Cutting the Cable
With all the talk this week about Aereo and the Supreme Court decision, it seems like a good time to talk about our experiences cutting the Cable.
We started experimenting with video streaming and automating our home entertainment system long before there were apps for the home and years before we cancelled our cable. We began with streaming through a sony Ps2 game console that we acquired just for this purpose and a media server on an old windows box upstairs. We used this to stream photos and music from our libraries to our main tv downstairs. We also experimented with some remotes and settled with a harmony one remote that was a pain to program and sometimes stopped working for no reason when the devices got out of sync. That remote is still plugged in and sitting in our living room, though we haven’t used it for months.
At the time, we had the typical “triple play” service with internet, cable tv/dvr and digital phone service. Comcast kept raising the prices and we found little we were really interested in watching. The phone was also completely useless. The only calls we got were robocalls and we went months without checking the voice mail. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not we could afford it, we really just decided we didn’t want cable anymore. We figured we had better things to do than veg out in front of the tv watching house hunters all day long. So, we took the equipment back to the office, killed the other services, and began our cable-less adventure.
One thing we discovered right away is that we can actually get a lot of channels over the air with an antenna, and the quality is outstanding. The signal isn’t as compressed as cable, so the picture is crisp and detailed. We get all the networks plus some others we didn’t know existed, like More TV and ION television, that play some reruns and old movies.
We still pay for tv though. We have Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime subscriptions. I kept the DVD subscription to Netflix even though we haven’t watched one in months. We also subscribe to MLB.tv to get baseball games. We primarily use the Apple TV box for this. We can only get Amazon Prime through our Samsung Smart TV. Sometimes we buy shows (top chef) or rent movies from iTunes. Last year we bought Downtown Abbey but this year we figured out we could watch for free on the PBS app.
By far, the biggest drawback to living without cable is live sports. I’m a big Red Sox fan and Michigan State basketball fan. During the basketball tournament, I can watch most games on CBS, but they don’t always play regular season games and if they are broadcast on ESPN I’m out of luck. For this year’s Rose Bowl, we had to go to a bar to watch because it was only on ESPN. For the baseball playoffs, a lot of the games were on TBS and the mlb.tv app blocks them when they are on a cable channel. I’d like to watch the World Cup but again, it’s on ESPN. I think if we were really hardcore sports fans we would not be able to survive.
I think the other major drawback is finding good shows and figuring out how to access them. It’s so confusing to try to figure out which shows are on Amazon, Hulu or Netflix. Sometimes they are on both, sometimes they are split. There is no easy way to search, Google tried that with Google TV but that wasn’t so hot (we still have one of those boxes upstairs…it never made it to our primary tv). Some shows just aren’t available (Simpsons on Hulu for instance – most other Fox shows are there). Some network apps are also trying to get you to login with your cable provider credentials.
We also no longer have a DVR, which I view as ok since most shows we watch are streamed. Hulu Plus has more and more commercials these days and it would be great to skip them, but we deal. The best part about buying shows on iTunes is no commercials (but we pay a premium for that).
Even with these drawbacks, we have no regrets cutting the cable. We still watch tv, but we are more selective. We spend more time outdoors and I read more books. If we want to watch something good we can binge on it (we did house of cards season 2 in three days).
Cases like Aereo and the Net Neutrality issue worry me though. I wonder how long we can just go on with just Internet, before the Cable Monopolies start throttling our connection, and companies are allowed exclusivity to content that makes us have to buy more and more subscriptions. The cost of that triple play service is now already within range of what we pay for cable. All while the US has some of the slowest and most expensive broadband in the world. I know more and more consumers are choosing to go this way, so I hope our policies don’t stand in the way. I prefer more choice and I’d be happy to buy a subscription to ESPN or HGTV or Food Network if I could unbundle it from cable. But I prefer to choose on my terms and not get 200+ channels I’ll never watch.