weather icon Partly Cloudy

Quarantine streaming and lack of sports put cable TV on the spot

It’s hard to imagine how anyone survived the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 without television — let alone without hundreds of thousands of hours of content at the fingertips of many shut-ins.

Not surprisingly, with most every other recreational activity shuttered, the use of streaming services has exploded. Combine that with the almost complete lack of live sporting events, the primary reason many subscribers remain tethered to traditional pay TV, and cable and satellite providers have been put under one of the harshest spotlights since Carole Baskin.

Are “Tiger King” references still a thing? Are any pop-culture references? Stay away from other humans long enough, and it becomes really hard to tell what passes for snark these days.

Anyway, as for streaming, aka America’s only pastime, the statistics have been eye-opening.

For the seven days starting March 23 — that’s the week after Gov. Steve Sisolak’s March 17 directive for residents to “Stay Home for Nevada” — streaming usage in Las Vegas jumped 65 percent over March 2-8, the last full week most of America remained open.

Updates of those local streaming numbers from Nielsen weren’t available, but the ratings company noted that, for the week beginning April 13, Americans spent 154.6 billion minutes streaming — an increase of nearly 100 percent from the same week a year ago.

Among other milestones, Disney Plus passed the 50 million global subscriptions mark in early April. For comparison, the service’s initial goal was 60 million subscribers by September 2024.

And, with 15.7 million new subscribers in the first quarter, Netflix more than doubled its worldwide expectations of 7.2 million. In a letter to shareholders, though, the company said it didn’t expect those increases, or the dramatic spike in its streaming numbers, to last. “We expect viewing to decline and membership growth to decelerate as home confinement ends, which we hope is soon.”


‘Grossly unfair’

One of the less obvious reasons for the streaming binges we’ve been on over the past two months is the fact that, without live sports to watch, we have a lot more time on our hands.

ESPN has a certified blockbuster with the Michael Jordan documentary series “The Last Dance,” but otherwise, the company has had to rely on airing everything from past WrestleMania events and old spelling bees to NBA players taking part in competitions involving H-O-R-S-E and the NBA 2K video game.

Now that the initial curiosity factor has worn off, subscribers have started noticing they’re still paying premium prices for that content.

In 2017, the top four sports providers — ESPN, Fox Sports, the NFL Network and NBC Sports — combined to charge cable customers $12.99 a month, whether they watched those channels or not. ESPN’s four most popular channels — ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network — made up $9.06 of that.

That’s a steep bill, but it’s somewhat understandable when you factor in the billions of dollars ESPN lays out for the rights to NBA, NFL and major league baseball games. With none of that content even on the horizon, though, customers are wondering what they’re paying for.

One of those customers is Letitia James.

“It is grossly unfair that cable and satellite television providers would continue to charge fees for services they are not even providing,” James, the New York attorney general, wrote Wednesday in a letter to major cable and satellite businesses. “These companies must step up and immediately propose plans to cut charges and provide much needed financial relief.”

Cutting the cord

Subscribers may take matters into their own hands.

A survey of cable TV subscribers conducted by KilltheCableBill.com and Mindnet Analytics reported that 33.2 percent said live sports were a “very significant” reason they subscribed to cable, and 12.6 percent said they were “very likely” to cancel their subscriptions if major live sports didn’t return to TV before June 1.

That would follow other cord-cutting trends.

An April 21 survey for digital marketers The Trade Desk showed 74 percent of 18- to 34-year-old viewers have never had cable, have already gotten rid of it or are planning to cut the cord. Of those in that age group who still have cable, the report said, 18 percent plan to cut the cord by the end of 2020.

Sports is the one area of TV viewing that doesn’t have an easy streaming alternative. ESPN Plus, available as a $4.99 a month add-on, offers some events from MLB, NHL, UFC, Top Rank Boxing, MLS and some international soccer, but it doesn’t give subscribers access to regular ESPN content or live NBA or NFL games.

That restriction may not be the case for long, though. As part of an agreement announced Wednesday, Amazon will air one late-season Saturday NFL game exclusively on Prime and Twitch.

Susie Black-Manriquez, manager of communications for Cox Las Vegas, said it was too early to tell what long-term effect our quarantine streaming binges may have on the company’s subscriber rates.

But, she said, the company is already focused on the fees being paid to those sports channels.

“We’re in discussions with the networks, but right now they continue to charge us full price for this programming. If we receive any money back from the networks, we will pass all of it along to our customers.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Las Vegas performers adapt to pandemic restrictions - Video
The coronavirus pandemic has forced creative people in Las Vegas, a city that thrives on live performance, to adapt to new or changed ways to entertain. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas woman brings Blue Angel to life - Video
When Las Vegas shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, Victoria Hogan created the Blue Angel costume and performance, emulating the statue locals know and love in order to connect with others in a time when connection isn’t as possible. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‘Hamilton’ postponed as Smith Center remains dark indefinitely - VIDEO
The hit musical 'Hamilton' was supposed to run from September through October at The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Strip with Kats
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife Gilligan Stillwater GIbbons and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Las Vegas Strip with Kats - Video
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife, Gilligan Stillwater Gibbons, and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Ex-WWE star Shad Gaspard found dead on beach - Video
Shad Gaspard, 39, the former WWE wrestler, was found dead Wednesday morning on the shoreline of Venice Beach in California. Gaspard went missing over the weekend. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Buffets won’t reopen soon, but they may return eventually - VIDEO
In a Tuesday earnings call, Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Station Casinos parent company Red Rock Resorts, said buffets won’t be among the amenities included in the early stages of the resorts’ reopenings. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Hamilton' to debut on Disney+ in July - Video
The film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular musical was originally set for theatrical release in October. The musical’s director, Tommy Kail, shot three live performances featuring the original Broadway cast. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Little Richard dead at 87 - VIDEO
Little Richard, the pioneer and rock 'n' roll originator, died on Saturday, May 9. His son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the news but the cause of death is unknown. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jerry Stiller, actor and comedian, dies at 92 - VIDEO
Jerry Stiller's son, actor and director Ben Stiller, announced his father's death via Twitter. Jerry Stiller became widely known with a recurring role on "Seinfeld" as Frank Costanza, George's hot-headed father. He also starred on "King of Queens." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wolfgang Puck's Players Locker opens in Downtown Summerlin along with others - VIDEO
Under the governor's orders a few restaurants were able to open their dining rooms in Downtown Summerlin Saturday, May 9. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nicolas Cage to portray Joe Exotic in ‘Tiger King’ TV adaption - VIDEO
Nicolas Cage is headed to television to take on the role of Joe Exotic, the iconic character from the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quarantined! 'The Ghost Adventures' miniseries by Zak Bagans - VIDEO
The four-part miniseries “Ghost Adventures: Quarantine” by Zak Bagans will debut in June on the Travel Channel. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 facts about Cinco de Mayo - VIDEO
The holiday celebrates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexico began the holiday in 1862, but does not recognize it nationally anymore. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kristin Cavallari has already filed for divorce - VIDEO
Kristin Cavallari, the "Very Cavallari" star, announced she and her husband, former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, have separated after seven years of marriage and 10 years together. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brad Pitt portrays Dr. Anthony Fauci on ‘Saturday Night Live’ - VIDEO
"Saturday Night Live’ aired their second socially distanced episode of the COVID-19 pandemic on April 25. The episode’s cold open featured actor Brad Pitt portraying Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brian Dennehy, 'Tommy Boy' and 'First Blood' star, dies at 81 - VIDEO
Actor Brian Dennehy died Wednesday in New Haven, Connecticut. Dennehy's acting career spanned more than four decades, working in television, film and theater. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bishop Gorman 'Guys and Dolls' virtual performance
Bishop Gorman's virtual opening of "Guys and Dolls." (Bishop Gorman High School)
John Prine, country-folk singer, dies at 73 - VIDEO
John Prine died due to complications caused by COVID-19 at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee on April 7. The singer-songwriter is counted as one the favorite artists by the likes of Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caesars furloughing about 90% of US workers
The furloughs come amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted all U.S. commercial casinos to temporarily shut their doors.
Bill Withers, soul legend and 'Lean on Me' singer, dead at 81 - VIDEO
Bill Withers' family said he died of heart complications on Monday in Los Angeles. Withers was a three-time Grammy winner. His other major hits include “Ain’t No Sunshine" and “Lovely Day.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas KatsWalk: From the Mandalay Bay to Excalibur - VIDEO
Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes walks and talks along the Las Vegas Strip, from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur. (John Katsilometes and Kevin Cannon / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Make Ivan Grant's Quarantini - VIDEO
Ivan Grant, a flair bartender at Long Bar at The D Las Vegas, makes his Quarantini. (Ivan Grant)
Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger dies from coronavirus - VIDEO
According to Variety, 52-year-old frontman and songwriter Adam Schlesinger has died, following a short battle with the respiratory illness, coronavirus. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
KATS WALK: A walking tour on south Las Vegas Strip – VIDEO
RJ columnist John Katsiometes takes a walking tour of the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. (John Katsiometes and Kevin Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tiger King character has Las Vegas connection - VIDEO
Entertainment reporter John Katsilometes talks about the popular "Tiger King" and Jeff Lowe, a central figure in the Netflix documentary phenomenon who wanted to do business with the last Las Vegas Strip entertainer to use wild tigers in his act. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Coranavirus victim Howard Berman playing the harmonica in April 2014 - VIDEO
Howard Berman, 66, playing the harmonica at a jam session in April 2014. Berman, who was active in the Las Vegas music community, died on March 24, 2020, from COVID-19. (Diana Andriola)
Boarded-up businesses in the Arts District add some color - VIDEO
Businesses in the Arts District have commissioned local artists to paint murals on the boards covering their doors and windows. When the boards are removed, they will be auctioned off to raise money for those affected by the coronavirus shutdowns. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sold-out Electric Daisy Carnival still scheduled for May - VIDEO
In a post on his social media platforms, festival founder Pasquale Rotella confirmed that EDC remains scheduled for May 15-17 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway despite coronavirus concerns that have sideline scads of other live music events. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
City of Las Vegas responds to calls to allow restaurants offering curbside pickup
Alcohol is now allowed in curbside meal pickups in Las Vegas. The city of Las Vegas has responded to calls to allow restaurants offering curbside pickup service to include alcohol in those meals. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)