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Sorry, cord cutters: cable TV apps are soaring in popularity

Sorry, cord cutters: cable TV apps are soaring in popularity

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Despite never-ending complaints about its irritating and sometimes glitchy authentication process, TV Everywhere — which lets cable customers stream TV content on smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, and in the browser — is doing tremendously well. A new report from Adobe Digital Index shows that TV Everywhere viewership has leaped 246 percent year-over-year; 21 percent of US households are now taking advantage of the technology.

You may not recognize TV Everywhere by its industry-wide branding, but if you've ever used apps like HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Watch ABC, or FX Now, you're supporting the cause. Cable provider offerings like Comcast's Xfinity TV, Time Warner Cable’s TWC TV, and Cablevision's Optimum app are also part of TV Everywhere. These often let subscribers access a broad range of channels, though selection can vary depending on which company you're with and your individual cable package.

There's no reason to change anything when the current plan is working

Netflix and Hulu Plus obviously aren't included, as they're both premium services that require no cable subscription. These are the apps that cord cutters have long embraced, and the ones that pressured cable companies and rights holders to develop TV Everywhere in the first place. But it looks as if the plan is working, giving providers little incentive to change their current operating model or explore new ways of delivering TV over the web. If you've wondered why HBO hasn't yet untangled its popular HBO Go service from cable subscriptions, this is a perfect example of why: plenty of people are watching as is, and the company reaps massive profits from its current approach. The startup with the best odds of disrupting TV Everywhere is Aereo, but right now its only goal is to survive a battle with networks in the Supreme Court.

iOS apps are now the most popular way to consume TV Everywhere, according to the report, surpassing traditional browsers for the first time. Kids programming certainly plays a role in that, with young viewers often glued to iPads and Disney's mobile apps for hours. Desktop viewing comes in second, with Android placing third and set-top boxes/game consoles rounding out the list. And as you might guess, people love streaming sports. "Sports viewing plays a pivotal role in getting new users to access digital video," said Joe Martin, lead analyst for video at ADI. Martin said the upcoming World Cup is likely to provide another huge boost. ESPN has announced plans to stream every match online via its authenticated WatchESPN service. For now, there's a plus side to all this. HBO and other companies don't seem to mind login sharing, so "borrowing" cable credentials from a friend or family member can yield all the perks without the monthly bill — but there's no telling how long that lax attitude will last.