Back in 2009, seeing the popularity of streaming, cable companies adopted a platform called TV Anywhere. Punch in your password, on any device with an approved app, and you could watch cable. It’s a great idea and it still is a great idea, but cable companies are starting to grumble about password sharing.
Bloomberg has a report on cable companies starting to get a little angry about how passwords are being used, with an ESPN vice president summing up the position of several companies:
Researchers at Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN network recently asked a group of about 50 millennial sports fans how many of them shared passwords. Everyone raised their hand, said Justin Connolly, executive vice president for affiliate sales and marketing for ESPN and other Disney networks. “It’s piracy,” Connolly said. “It’s people consuming something they haven’t paid for. The more the practice is viewed with a shrug, the more it creates a dynamic where people believe it’s acceptable. And it’s not.”
Not every network agrees. HBO writes it off as “minimal” to Bloomberg, which might have something to do with ESPN taking cable’s collapse on the chin. But still, plans are afoot to limit devices, to crack down on the numbers of streams, and to otherwise keep people who don’t live in the same house from sharing a cable password. But amid the claims of big scary losses of billions of dollars and how password sharing is unfair to cable companies, there are two points the industry might want to stop and consider.
The first is really pretty straightforward: Aren’t people who buy cable buying a service? And isn’t that service something we, the consumer, can use as we please? It’s up to the cable companies to choose what service they provide, of course, but beyond a certain point, it’s going to be out of their control.
Secondly, they’re claiming billions in losses, but this assumes that every person using their friends’ roommate’s ex-girlfriend’s password can afford cable and would buy it if that password went away. The music industry spent years making that exact assumption about music piracy, and then all-you-can-hear services like Spotify came along and proved people were only buying albums because they didn’t have a choice. Clamping down might do nothing more than alienate paying customers while their friends just shrug and say “Welp, I’ve still got a Netflix password.”
Part of the problem here is the economics of cable. For a long, long time, Americans bought their TV in bulk, but never watched most of it. But as more options become available, as cable bills refuse to stop inching upwards, and as Americans take a dimmer view of their cable provider, the cable industry might well be mistaking a symptom of their problems, password sharing, for the cause.