Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cutting the Cable

                                         (Pictured- prominent 1990's superhero, Cable)

When I was a wee Sean, I lived in South Hampton, New Hampshire which is a town of about 800ish people right on the border with Massachusetts. By "right on the border' I mean "If I walked south for 3 minutes I was in Massachusetts".

South Hampton is a small town, and it's fairly rural. For the first few years that we lived there, you could not get cable television. Until I was in the third grade, I lived in a world with roughly five TV stations, one of which was a French station. Cable was something that existed mostly at my grandmother's house in Newburyport, MA.

But, when I was in the third grade, cable television came to South Hampton. My father never really wanted it (he is very, very frugal- real quote from my dad "Never pay for water, parking, or dirt.") but my mom convinced him to get it, and we did. I had Cable for the rest of my childhood.

And I LOVED Cable. I used to watch Cartoon Express on USA, old Hanna Barbera cartoons on Cartoon network, and movies like Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Hook, and Return to Oz on HBO. Where prior to Cable my TV watching had been limited to weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings, Cable had children's programming 24/7. As I moved into my teens, I started watching Comedy Central, VH1, and pro-wrestling on USA (again) and TNT.

When I moved to Chicago in 2003, my roommates and I, of course, sprung for Cable. I watched Food Network voraciously- especially Good Eats with Alton Brown which basically taught me to cook real adult food myself. I also watched anime late at night on Cartoon Network (Cartoon Network kind of grew up with me, which was neat) and whatever was on Comedy Central (South Park, SNL reruns, etc.)

So, for a long time I had a pretty good relationship with Cable. It was as an adult though that I came to a pretty horrible realization- Cable is really, really expensive. Most Cable packages (as near as I can tell) which include internet start with an introductory price in the neighborhood of $100 per month. That gets you a crappy internet connection, and basic cable. Oh, and since that's an introductory price, it only lasts for about a year. So, at the end of a year, your price goes up $20-40 a month. If you want premium channels (HBO, Skinemax, Showtime, etc.), HD-DVR and faster internet, it costs even more.

For 8 years, I was able to keep my costs down, and get a relatively decent level of cable and internet service by negotiating my price. By "negotiating my price" I mean, "we have multiple cable providers in Chicago, and if you threaten to leave yours for the other one, they'll usually give you a better rate". Even WITH that negotiation, as of June, I was paying $160 a month for cable and internet.

WHY does cable cost so much? Well, in part, it's because the content providers- cable channel owners like Viacom, and Disney charge the Cable companies huge amounts of money for marquee channels like ESPN and Comedy Central. That cost trickles down from the cable company to you (or me), the consumer.

But also, people will pay for it. People love Cable TV. People like HBO, and ESPN, and Comedy Central. Right now, when you buy a Cable subscription, you get all of these channels (and like, 500 other channels) bundled together at one big cost. In an ideal world, cable companies would give you the option to buy individual channel subscriptions- to build your own bundle- for a lower rate. I mean, even when I was watching the most TV, I really only watched about 5-7 channels. Wouldn't it be great, if I could pay $35, or even $50 a month for the channels I want, rather than $120 a month for those channels, plus 500 other channels that I will NEVER watch? Cable companies are not going to offer an a la carte option like that any time soon, because they know that most consumers will continue to shell out more money for the bundles, and they have profit margins to think about. If they gave people less expensive a la carte options, people might actually buy them.

You know what would be even better than that? Well, what if you could watch any TV show, sporting event, or movie you wanted, at any time? Wouldn't that be nice? Wouldn't you pay a reasonable amount of money for that? I know I sure would.

Wait a minute...

We've had a Netflix subscription for years now. When Netflix first started streaming movies and TV (in supplement to their DVD in the mail service) it literally changed the way Chelsea and I watched TV. We are very busy. It is not easy for us to be home regularly enough to watch a TV show as it's aired on a network. With Netflix (and similar services like HuluPlus, and even iTunes) we can watch our shows whenever we want. AND we can watch multiple episodes of a show in one sitting. As time went along, we watched more and more TV through Netflix, and less and less through our Cable subscription.

So, cable was very expensive AND not as convenient as watching TV through a streaming service. Streaming services do not yet have as much NEW content as Cable, but they do have TONS AND TONS of content.

We moved recently, and with the move, we made a pretty momentous decision- we cut cable. We got rid of it. For the reasons stated above. We are now 3 weeks into not having Cable. We have a Netflix subscription, we have HuluPlus, and this weekend I'm buying an AppleTV box that will let us stream content from our iPad, iphones, and MacBook directly onto the TV. We are saving $80 a month, and we have not lacked for stuff to watch. Right now, we have no sports stuff, but we really only watch baseball, and hockey anyway, and you can get the NHL package, and the MLB package through AppleTV. So assuming the NHL doesn't go on strike this year, we will probably get that.

Basically, you don't need Cable. You don't. You can watch TV over the internet. It's less expensive. It's more convenient- especially if you have a busy schedule. And it's just generally better. I'm done with Cable TV, probably forever.

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