Monday, June 08, 2009

Cutting the Cable

Cutting the Cable

Part of my six months of exile I've run a little experiment. No cable TV. I know, I know, my friends that are used to discussing the latest episode of Lost or Heroes or Battlestar with me will find that hard to imagine. Me without cable! What's even more amazing is that where I'm at is so rural that you also cannot get TV over the air. The only thing the idiot box has been used for is video games and DVDs.

How did I do it? All hail the Internet!

I'm here to say - it is possible. Thanks to Hulu,, the various network and channel sites that stream and of course Netflix. Someone in the cable industry recently said something like "we offer all the content you can get on your computer - with a more comfortable chair". Pretty much true. I've kept up on all the shows that really matter to me. Basically a day (or more) behind their first run on TV. Here's my summary of the experiment:

The Pros.

  • Free!
  • Better than a DVR since you don't even need to set it.
  • Networks well represented.
  • Internet only content. Stuff you can't get on your TV. There is LOTS of this and I'm not counting Youtube.
  • Really good picture quality on modern monitors. (get rid of the CRT)
  • Did I mention Free!
  • Surf while you watch (small window)
  • Limited and sometimes zero commercial interruption.
  • If you have a multi-monitor setup you can surf while you watch full screen

The Cons.
  • Most cable channels like FX, Food, Discovery, Fuse, SciFi etc do not offer ANY content.
  • Unless you have a multi monitor setup you cannot watch full screen AND surf or do anything else. Of course doing this with the TV requires your computer so this one doesn't really count.
  • Pay networks like HBO do not offer content - with the exception of Itunes and even then it's dated and limited.
  • If you have a slow connection (and everyone does from time to time) - you are pretty much hosed.
  • Most content is available at least a day after the original air date so you have to avoid the water cooler.
  • You probably aren't sitting in your la-z-boy.


The overall experience has been that I am more active in what I watch. When I do watch, it's time set aside for it - like reading. There is little to none of what I call being a "drive-by couch tater". You know - when you are bored and just turn on the TV and watch whatever catches your eye. I think it's been great. I am really torn about hooking back to that constant feed when I return home. I'll most likely do it though. The only real Internet service in my 'hood is cable so I'll have it anyway. (Plus Trueblood is about to start.) I will most likely setup a media center pc of some sort and hook it to both cable and the Internet. Now I'm eyeing low end PC's and the Mac Mini for just such a purpose.

In the end I think that cable TV as we currently know it is starting to circle the drain. There are only a few things stopping a mad rush to Internet TV right now. Someone needs to come up with a way to make getting standard broadcast / cable content at least DVR simple and the hardware to cost less than $300. Internet TV needs some standard to allow users to string it together. Like RSS has done for podcasts and blogs. The networks/cable channels need to pull their collective heads out and offer shows at the same time they air and the pay services need to realize that the same model will work on the Internet. For example your ISP or media center vendor could charge for your ability to stream from HBO. Broadcast channels (and some Internet only channels) are already finding that companies will purchase advertising on their sites and shows in a similar fashion to broadcast tv. The last thing blocking the rush is the usual fraction of the population that dislikes change - or at least doesn't deal well with it. For these folks we will see conventional stations and cable hang on pathetically - like standard telephones and dial-up Internet are doing today.

I'm sure this won't happen for at least 10 years though. The cable industry will surely follow the record and movie industry in trying to preserve it's outdated business model. Time Warner is already at it with it's attempts at download caps. In the end - like always the consumer will suffer but eventually win the battle. 10 years from now an ISP won't be able to do business unless it offers a min download speed (likely to be at least 100mbs) with no caps but for now we will have to shake our heads at the coming wave of stupidity.

It's almost there folks - for now if you are a person that doesn't watch much TV or only follows a few shows you can probably do it without much fuss and with fairly substantial savings. If you consider channel surfing an activity in itself... Hold on to your cable - for now.

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