Cable and telecom companies are a major part of many portfolios, especially income/dividend focused ones. Why? It’s certainly not because of their huge revenues or earnings growth. Rather, it’s because like many other types of businesses (utilities, REIT’s, MLP’s, etc), these companies provide consistent income every quarter with little to no volatility. It’s easy to depend on them and they generally do well no matter how the overall economy performs. As much as we pretend that having a television is a “luxury”, the fact is that even in tougher economic times, few customers end up getting rid of their cable/phone/internet connections.
Things Are Changing ThoughLet me start off with a quick comparison. I know it’s not perfect.. but hear me out. A decade ago or so, there were 2 basic ways to get music. You could either listen to radio and hope to hear your favorite songs or you could go to a record store and buy that artist’s cd. How times have changed..! Music is now sold through satellite radio, all kinds of online services such as iTunes, Amazon, etc. There is also a growing feeling that artists no longer need labels. They can produce their own music, distribute it, organize shows, stay in contact with fans, etc. The labels still matter of course but they have nowhere close to the power they once had.
Cable Companies Are Scared To DeathJust a few years ago, almost every single one of us had a hefty cable bill to pay that included our phone lines, cable and internet connection. For many, that bill was nearly $200/month. Then, many such as myself started moving to mobile phones, and slowly cutting off our land line phones. The much bigger change though has started only recently. Cable had this amazing model where if you wanted to see a couple of shows per week, you needed to pay for the entire cable package and those 200 channels. Sure, some could be added at an extra fee but there was little choice available.
Fast Forward To 2012These days, you can get most of the tv shows through online means such as the Apple store, Hulu, Amazon’s Prime streaming service or Netflix. There were 3 missing parts:
-Many shows were still missing
-The better produced shows from HBO and others remain off-limits
-Live events such as sports are not consistently available without cable
Now just look at the what happened in the past few months:
-Practically every show is now available with Disney even getting on-board through an exclusive deal with Netflix
-Netflix and Amazon have now started to produce high quality exclusive tv series
-Several professional leagues such as the NFL and MLB have started streaming and selling their own content
We’re not there yet.. but we’re close to the day where users could cut out cable and get as much content at a fraction of the cost. It has already started, especially among the younger viewers.