Cutting the Cord

How and where do you watch television?

Times have changed. Growing up as I did back in the dark ages, televisions were black and white and had four channels. If you wanted to watch something else, you had to stand up (gasp!) and manually turn the dial. Since then, we have progressed through color, remotes, cable, VCRs, DVDs, satellites, movies on demand and Blu-Ray. Finally, most channels have taken to streaming their shows over the internet.

Because streaming shows means that we can watch what we want when we want, many of us have taken to watching television in this fashion. As I did some research on the effect this was having on cable companies, I was astonished at what I was reading. Cable companies are losing customers by the thousands every month. More and more people are deciding that they don’t need to spend their money on dozens of channels they will never watch.

For example, the cable company that supplies television to my area bundles packages. This means that for “basic” cable, I would pay for 68 channels of which I would watch maybe 8. If I want HBO or Showtime, there is an additional charge that is so high I can’t imagine paying it. My cable company is certainly not alone in providing its services in this fashion. For fun, I looked up cable companies in New York, Los Angeles and Kansas. Each of the ones I found does the same thing.

I am one who has “cut the cord,” a term I found while I was doing this research to describe people who no longer pay for cable. Instead, we stream the shows we want to watch over our computers, tablets or smartphones. I subscribe to Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime. I have also been known to download the occasional show from iTunes. All in, I spend about $20 a month on television, or about half what I would spend on cable.

Is it perfect? No. While most of the major networks stream their shows the next day on Hulu, CBS does not. This means that I have to watch Elementary and Vegas on their site and suffer through the endless commercials. And, for some reason that escapes me, CBS does not stream Person of Interest. I have to wait until the DVDs come out this summer to watch the second season.

Likewise, the premium channels only stream if you have a subscription through a cable company. This means that I either pay separately for shows like Game of Thrones and Parade’s End, or I wait for the DVDs. I tend to wait. The downside of waiting is that you are almost sure to be spoiled, at least to some degree. I have found that the upside, being able to marathon through an entire season, more than makes up for the delay.

There are two other areas that people who have cut the cord report that they miss. The first is live sports and the other is the cable news channels. I couldn’t care less about live sports and I was able to watch the smoke turn white last week just by streaming CNN. Some people also mentioned that they missed channel surfing. For me, the problem is not finding something to watch; it is deciding which shows in the long list of shows I am watching or want to watch I am in the mood to watch.

There are only two other times that I struggle without a cable box. The first is when I am writing my articles for the new shows, some of which do not stream. What I have found, however, is that there is enough online (either through the site airing the show or on YouTube) to get a real sense of the show; enough to know whether or not to recommend it. Additionally, I watch the awards shows live, but only because I don’t want to wait to see who wins.

So, while it is not perfect, I have cut the cord and I don’t miss it. What have you done? Do you still have a cable subscription and a DVR or do you stream? Both? Let us know.

15 comments:

sunbunny said...

I still have cable but I only ever watch two things through cable: MSNBC and Person of Interest, which, like you said, doesn't stream. I wish I had HBO, but the extra cost doesn't seem worth it to watch Girls, Game of Thrones, and True Blood. Instead, I patiently wait for DVDs.

I have Netflix (I DO NOT know how I survived before Netflix Instant) and Hulu Plus. In addition, I occasionally buy streaming video over Amazon Prime.

Re: CBS Player. If you refresh your browser after the first commercial, you'll skip straight to the content without having to watch the next three commercials. You have to do it each commercial break, but watching one commercial at a time is better than watching four, right?

bekswhoknits said...

the situation is a bit different in australia. We have Free To Air television which anyone with a TV can watch. Most of these FTA channels have a 'catch-up' service. ABC iView is the best one, (as in Australian Broadcast Centre)the rest have varying degrees of ads or navigation problems. None of them really give you the chance to watch 2 or more episodes of the same series.
Netflix hasn't quite got here yet, and Quickflix is only for movies.
As far as I know iTunes is the only way to watch TV shows, and we pay a lot more for the privilege than Americans do.

I'm one of the lucky ones who pays for Foxtel, which is essentially cable. This year (for the first time ever) Game of Thrones will be available 2 hours after it airs in the US. Foxtel is getting OK with airing shows almost straight away.
Free to Air don't care. I don't think Season 8 of How I Met Your Mother hasn't started airing yet.
But I don't watch Free To Air because you can't watch anything new.

So unless you want to pay $100 a month, to get some of the shows you want on Foxtel (i'm a live sport enthusiast so this is worth it for me) most people download or in leiu of decent streaming options.


TLDR: Australians don't have good streaming options.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I pay for is Netflix. We are lucky that an antenna does the trick for our television, but it seems like all I ever watch "live" is the national news. Even though there are network shows I like, I almost always watch them on Hulu (Free, not Plus) or the network website so that I can watch at my convenience. For cable shows, I wait for the DVDs and try my best to avoid spoilers.

ChrisB said...

sunbunny -- GREAT tip for the ads on the CBS site. Thank you! You and I can watch Game of Thrones together when the DVDs come out.

bekswhoknits -- thank you for your very interesting comment. I'd love to hear from others outside the US what your options are.

FreoFanatic said...

I am also from Australia and because we are mad AFL (Australian Rules Football) followers we pay about $120 a month for Foxtel. I also download alot of stuff, however in the last year or so programs are aired on Foxtel very soon after they air in the USA, which has reduced what I download. Thanks to Billie Doux I also now watch a number of shows which do not air here.
Incidentally the theme music for the AFL on Foxtel is very like the title music for Game of Thrones, everytime it come on I think Game of Thrones, no AFL promo.

Victoria Milner said...

I'm not in the States but I am not surprised by your findings. The only problem for me in Singapore is that we can't stream everything we want as easily as people in Australia or the US. Also, I had to laugh at your term 'cut the cord' - famous line in Michael's favourite Killer's song :)

Robyn said...

I am also from Australia. The main 4 networks here are now trying hard to broadcast shows within hours of the US and Britian, but we are limited in terms of what is available, and the likes of GoT and TB are only available through expensive pay tv as previously mentioned. A huge issue here is illegal downloading. It is crippling the major networks who have had a stronghold for so long, but people want to watch what's available elsewhere and want it fast.
As I said networks are trying to compete and the ABC ( onlu gov owned networ)is cleverly leading the way with streaming popular shows like Dr Who even before it broadcasts on tv and within hours of the UK.
Demand is making big business rethink strategy, but as I mentioned nearly everyone I know illegally downloads ( tv,movies and music)

celticmarc said...

Up here in Canada (as well as the States) the (analog) aerial signal is no longer available. So people need a cable service, satellite provider or digital decoder (that "catches" aerial digital signals) in order to get some TV channels. Oh ! And of course, we have a few "channels" through the web too. No Hulu for us though.

This is a great plus : you've missed a documentary, you get the chance to find it somewhere else.

Being no longer a member of my cable company, I have reduced my package to the smallest one possible. Expensive, especially when I don't watch most of the channels nor TV often.

I either watch the shows that I love live (arggh, hate being interrupted by those commercials) and yes, as said before, I download some shows via torrent files. The advantage : no commercials; disadvantage : have to wait one day to watch the show.

And yes, I have a huge DVD collection. So I may take a lot but I give back a lot as well.

garyb said...

We live in an area that is not served by any cable system. We had Dish Network for about 8 years.... then the divorce hit, and I was looking for expenses to cut, and the Dish Subscription was among the first to go. Missed the programming a bit.

But like others, we really were only watching a very few of the channels.

We do have a relatively large outdoor antenna to pick up the Over-The-Air signals and a couple of DVD recorders. I've found that there are sufficient quantity of O-T-A programs to sate my video desire: Castel, Arrow, PoI, Elementary, Body of Proof, Nikita, OUAT, Revenge, Beauty & Beast, Suburgatory, Nova, Frontline.

I've picked up a few box sets of series that I missed, Buffy, Angle, Wonderfalls, Veronica Mars, Dark Angle. Some used at pretty low prices via Amazon (via the link on Billie's pages)

I had a netflix subscription for a while, and after searching futility for a few specific movies to watch, I gave up on them as well.

If you don't have an antenna up for the O-T-A you might check at www.antennaweb.org for some suggestions.

Anonymous said...

In New Zealand streaming is in its infancy. Kiwis aren't ones to wait around until it gets here properly, so there is a massive amount of illegal downloading despite a three strikes law that cuts off your internet after the third infraction (known as the "Skynet law"). Some people also use Hulu via a proxy that blocks their real IP addresses. (Stupid regional licensing!)

At least in response the TV channels have hustled to show popular stuff within a couple of days of the US to limit downloading. This is a fantastic development, because in the past we could wait literally years for a show to turn up.

Gavrielle

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting way to look at the world and how even in so different conditions we share a shameless addition to TV.
I live in a small community in the middle of the Amazon close to the border between two countries in South America where I only have electricity by solar panels and I must be the only person in the area who speak English (some at least!). I´m from and ancient culture from the Amazon, but I manage to travel a lot outside my country when I was younger, and funny enough fall in love with American television. Now, I have a computer, some DVDs, a solar panel and some mad skills for breaking into the satellite network of some drug production camp quite close to my village and stream everything that you recommend from different internet sites.
Thank you for that! Cecile

Billie Doux said...

Cecile, this is one of my favorite comments ever. Seriously.

celticmarc said...

Cecile, you've just put a huge smile on my face.

CrazyCris said...

Here in Spain I don't think there's any way to legally watch shows online! And the few regular and cable channels that show US series do so quite while after (takes time to do the dubbing). There are a few exceptions (I belive Canal+ shows GoT a week or two after the US, but you have to pay a nice amount to get C+)

Can't you guys (in the US) watch regular network channels without paying for cable TV??? I thought those were supposed to be free (paid for via ads). Otherwise Sunbunny I don't get how you can't watch Person of Interest!

In Spain TV went off the "airwaves" permanently 2 years ago, and since then has been a purely digital affair. But we all have sockets in our walls (next to the phone jack) and we just plug the TV cable in there and presto! All the regular channels we used to have via normal antennas, and a few new ones (of course there's tons more on cable). Added bonus of the digital is that in many cases with a single button I can switch the language from "Spanish" to "Original"! Which is ok if there's an interesting movie on, but still doesn't help much for regular series watching as scheduling is a nightmare and unpredictable...

I pretty much only turn my TV on to watch the news (when I want to hear something depressing), for a big tennis match (Vamos Rafa!) or some big event (white smoke last week!). Everything else I watch online... I wish we could get stuff via iTunes here... but they only let us go for music and maybe a few Spanish TV shows.

celticmarc said...

On a more humoristic and personal note, I will always remember the day when I got "my" first colour TV. We're talking about around 1982 (84 ??) and God ! that sucker was so HEAVY. A gift from my late granny. Climbing down those 3 storey stairs was memorable. Made me feel like Jack Sparrow leaving with a huge (and mostly heavy) treasure chest !

After all these years in black and white, it was a "cultural" shock to see in colours. The Price Is Right and Captain Scarlet come to mind. Oh my !

Rediscovering something with a different pair of eyes...