reach Netflix. When it comes to shows created exclusively for Netflix, so many episodes are released at the same time that if you don’t watch them immediately, you’re sure to hear spoilers. Watching episodes as they air on cable resolves that issue and maintains the intended effect of the show.

Finally, one of the biggest perks of cable television is the community it creates. The final episode of “Seinfeld” aired to an audience of 76 million; a huge portion of the population watched the same thing at the same time and then talked about it the next day. Watching cable television as it airs creates a sense of community, giving people something in common to talk about every week.

Conversely, when everyone watches shows on their own time, it’s harder to connect with people for fear of spoiling the show before they’ve caught up. Also, shows appear on Netflix months after they air on cable, so it’s hard to feel part of the excitement after the fact. Netflix shows drop their episodes once a year, so it’s often difficult to maintain enthusiasm and recall key details of the show a year later.

Reality shows are a key example. They are uncommon on streaming services, and are some of the only shows that are still able to maintain the excitement of live television. People are excited each week to see the results and invested enough to watch live in order to vote for their favorite contestants or find out who got the final rose. This is the kind of enthusiasm and immediacy that needs to be redeveloped around fiction, where people cannot wait for a few months until it makes it onto a streaming service, but must watch it as soon as it airs on cable.    

Email Anubhuti Kumar at [email protected].

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