The highs and lows of cable TV cord-cutting

Last fall, our family downgraded our cable package, going from the heights of high-def to the depths of DVR-less basic cable. It wasn’t easy, let me tell you. I love me my HDTV. But it made budgetary sense so we made the switch.

This spring, with things looking a little brighter money-wise (and with the start of baseball season looming), we decided to re-embrace the cable beast. To lessen the sting, we ditched our legacy landline phone provider and signed up for the cable company’s package of phone, Web access and cable TV.

Now that I’m on the other side of this, ahem, experiment, I can see it for what it was: a lesson in how, with a little bit of patience and some help from technology, you can pretty much watch all of your favorite shows for free or at a reduced cost.

Some random observations:

Our relationship to advertising changed. Since we usually couldn’t fast-forward through them, we paid much more attention to the ads that ran before and during the shows we watched. From an advertiser’s perspective, this is both a good and a bad thing. Yes, viewers spend more time watching the ads when they consume their TV online, but as we found, this forced-viewing also resulted in crabbiness toward the companies doing the advertising, since they were standing between us and our shows.

At the same time, for the companies that are regular advertisers on your favorite shows, you certainly begin positively associating them with those shows and, unless their ads are annoying, appreciate the fact that they are supporting and helping bring you the programming you like.

Though, in the “familiarity breeds contempt” department, that too has a downside, as you quickly become bored with seeing the same spots from the same company every week. The whole idea of varying up the ad rotation seemed lost on many companies, as the same slate of spots often ran in the same order episode after episode.

We experienced the joys of resourcefulness. Getting something for free or at a drastically-reduced price was a rush. And while there were plenty of hassles associated with trying to catch up on missed episodes – some new shows are posted online immediately after they air, others take a few days or a week; certain sites have clunky interfaces that make it hard to watch TV via the Web – realizing that we could keep up with almost all of our favorite programs without writing a (larger) check to Comcast every month was pretty great.

Whether it was finding the nifty adapter that let us plug our Mac laptop into our high-def TV using an HDMI cable, or mining the wealth of free DVDs from our local library, or using the video-on-demand service that comes with our annual Amazon Prime membership fee, we were able to use my beloved TV to its fullest extent and keep our kids happy despite the fact that their favorite on-demand shows weren’t available.

I felt guilty. As much as we all love to complain about commercials, they make the traditional network TV model viable. So while I enjoyed being one of the cord-cutters, I also felt odd about contributing to its possible downfall. After all, if everyone stops watching TV on their TV, won’t TV go away? I realize we’re in no danger of that – the landscape is just changing – but I still found myself feeling pangs of regret. Of course, a similar business model, where advertising subsidizes the delivery of content to a targeted  audience, is what has allowed Quirk’s to exist for nearly 25 years. So I’m hesitant to help demolish a house that sits so close to the one I live in.

Now that we’re back in the cable fold, I’ve been able to watch every painful inning of my Twins team’s dreadful season (thankfully they’ve been playing better lately!). The girls have their Disney Junior back. My wife and I can enjoy The Amazing Race and howl at Modern Family without having to contend with Hulu’s idiosyncrasies.

The laptop-to-HMDI converter is still plugged into the back of our TV though we haven’t used it in weeks. I’m sure there will come a time when we need it again. But for now, we’re happy to have the remote back in our hands.

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2 Responses to The highs and lows of cable TV cord-cutting

  1. Marie Lemerise says:

    Thanks Joe – we are in the the throes of this debate. Our Roku device & upgraded router give us webstreaming but there are annoying hiccups with the TV when changing channels, or just dropping transmission for a couple of seconds in mid-program. Subsequent episodes from our Netflix queue disappeared from a series we were following (during free 1 month trial). How is your experience w/ amazon prime webstreaming of movies/TV shows? Is there sufficient breadth of materials to satisfy eclectic tastes? What are the hulu issues?


  2. Joseph Rydholm says:

    Hi Marie! The streaming video library of Amazon Prime is a very nice value-add (as they say!) but I don’t think it’s something I would pay extra for. We happily pay our $79 per year to Amazon Prime to avoid paying separate shipping charges with every order, since we order so much, and when I heard they were throwing in the streaming video, I thought it was great. The selection is limited – no real blockbusters but a lot of recent-ish, solid foreign/indie stuff (all of the Swedish versions of the “Girl With The…” series; some IFC or Sundance-type indies) and some great kids stuff (mostly TV series like Caillou) and some fun older shows like Rocky & Bullwinkle (our girls love Fractured Fairy Tales). Hulu’s problems, if memory serves, were with the delays in episodes posting and also the commercials would somehow pop the TV out of full-frame view and so we would have to drag our lazy behinds off the couch to fiddle with the laptop after the spots had run to get us back to full-frame view. Just little annoyances like that!