Tag Archives: Cable TV

Canceling Cable, Part 2: Should You?


(This is the second in a 2-part series. Part 1 was posted posted yesterday. Read it here.)

It’s the common wisdom that we are entering a Golden Age of Television, that the best quality filmmaking is now happening on the small screen more than the large. The most talented moviemakers are flocking to TV in droves. Steven Soderbergh gave a speech last year talking about the current crisis-state of the movie industry, and why he’s only going working in the TV sphere going forward. (Or so I have read; I haven’t actually had a chance to listen to the speech myself, yet.)

It’s worth noting that even in the face of all these feature filmmakers jumping ship, we have just had one of the greatest years in recent memory for outstanding quality films, and the spectacle that is Gravity has reminded us that the small screen still cannot compete with the scale of possibility that the big screen affords us.

But it’s true. There are far more options for excellent quality on TV than ever before. (There’s far more everything on TV than ever before.) Most of the best shows are on cable channels. So it would seem that for any lover of quality filmmaking, having cable TV would be a must. But I would consider myself part of that demographic, and I would argue the opposite.

The biggest problem with cable is that the decades old channel-package model just doesn’t make sense anymore. The multiple streaming options I listed yesterday, and countless others, let you pick and choose what you want and when you want it for a fraction of the cost. Cable companies and their channels need to go back to the drawing board to compete. They could start by letting people pick and choose channels a la carte. It would be absolutely the least they could do. They could even work that into the basic structure of their old package model.

But remember that one streaming service I use? The one for an unnamed premium channel that requires a cable subscription to use? That I can only use by borrowing a friend’s password? Well, despite the excellent quality of those shows, if I didn’t have those awesome friends, it still wouldn’t be worth it to pay for cable. Even if I could pick and choose my channels, I would just wait for the DVDs. Unless I could get that channel and only that channel, just for the use of their streaming service, I would be wasting my money.

To really meet the needs of the modern public, the channels need to move away from the idea of a schedule. Life doesn’t fit into perfect 30 minute blocks that begin and end at the same time. People don’t want to be tied to that. When TiVo and similar devices first came out, people first had the option of recording a show and then watching it whenever they wanted. Ever since, cable companies have offered renting similar recording devices with your cable box. But that’s just a fix to a woefully out-of-date structure. They need new ideas.

You know who has new ideas? Netflix. They have been leading the charge against the old guard. They were the first major streaming option for TV shows, and recently the first to create original programming exclusive to a streaming service. I’m not saying they’re perfect by any stretch, but they’re paying attention to what their customers want. Now Hulu and others are following suit. This is where cable companies need to look if they don’t want to get left in the dust.

The cable companies are getting old. They are run by the most deeply entrenched corporate capitalists. But suddenly their precious free-market is scaring them. People are beginning to move away from what they’re offering. Well? Let’s let that free-market do its thing. Cancel your cable. Support the companies who are actually giving you what you want, the way you want it. Maybe they’ll get the message. Maybe they’ll change. And maybe we’ll come back if they do.

I hope so, because there really are  some great shows to be seen.

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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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