Canceling Cable, Part 1: Why I Did It

My bedroom TV at home

My bedroom TV at home

Let’s break for a moment from the glut of Awards Season news, and movies in general, and look at some other screens. This is The Screen Life after all, not Awards!Awards!Awards! There is broader scope to be explored. Today: Cable TV (or lack thereof).

(Never fear, however: Movie awards are fun and this is the season for them, so expect a lot more news and analysis to come.)

I don’t have cable TV. With the exception of one 6 month experiment early last year (more on that later), I’ve been without cable since 2006, one year after I left college. At first it was a conscious decision to help my time management. I would get easily addicted to TV and watch it for hours, to the detriment of my work and sleep. I preferred movies anyway and still blew through precious hours staring at screens. But at least it was directed, scheduled watching, instead of wasting half my life watching whatever happened to be on Cartoon Network even though I could care less about it.

It turned out that the only 2 shows I really cared about – The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – were becoming available online. I would watch them from my work computer during lunch. Everything else I was interested in was available on Netflix. This was before Netflix Streaming, but I would get the DVDs. Honestly I preferred that to traditional TV. I always used to hate shows with ongoing stories that you had to watch every week, because invariably I would miss a week and then be out of the story. I’d have to wait for the DVD anyway to pick it back up.  Watching those shows all at once is just easier.

Since then, as I’m sure you’re well aware, multiple streaming services have popped up. The Netflix boom, gave rise to Hulu, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, Vudu, and a host of others. My family gets all our TV shows from these, plus one other. I’ll leave it unnamed, because our use of it may not be, strictly speaking, entirely legal. It is owned by a cable channel and requires a premium cable TV account to get a password. Luckily, we have awesome friends.

Our own TV area is a tangle of wires and machines: Smart Blu-ray, Wii, Roku, our new Google Chromcast. Each of these connects to several streaming sites, and admittedly they’ve all got some serious drawbacks. The Wii doesn’t have high definition and uses my TV’s crappy sound rather than my surround system. The Roku is a little older and was only working intermittently, so I relegated it to our secondary TV in another room (seems to be a little better these days; I might move it back). The Blu-ray was great until it stopped streaming Neflix randomly. And the Chromecast, our current go-to, is a little glitchy and still doesn’t support very many services.

Still, all of that is preferable to dealing with and paying for cable TV. We proved that to ourselves last year. We decided to sign up for cable and try it out just for a month or two. We actually did this for network TV because our reception is terrible for some reason, despite living in the heart of St Louis. We usually host an Oscar party, so wanted to make sure we could actually watch the show without extra antenna interference from all the people. At the same time we thought we might enjoy some of the other perks.

We didn’t. There were so many options, all crap, that we couldn’t ever decide what to watch. We ended up streaming our same shows from our same other devices, all the while paying for a cable box that sat unused. The only time we turned it on was for sports and other one-off live shows, which were generally on the network stations anyway. We were throwing our money at nothing, so we cancelled. (Just cable TV, that is. Cable internet seems to be the only option strong enough to handle all our streaming, so Charter still gets our money, just less of it.)

Of course, everybody is different, and my situation may be unique. Check back tomorrow for Part 2, to examine the bigger picture and whether you should follow suit.

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