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Cutting Cable

Apr 15, 2013 11:09 AM, By Jason Bovberg


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Have you ever had that rather urgent feeling that you’ve had enough of cable (or dish) and just want to sever it from your life? The monthly bill is outrageously high, often upwards of $200, and with smartphone contract fees being this generation’s must-have monthly expense, something has to give. Not to mention the notion that hardline cable seems to have lost its allure in the 21st century—a time more in tune with online entertainment and streaming services. To many, cutting cable would be a no-brainer, except for the lure of live programming. What about live sports? Local news? Or, for that matter, the kind of timely cable programming that many of us have become hooked on?

For me, the idea of finally cutting cable (something I’ve longed to do for years) has only recently entered the realm of feasibility. Oh, and let’s get this out of the way immediately: Of course anybody can cut cable at any time, given the ascetic fortitude. It can be a matter of “just saying no” to the lure of everything cable has to offer. Some people are great at that. In fact, when my first daughter was born, we did without cable for the first five years of her life and were quite proud of the switch. We spent more time reading (and writing) and nurturing our daughter in a healthy TV-free home. I admire people who can do it, especially for the long term, but for a lot of us, media and entertainment on the TV are a central part of life. (I would say that for too many of us, it’s the central pillar, but that’s a different article.)

When we re-introduced cable into our lives, after moving into a new home, it was clear what we’d been missing. Yes, it’s common wisdom that the majority of cable programming is repellent trash (which fuels many people’s furious insistence every month that they just cut it!), but there’s also quite a bit about cable that I personally find essential. The first is simply HD convenience: Through my cable DVR, I have a large (and growing) selection of HD programming to choose from, and I can record it at will—and even remotely from my phone. The schedule is broad and voluminous, full of thousands of hours of enticing crap, virtually everything that is available in the TV realm. The next thing that comes to mind is sports: Cable and dish offer sports programming that is unrivaled online or on any streaming service, providing the ability to watch multi-regional baseball, NFL games across the nation, and every Olympic event. And another thing I truly value is the availability of obscure programming on TV channels that would be tough to find elsewhere. I’m thinking of Adult Swim and Sundance Channel, as examples off the top of my head. And what about PBS?

Other types of programming are being subsumed by streaming media services such as Netflix and Hulu. In my opinion, former bastions of cable TV such as major-network episodic series and ever-redundant HBO-type movie programming are both going the way of the dinosaur. For the former, you need look no further than Netflix’s recent streaming series House of Cards and the forthcoming continuation of Arrested Development for a model of how future episodic programming might work—an entire season of episodes released simultaneously for the viewer to enjoy on his or her own schedule (just as we’re accustomed to with TV on DVD or Blu-ray). Netflix also offers thousands of films for instant enjoyment—not to mention complete series of TV shows’ past seasons—whereas Hulu offers more current episodic programming (for such personal favorites as The Daily Show and some more obscure shows). Both Netflix and Hulu can be added to not only your TV but also your PC, tablet, or smartphone—for a fraction of the cost of monthly cable. These kinds of 21st century developments are making it an easier prospect to ditch cable.

But what of the other aspects that services such as Netflix and Hulu haven’t been able to replicate (or improve)? For local and major-network programming, you can buy an HD antenna and connect it to your TV. Your local cable provider relies on a (powerful) HD antenna in order to send its signal to your house, so why not cut out the middle man and just get your own? These antennae come pretty cheap: You can choose the most basic antennae to attach to your roof (or even place in your attic, if you’re in a high-coverage, urban area), or you can choose a more powerful antenna for a higher price. For recording capability, you’ll have to buy a DVR to replace the one your cable provider gave you—but many consumers see this trade-off as a benefit. Rather than pay a monthly fee to rent a basic DVR, you can purchase a high-capacity DVR that gives you better features and functionality, and never pay another rental fee.

And how about sports and other live events? To me, that’s where the essential gap is—the one reason why I haven’t quite made the leap. It’s going to take a new kind of streaming media provider to bring us this next technological leap, and the major networks will need to sign on with a wide variety of HD streaming content, in easy-to-use and easy-to-consume packages. I envision sports packages available in much the same way that Hulu provides access to entertainment—except with live programming. This kind of streaming service is in our future.

Right now, it’s in its embryonic stages at individual websites across the Internet. What we need is some kind of corralling service. And that’s going to be a huge deal. Imagine an HD Olympics package delivered to you on any device in your home, or an NFL service that provides the ability to watch exactly the games you want. We’re getting an increasingly customized media experience in our lives, and this is only the next step.

Are you ready to cut your cable (or dish)? I feel like I’m beyond ready, but there are just those few necessities that need to fall in line. Is it feasible for you at this point? What’s holding you back? What kind of alternative solution have you put into place? Did you use a contractor for your work? Or was it a DIY project? I’d be curious to hear about your adventures in cable cutting in the comments below.



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