With VoD on the scene, is cable TV on its way out?

Video on Demand services have been growing worldwide, but how much of a threat are they to our traditional cable/subscriber TV services

Over the past few weeks, there have been news reports about Caribbean telecoms service providers expanding their offering to include subscription television (TV)  in a number of countries across the region.  The two main regional firms, Digicel and Flow, are both eager to be recognised as quad-play providers in all of the countries in which they have a presence – by offering fixed voice telephony, mobile/cellular, Internet, and cable/subscriber TV services. However, while offering subscriber TV could complement their existing services, and would be just an add-on to their existing infrastructure, could the move into that area be too little too late?

In addition to subscriber TV, Caribbean consumers have the option of accessing video streaming and Video on Demand (VoD) services via the Internet. Platforms, such as Netflix, offer thousands of selections from which to choose, and are continually adding new content (movies, TV series, documentaries, etc.) to their libraries.

Today, most of us in the Caribbean access TV services via a cable/subscriber TV package. Free-to-air broadcasting would have been the norm 20 or 25 years ago, when cable/subscriber TV would have been in its infancy in the region, and households would have had an antennas on their roofs, or (rabbit ears) next to their TVs. Today, most Caribbean countries are in the process of formally adopting digital TV, which will be the final nail in the coffin for free-to-air TV transmissions.

Service personalisation

Increasingly, and as has been occurring in the digital space for the past five or so years, there has been a trend towards allowing consumers greater personalisation of product and service offerings. Not only has it allowed firms to distinguish themselves from each other, it also fosters an appreciation of the individual customer, and their individual needs.

Currently, most subscriber TV service providers offer a range of programming packages from which to choose, and they may even allow customers to select individual channels as an add-on to a basic package. However, the degree of personalisation allowed tends to be limited. On the other hand, with VoD, the degree of customisation permitted is considerably greater. Subscribers can select the individual shows and episodes they wish to view, and frequently, the providers also recommend content, based on subscribers’ viewing history and perceived preferences.


Outside of the premium subscriber TV channels, the remaining channels tend to rely upon paid commercials to be viable. At best, these commercials can be distracting and break the momentum of a good show; at worse, they drag on way too long and try the patience of the viewer. With respect to VoD, and for paid services, subscribers are not plagued with commercials, and can watch their desired programmes unimpeded.


Consistent with the personalisation thrust, VoD offers a distinct benefit by allowing subscribers to view the available content as and when they wish. For example, when Netflix releases the latest season of House of Cards, all of the season’s episodes are available at the same time. Hence subscribers can choose to binge-watch the episodes, or stretch it out over several days, weeks or months, depending on their mood or schedule. On the other hand, most of the content available via subscriber TV tends to be on a fixed schedule and not controlled by the viewer. It therefore means that, outside of making provisions to record it, that content is not available outside of the scheduled times, and may never be seen again.

The shared viewing experience  

Having said this, the format of most subscriber TV channels – more so that VoD, fosters the shared viewing experience: be it the live coverage of the still on-going Olympic (two down, on to go Usain!), or watching the latest Game of Thrones episode, whilst simultaneously participating in the social media discussion of the new plot twists as they emerge, and then discussing them with friends the following day. Although some VoD platforms, such as YouTube, can support live coverage, it tends to be the exception, rather than the norm.

From the above discourse, VoD has a number of distinct benefits that may be more aligned with how people live today. However, there still appears to be room for other options, such as subscriber TV, which offers a different experience. Hence consumers may not need to choose one over the other, but enjoy the strengths of both as and when they choose.


Image credit:   Jonas’ Design (flickr)