Sunday, January 23, 2011

How I Became a Cord-Cutter

I became a proud cord-cutter last week. That's a term the cable industry uses for people like me - customers who discontinue their TV service in favor of Internet-delivered entertainment. For years, I’ve been unhappy with the TV model: 

1. Double dipping
I am forced to pay for TV programming with my time and attention via advertising but I also am forced to pay to a TV or satellite company for delivering that advertising into my TV set. Radio doesn’t have this model - advertising pays for everything and satellite radio has a subscription cost but is advertising-free . Imagine buying a music CD with a commercial at the beginning of each song - that’s what TV is doing to us today. Is anyone else seeing this as a consumer scam?

2. Programming
500 channels and yet nothing’s on. I keep flipping channels only to end up watching a movie Tivo recorded for me. TV is decisively a one way medium catering to the lowest common denominator, not interested in my personal preferences or interests. Tivo has addressed this problem to some degree and I am happy to pay for the Tivo service but why do I have to keep paying the cable company for providing exactly the wrong kind of service?

3. Cable box
I hate the cable box. Every TV set since the 80s has a built-in cable tuner and yet the cable providers are forcing us to use their boxes. The cable boxes consume energy, make the channel switching painfully slow and require a separate remote that is never compatible with the TV set. The TV manufacturers are designing intelligent sets with sophisticated functionality which gets completely negated by the clunky cable box that makes clicking sounds as it slowly changes channels.

4. Packaging
I am really interested in only about 4-5 channels and yet to watch them, I need to buy a package that includes 300 channels, most of them painfully annoying. My cable provider offers as a big feature “time shifting” which is basically the same channel from different time zones. Are they kidding me? That’s just clogging my channel line up with the same junk over and over. And I am not going to elaborate on its  high cost.

So, what do I like about my TV service? Well, I like to watch movies, a couple of shows and the occasional big sporting event such as the Olympics, soccer World Cup or Wimbledon finals. That’s about it - and I pay all that money for this?

Not anymore. I have cancelled our cable TV service completely. We have been increasingly using Apple TV to watch movies from iTunes. Yes, it costs money but the costs are very reasonable given how many movies and shows we watch.

The new Apple TV 2G has also a built-in Netflix support and the new Netflix plan at $8 per months is absolutely irresistible. Netflix Canada still needs to work on making more of the blocked movies available but I am hopeful that the artificial content borders will eventually disappear (I wrote about that in Content Without Borders). In the meantime, iTunes pretty much offers everything that I can’t find on Netflix, including subscriptions to all the TV shows I can think of. And the money saved on the cable plan pays for a lot of episodes of The Office and Mad Men.

Yet there are some drawbacks. With increased streaming, I need to upgrade our data plan which costs a bit more. The data plans for Internet access are limited in Canada and overages are expensive - just like the mobile plans. Netflix streaming still has an occasional quirk although it has been improving steadily.

The greatest drawback by far is the lack of live sports events on iTunes or Netflix. That will surely change in the future but for now, I am relegated to browser-based TV streaming. Those are often either for a charge (which is OK) or blocked in countries with the richest TV audiences such as the US, UK, Germany and Canada. That will likely change once the TV networks realize that the Internet is for real. In the meantime, I am experimenting with VPN services that allow me to pretend I’m accessing the content from another country.

This is less than perfect as I am so far unable to get the browser-streaming on the TV screen the way Apple TV does it. Watching TV on a computer is a bit geeky, although the iPad makes that easier. I am testing jailbreaking the Apple TV and adding software such as aTV Flash by FireCore but that’s still lacking the ease of use of the native Apple TV. But all of these limitations are surely going to be solved in the upcoming months and years.

All in all, my cord-cutting is probably a leading edge move and not everyone will be willing to live without live NFL games on their flat screen (although, you can subscribe to NFL games online today). But the benefit of watching what I want, when I want it, without any commercials is worth the trade-off to me. At least until the next World Cup...

PS: The pile of devices around my TV set is being reduced down to the tiny Apple TV and the Wii. That’s it. All the other devices are gone - DVD player, Tivo and the cable box. It saves energy and looks way better!

1 comment:

  1. I fully agree with you. We made the switch more than a year ago and never looked back! We're now using the ATV2 + Netflix.
    Here is my take on this back then: