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Cord-cutters rejoice as streaming TV grows

January 9, 2015 By Edward C. Baig

2015 looks to be a watershed year for cord-cutters who don't want to be tethered to traditional cable TV packages.

Consider that Dish Network plans to launch a stand-alone streaming Sling TV-video service by the end of the month. That means you won't have to subscribe to cable or satellite to get a cord-free package of entertainment.

This is a big-time indicator that streaming TV is only going to get bigger, with the inclusion of content from Disney-owned properties, especially ESPN, whose lure for the sports junkie is potentially enormous.

On top of that comes the new Netflix Recommended TV Program, in which the popular Internet TV service promises to provide consumers with independent endorsements on which smart, new TV models are best suited for the Internet experience. TVs from Sony, LG, Sharp, Vizio and manufacturers of Roku TVs are expected to be among the first to earn a Netflix Recommended TV logo, which is partly based on how fast the TV turns on, how fast apps launch and how fast video playback resumes.

CBS recently launched a stand-alone streaming service, with HBO's own service commencing soon. Of course there's Netflix, not to mention other streaming options such as Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Younger audiences are already streaming fiends. The preliminary results from a just-released joint study, commissioned by the Consumer Electronics Association (which runs CES) and the National Association of Television Program Executives, found that just 55% of Millennials use TVs as their primary viewing platform, while streaming devices laptops, tablets and smartphones are poised to dominate their viewing preferences.

More than seven in 10 viewers in households with broadband have streamed full-length TV programs in the past six months, which represents opportunities and challenges for networks and content producers.

Veteran industry analyst Gary Arlen says viewers are embracing the "any program, any platform, anytime" promise that media companies have been espousing for several years. Now comes the reality that audiences expect to find any show they want to see and the "frustration that it may not be so easy to find that promised array of content."

Arlen's perspective here is right on. He is reminded of the 1980s, when cable networks started to blossom and young audiences at the time did not recognize the difference between the free over-the-air broadcast channels and cable-only networks. "Today, the variety of streaming over-the-top programs that can be seen on the same flat panel, big-screen TV display that delivers traditional TV channels has blurred the distinction," he says.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, I was salivating over the stunning monster-size, super thin Ultra High-Definition 4K TVs as much as anyone. But keep everything in context for youthful viewers it's often more about the benefits of portability and watching pretty much anywhere as opposed to the large-screen viewing experience, no matter how sweet the picture.

About half of Millennials say they watch TV on a laptop, and for 19% it's their preferred TV viewing screen. Another 28% watch TV on a tablet, and 22% watch on a smartphone.

Several details need to be sorted out among new and existing streaming services, including how pricing may evolve. P.J. McNealy of the DigitalWorld Research consulting firm wrote "the price point ($20/month) set by DISH may work or not. Pricing sensitivity analysis for consumers is one of the hardest parts for any content/service provider, and history shows that the price point typically starts high, and drops if subscriber growth doesn't meet demand."

Of course, even if viewers can save real money by subscribing to multiple stand-alone streaming services, it is my belief many folks will naturally stick with the more or less all-encompassing cable or satellite TV package, if only because they don't want to run from service to service to find something to watch.

Smart TV manufacturers can help, of course, by continuing to improve upon and simplify the Smart TV app platforms and interfaces already in place, something evident here at CES.

About the only thing that is clear: When it comes to streaming TV in 2015, you'll want to stay tuned.

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