A Tech Story With Major Political Ramifications

This is a story that is usually covered in the tech pages of publications, but has enormous political implications.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but cable TV is continuing to bleed subscribers in record numbers as they flock to cheaper Internet-based options — cutting the cord, in other words, in favor of options like Netflix, Hulu and the like. Indeed, a new survey of a little more than 5,000 Americans by Chicago-based Waterstone Management Group found that consumers are increasingly being lured by the content available between choices like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime — and the simplicity of the subscriptions, as opposed to the fees and contracts that come with cable packages — to finally cut cable out of their lives entirely.

Almost 60 percent of Americans, according to this new survey, have canceled their cable TV packages, with only 12 percent affirming they’re fine with continuing to pay traditional cable companies for TV. In another sign of how dire things have become for those cable companies, though, another 29 percent of Americans responded to this survey by saying they’re close to canceling their cable subscription and going all-in on streaming.

As I’ve been saying for a while now, the political implications are all about the role of money in politics. The reason a lot of people fail to make that connection is because when we talk about money in politics, we almost always focus on where the money is coming from. Rarely do we talk about how it is spent.

A large share of the money raised by both political campaigns and super PACS is spent on television ads. That includes the consultants who are hired to produce and distribute them as well as the cost of airtime.

Over the last few years social media has provided inexpensive alternatives and platforms for homegrown videos (everything from Romney’s 47 percent speech to O’Rourke’s road trips) that have had a lot more impact than expensive television ads. Add that to the people who are no longer exposed to television ads because they’ve cut the cord and we have the makings of massive change for political campaigns.

The political consultants that campaigns hire to produce and distribute television ads have a lot to lose if candidates ever figure this one out, which is probably why this story isn’t bigger news in the political world. But eventually folks are going to catch on and it will be interesting to watch how that affects our current discussions about campaign finance.

I don’t expect that running for office will ever be cheap. But as we speak, the rug is being pulled out from under the one expenditure that has driven the need for candidates to raise gargantuan sums of money. Whether or not that turns out to be a good thing will depend on what candidates do to fill the void.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.