Cutting Cable: Cost vs. Convenience

By Carlos Portocarrero

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Cutting cable out of your budget is one of those things every personal-finance blog talks about at one point or another. It’s up there with double-edge shaving and credit-card rewards.

More than ever before, today’s technology gives you access to the programming you want without being a cable subscriber. Being a gadget hound, I’ve been reading about how combinations of Netflix streaming, PlayOn, Apple TV, iTunes, and other devices can pretty much get you the shows you watch without having to worry about channels like QVC.

As with most things, it’s very hard to take the plunge and try it. So I’m forever thankful of pieces like CNET’s Diary of a Cable TV Cord Cutter. In it, David Katzmaier and his wife go cold turkey and try to replace their cable by installing a huge HD antenna on their roof, subscribing to Hulu Plus, and using a couple of gadgets to do the rest.

This week the saga ended and David went back to cable. He could’ve saved money every month and he pretty much had the channels he wanted, so why couldn’t he make it work? Let’s run through his reasons:

  • Spotty antenna reception: Major issues for him here, which sucks because if he was in a major city he’d probably be fine.
  • Less programming than cable: He couldn’t get all his shows, but the deal breaker was sports. He couldn’t watch the games he wanted to. I’m still wondering if being a sports fan is a waste of time.
  • Lack of DVR for Internet video: Ah, how spoiled we’ve become. Not being able to pause, forward, and replay what we watch has now become expected and his setup didn’t allow for it.
  • More difficult to use: The big one, in my opinion. It’s just not very intuitive to have to run through all these different setups depending on what you want to watch.

Cable is Convenient

A couple of quotes from the CNET piece. First from David’s wife:

I hate to sound like a couch potato but there is nothing like turning on the tube for few minutes when you have down time and vegging out.

Regardless of whether or not you like to “veg out,” there’s a deep bit of truth in what she’s saying. When you’ve had a long day and just want to relax for a little bit, the last thing you want to do is fumble with several remotes and wait for services to connect and run through a bunch of menus.

Another quote, and it sums up the whole reason why cable will continue to thrive until someone solves the convenience problem:

A cable box with built-in DVR collects all of our programming in one easy-to-access location and interface, more painlessly and seamlessly than any antenna/Internet solution I’ve experienced.

When Will Cable Die?

If you’re wondering when we’ll all be “free” of our cable subscriptions and simply rely on all the online resources out there to watch TV, I can give you the answer. Traditional cable will die when someone makes it as easy as it is to watch cable TV today.

Think of Apple and the iPod revolution: MP3s and MP3 players had been around forever, but nobody had made it easy and convenient to buy and load music onto these players. Then Apple came along and, with iTunes, made it so anyone could do it. And it was actually fun.

In fact, it was so easy and convenient that people were willing to pay for music even though programs like Napster and Limewire allowed you to get them for free. But Apple won because of convenience.

Same thing with cable: what we’re paying for isn’t the slew of channels or the high-resolution picture. Cable is about getting home, plopping down on the couch, pressing one button, and letting the world of moving pictures wash over you without having to do a whole lot of thinking.

And right now, I don’t see an alternative if you still want to watch your favorite shows.

This post was included in the Frugal Feast Carnival.

Image by cloudzilla

6 Responses to “Cutting Cable: Cost vs. Convenience”

  • Lindy Mint Says:

    I often wonder if $98/month is a worthy fee for “veg out” privileges, especially since those opportunities are becoming less and less. Although, the major thing stopping us from cutting the cable is the kids. Sure, we could stream Netflix, and they could probably find something to be entertained with, but that would mean we would have to do all the navigating because the oldest can’t quite read yet. It’s just so easy to hand them the remote – and I know I am sounding like a terrible parent right now.

  • Carlos Says:

    Love it! You make a great point though…and it goes back to that convenience factor. You’re sounding like every other parent out there that has to deal with all the stuff parents have to deal with every day!

  • Potato Says:

    Interesting, I don’t think I saved very much by cutting out cable (between buying/renting TV shows directly and paying for bandwidth to stream), but I found it so much more convenient than cable: having to remember what day/time my shows were on, having to tape them, deal with networks moving timeslots (sometimes by 3 minutes specifically to deter recording/timeshifting). If someone at work talks about a cool show I didn’t even think to watch the previous night, well, it’s still available on the internet, or on DVD the next summer! I just pick what I want to watch, when I want to watch it, and go. And I’m a Canadian so I don’t even have Hulu or half the iTunes/Netflix options. I don’t know why any Americans would still have cable. Plus, most streaming sources have half the number of commercials, and purchased DVDs/downloads have none!

    Of course, I’m not a channel surfer/vegger, and not a parent. So I don’t have an antenna to mess with because I see no value in live TV. And I’m a techie, so I have a laptop (and an Xbox) that connects to the TV and all that jazz. My web browser is a lot more intuitive to me than the damnable Rogers digital cable boxes, and quicker to respond, too!

  • Carlos Says:

    @Potato: I guess for you and your “style” of watching TV, cutting cable out works. I am a mid-techie and I considered it for a while, but I know my wife just wouldn’t like it, so that got nixed. And on the other hand I’d have to up my internet bill to get better bandwidth. I tried PlayOn with my measly 1.5 connection and it was pretty bad.

  • Susan Says:

    I love tv. I am a child of the 70’s when I think tv watching became the norm for kids. I have 2 pvr’s and have a regular set of shows to record. I love the ability to surf the guide and see a program that turns out to be great but I would never had sought out and watched. I have always had the dilemma of deciding whether I am cheaper than I am lazy. I find that lazy usually wins! So while the thought of saving money is enticing but as you all said the inconvenience outweighs the savings. And in Canada the options are weak.

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