THE future of television was meant to have arrived by around now, in a bloodbath worthy of the most gore-flecked scenes from “Game of Thrones”. The high cost of cable TV in America, combined with dire customer service and the rise of appealing on-demand streaming services as inexpensive substitutes, would drive millions to “cut the cord” with their cable providers. Customers would receive their TV over the internet, and pay far less for it. Many obscure channels with small audiences, meanwhile, would perish suddenly.

So, at least, many in the industry thought. Instead, the death of old television has been a slow bleed. American households have started to hack away at the cable cord, but the attrition rate is only about 1% a year. Television viewership is in decline, especially among younger viewers coveted by advertisers. Yet media firms are still raking it in, because ad rates have gone up, and the price of cable TV continues to rise every year. The use of Netflix and other streaming services has exploded—half of American households now subscribe to at least one—but usually as add-ons, not substitutes. Overall, Americans are paying more than...Continue reading