And lo, a hero emerges.
Today, Dish announced Sling TV, a new web tv service (read: no cable contract required) that'll cost you $20 a month to watch a handful of networks you don't care about and one, ESPN, that you do.
But Dish isn't the story here. The story is Disney, the company that owns ESPN and is shaping the future of c o n t e n t in a way that's more accessible, and more human-friendly, than we ever could have hoped for.
The problem with cutting the cord has always been that you're also cutting yourself off from the shows you really want. A disappointing number of popular networks are owned by the cable companies themselves, and more profitably sold when bundled with the less popular channels that pollute your cable lineup today.There's just too much money in making your life more expensive—and less convenient.
That seemed to hold true for ESPN, too, which commands a substantial tithe—as much as $6 per month per user, per Recode—for Disney from the cable companies. From a profitability standpoint, the system wasn't broken, so why try to fix it?
And yet! By setting ESPN free, that's exactly what Disney has done. It's used its considerable mouse clout to shake off entrenched interests and get its content to its fans wherever they might be. It's no sacrifice; it's a long game. If you can see the world changing around you, you might as well do what you can to shape it in your interests. And Disney's interests, in this case, are your eyeballs.
It's also not just today's ESPN move. One of the more unheralded initiatives of 2014 was Disney Movies Anywhere, which ensures that when you buy anything Disney digitally, you're going to find it wherever you are. There's no separate Google Play and iTunes library; you're not locked into whatever platform your phone happens to be. If you buy Wreck-It Ralph through Disney Movies Anywhere, it'll be there waiting for you on your Apple TV and your Android Phone and your… Vudu. They're just an Amazon Instant Video away from being a truly universal solution.
It's hard to overstate how important this is, and how difficult it must have been to make happen. Apple and Google alike (and… Vudu?) are extremely protective of their walled gardens. Locking you into their stores has clear, indisputable benefits both concrete and intangible. It makes no sense for them to allow for the kind of cross-platform pollination Disney offers now. But Disney owns Mickey. Disney owns ESPN. Disney owns Star Wars. Disney owns Marvel. Not even Apple wants to mess with Iron Man.
All of which is to say that the future of content isn't as bleak as it might have seemed a year ago. Yes, it'll still be expensive. Yes, you'll still end up having to pay the cable creeps for the broadband that gets all those delicious shows to your TV box. But it's more clear than ever that you've also got a powerful advocate on your side, one whose primary concern is your ability to watch what you want, when and wherever you want it.
It may not be The Great Unbundling we might have hoped for; it's not pure a la carte wonder. But for now I'll bundle ESPN/Hulu Plus/HBO Go with an antenna, and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with my kids on whatever device is most convenient, and never look back at the cord that Disney helped me cut.
Top image inspired by: S-F/Shutterstock