Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: 'Cord Cutters' Survey Makes Wrong Point

GigaOM has a report about a comScore survey showing that 16 percent of Canadians “stream all of their TV from on-line sources.” The survey also has an additional 35 percent of Canadians watching both traditional television and a further 35 percent only watching traditional television.

surveyJanko Roetggers correctly points out some food-for-thought in the results here: that Google, owner of YouTube, commissioned the survey, and that bandwith caps, which are prevalent in Canada, might be playing a factor in what Canadians watch on-line. But it also misses the point that if you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get a full picture of the data.

Consider this question: How many of those cord-cutters no longer watch television at all?

Too often, these surveys skew their own data by assuming you’ve replaced one thing with an equal thing. When the Beloved and I first cut the cable, we did replace it with watching shows on-line. But gradually, our habits shifted. We became simply less interested in television as a hobby at all. It was annoying to remember who aired which show, and what day it went on-line.

It was easier to just watch a DVD—or, yes, to turn on Netflix and watch on our own schedule, but more often those viewings are movies, not television shows. It wasn’t about replacing ‘this’ form of television with ‘that’ form of television. It was about replacing television with something else entirely. For me, it was more reading time (and OK, more aimless ‘net browsing), and for him it was working out at the gym (and OK, more video game time). The rare time we do find ourselves with access to cable these days, we are invariably horrified by what’s on and turn it off quickly.

I’ve seen the same argument with books. How many articles have I seen where a decrease in ‘sales’ is linked to an increase in piracy, because clearly, those are the only two options? How about option C, going to the library? Or option D, buying the indie books Big Pub isn’t really tracking? Or option D, returning to the classics, which I can get for free? Who says Big Pub is putting out such compelling stuff these days anyway?

I just read a mystery by a big-name author about a missing child where, at page 143 of 200, the detectives were lamenting their lack of leads, and lo and behind, the kidnapper sends them a letter out of the blue, confessing his identity, revealing his location and offering to drop off the child somewhere they could pick it up. This lazy writing is the epic stuff we’re supposed to be paying $14 for?

My dad always said you could use statistics to tell any tale you want. Yes, many people are getting rid of cable. But maybe it’s because cable just isn’t what they want right now. Similarly, maybe sales are declining for publishers because people are just finding other things to read?

7 Comments on Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: 'Cord Cutters' Survey Makes Wrong Point

  1. Count me in as one of those cord-cutters who doesn’t follow TV at all, except on DVD. We’ve been doing it since 1995, and every time we see network television, it reminds us that we don’t miss it a bit.

  2. Here’s another option. My DVD player can also handle VHS. The average price for VHS tapes in my area (Georgia, USA) is fifty cents. Between yard sales, flea markets, Goodwill, Salvation Army and local thrift stores, I have a surfeit of video. For even more fun, get yourself an analog-to-digital converter and digitize those VHS tapes you want to watch again before the magnetic material they’re made of degrades any further. Then, if you’re fortunate enough to have a modern Mac, get the free iBooks Author app so that you can create annotated (like marginalia) video eBooks. Background info on the movie from the internet movie database is nice to add as well.

  3. As a cord cutter for over a year I do find myself watching far less television. I still watch lots of movies (LOTS of movies) but I no longer find myself sitting down and mindlessly droning on through all of the crap that was offered to me before. I still do miss sports and there still isn’t really a good option to fill that void but on the converse I do get to make much better use of that time!

  4. Apart from the author of this blog post, I don’t know anyone who has stopped watching television programming — even those who have cut the cord. Research in recent years is very clear: folks are actually watching MORE video (aka TV) in 2013 than in past years.

    The reasons are obvious when you think about it: video is much easier to consume than ever before: on smartphones, tablets, PCs as well as more traditional cable and DVD. Few folks rent DVDs anymore but lots watched the same content now over on demand or services like Netflix.

    Most interestingly, those who are high consumers of video tend to consumer it on multiple devices and from multiple services. It’s also worth noting that close to 12% of Canadian households at any given time moment in time do not subscribe to cable or satellite. They use antenna, don’t watch TV, don’t have a TV or “borrow” signals from someone else. So that shift down to 16%, though real and a tend, is a very slow moving train.

  5. Alexander, more video does not ‘aka TV.’ When we watch Netflix at home, it’s invariably movies. There are a few shows we watch together, but most of them are either the Netflix original stuff (e.g. House of Cards) or stuff we would never have gotten with our cable when we had it because it was on a specialty channel (e.g. Hell on Wheels, which the boy likes and I would never go near without him). We watch a lot of documentaries (my preference) and stand-up comedy (his preference). But it’s not like we used to get cable to watch Survivor or Grey’s Anatomy or whatever, and now we are watching those on-line instead…

  6. We’ve been cord cutters for maybe a decade now, and ironically, I watch more TV (Netflix and Amazon Instant) shows now than I did when we had cable. I’m catching up on all the good stuff I missed when we cut the cord.

    I still watch only a handful of current programs (like 2 or 3). I find I like watching an entire series at once rather than over a period of years.

  7. What counts as “watching TV”? I don’t even have a television set anymore, but there are some shows I like to watch that aired on television. I just have to get them from Hulu and such. Does that count as “not watching TV”?

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