A mea culpa … and more on cord-cutting

Dang. Good intentions don’t count for much when you screw up the details. In a recent column on the desire of many to “cut the cord,” significantly reduce their cable or satellite bill and still follow the Twins, Wild and Timberwolves, I said this about Sony’s PlayStation Vue, the multi­channel service newly available in the Twin Cities: “For a minimum $30 a month you get 50 channels, access to local stations ​and cloud​­based storage for your DVR needs. I don’t have one, but the ​tech heads are generally delighted​ with Vue​,and looking forward to an inevitable expansion of service — with the exception of local pro sports.”

Well, let me just say I was promptly informed how wrong I was. Fox Sports North, carrier of the three local teams, is very much available via PlayStation Vue. Likewise, FSN has a deal with Dish’s Sling service, for an entry fee of $20 a month. So … mea culpa.

That said, the specific point I was making is that neither the Twins, Wild or Timberwolves have a proprietary, stand alone streaming service, one app/channel for one monthly fee, is an absolute fact. At least for today. As of yet, no local team has a service that doesn’t require fans to buy into at the very least a “mini-­cord” or “cord­-lite” arrangement, where access to games is packaged in with 20, 30 or 300 channels they may never watch.

Embarrassed by my blunder, I connected with Houston, Texas­-based Chris Brantner, one of a quartet of guys who operate a site called, ​CutCableToday.com,​which the 34 year-­old described like this in an e­mail: “I run the #1 cord cutting resource on the web, CutCableToday.com. I’ve become the go-­to cord cutting course for multiple reporters from USA Today, Fortune, The Street, and more. I’m also a regular contributor to ​The Houston Chronicle Tech Blog, MediaShift.org ​and more.”

Doing his best to buck me up, Brantner reminded me that the attitude of regional sports networks like FSN and sports channels in general has changed dramatically in the past year. “All of them are coming around to the realization that they have to play the game a little differently,” he said. “We were talking with one maybe a year ago and they were emphatic that they didn’t want anything to do with stand alone streaming or skinny bundles. Six months later they joined up with Sling and Vue. And the thing with Fox is that they already offer standalone apps like you were talking about. They’ve got ​FoxSoccer2Go​. Maybe they did that because there are a million soccer leagues. But the point is they are doing it.”

Branter went on to say that sports fans looking for ways around their expensive, bloated satellite and cable bundles without losing access to their local teams is “the single question we get the most.”

“The thing the sports channels are realizing is that it isn’t just the cord-­cutters like me, people who had it, cut it and are never going back, but that there’s a whole other generation of ‘cord­-nevers,’ people who were never plugged in to begin with and have no intention of signing up in the future. If they want the business of those people they’re to have to make the move to something cheaper still, like a stand alone service.”

Brantner, who says his site pulled in 500,000 unique visitors last month, acknowledges another generational issue involved in cord­-cutting, namely the complexity of channel-­surfing once you detach yourself from a single-source carrier, like Comcast or Dish. Suddenly the “input” button on your remote control doesn’t get you where you want to go and the arm rest of your Barcalounger is cluttered with three or four remotes. Tech not-­so-­savvy geezers (my choice of words, not his) feel overwhelmed and annoyed by all the juggling and resetting. There are too many moving parts. So even if they know they’re overpaying for all sorts of channels they never watch, they stick with what they know — cable and satellite — because, well, damn it, they just sort of learned how to run one remote and that’s enough!

“But the industry is even on to that. Sling was just showing off a box it is working on, a tuner, that grabs the over-­the-­air signals you get by antenna from your local stations and blends them into its channel menu, so you don’t have switch back and forth between remotes.”

That, of course, means another black box plugged into your set and blinking at you from your console. “Yeah, it does,” he admits. “It’s another box. But again, you can see that they’re aware of the problem and are trying to come up with solutions. I was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas in January and I saw a lot of companies trying to simplify the cord­-cutting experience.

“It’s not yet where the marketplace is telling them it wants it to be, but as I say the changes in just the past six months have been pretty dramatic. So you can see it coming. But beyond the hardware and software there are a lot of contractual issues related to local programming, a lot of people have their fingers in the pot. Even then though, it’s happening.”

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