Image: m a c h i n t o y/Flickr
Like electricity and hot water, pay TV has become a vital source of comfort in my home. But unlike the basic utilities, pay TV has become incredibly expensive. So while it’ll take a radical change in how I consume media, pay TV has got to go.
Pay TV puts hundreds, if not thousands, of channels at the fingertips of those willing to fork over a hefty sum for its warm glow. Entertainment is available on every channel (if you don’t count MTV) and it never sleeps. But, the nonstop onslaught of reality shows, nature documentaries and AMC Originals comes at a price I’ve decided I’m unwilling to pay. I’m walking away and not looking back.
Two years ago, as I was setting up cable broadband service in my new apartment, the Comcast representative I was speaking with told me he could also sell me basic cable for only an extra $20 per month. Twenty dollars! For the first time in my life, I couldn’t afford not to buy cable TV. I picked up a cable card for my TiVo and a cable box for the bedroom, then headed home to revel in my newfound inexpensive source of entertainment.
I discovered new shows. I indulged in my love of Adult Swim programming on the Cartoon Network, and my wife and I enjoyed the awkward antics of Louis C.K. The additional $20 actually ended up costing $31 more a month after taxes and fees, including an HD technology fee of $10. My combo-TV-internet service had netted me a monthly bill of $94.
But as time passed, the bill bulged. In July 2011, it jumped to $108 a month. In August 2011, it leapt again to $126. Another jump to $135 followed in January 2012, and the next month, it hit $145.
My last bill, for the month of July, was $153. That’s a $59 increase in my monthly cost over the span of two years.
I expected an increase after the initial new-customer discount. I didn’t expect to see the bill grow larger and larger every month or two. Not counting my monthly internet access subscription, I’m paying $94 a month for basic digital cable. $94 a month for something I’ve been supplementing with streaming services because I’ve realized I only watching a few shows on a few channels. The rest is just noise.
That noise has pushed me to the Apple TV, Netflix streaming, and the Amazon Instant Videos service I can access through my smart TV. While Netflix is still reeling from its recent stumbles, I’m still a huge fan.
But, I’m also a big fan of Breaking Bad and saving money. Both are in direct conflict with one another. Currently, I could only keep up with the best show on television if I continued to suckle at the Comcast teat. Sure, AMC offers full episodes on AMC.com a few days after the show airs, but convincing my wife to huddle around a computer to watch a show when we have a 56-inch TV in the living room was a tough sell. Luckily, something big happened in Appleland that changed all that.
Tune Out and Log On
With Mountain Lion’s new AirPlay mirroring to Apple TV, I can watch anything that’s on the internet, including Breaking Bad, on my HDTV with the push of a button. Intel-powered Windows machines have been able to do this for a few years with Intel’s WiDi technology, but the set-top boxes have lacked the elegance of the Apple TV, and I don’t have a Windows machine that supports the feature.
Whether you use a Windows PC or a Mac doesn’t really matter. What matters is that at a fraction of the cost of cable and satellite subscriptions, you can enjoy many of the shows you’re watching right now on your HDTV without eating through your savings. An Apple TV or a Roku box costs slightly more than one month’s worth of cable, and display mirroring is now dead simple.
That’s been the big barrier when it comes to cutting the cord: Ease of use. Nerds have been ditching cable for years, crafting elaborate setups involving dedicated computers plugged directly into TVs and set-top boxes that take a degree in computer science to configure. However, just because one person in the house can figure out how to watch any available show doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Watching TV should be simple, not a chore. And that’s the wider perception of “cutting the cord” — the average consumer still sees it as a huge pain in the neck, rather than something he or she can navigate with minimal fuss.
Fortunately with set-top streamers like the Apple TV, Roku and current consoles accessing the “legitimate” streaming services is as easy as accessing a BLu-ray player. And with AirPlay and WiDi, if you can surf the internet, you can wirelessly send videos to an HDTV.
And that’s what I’m going to do until pay TV changes its business model.
Cable I’ll Miss You, But You’re Bringing Me Down
That doesn’t mean I won’t miss cable. There will be shows that slip through the cracks. I’ll have to cover my ears when coworkers are talking about the latest episode of the hot show because it appears online a week later. And no matter how easy tech companies make cutting the cord seem, it’s still not as easy as sitting on the couch and flipping through a program guide until you find something that explodes and/or makes you laugh. Pay TV is magnificent, but its a firehose of content when most people need a trickle.
That firehose is pay TV’s current subscription service model. Currently, I’m paying for channels I never watch. I don’t watch ESPN and have even less interest in ESPN Classic. Bravo’s non-stop Real Housewives of Pensacola hurts my soul. And seriously, I can’t remember the last time I watched MTV on purpose. In reality, not counting major networks like ABC and CBS, I watch five premium networks. But I’m paying for hundreds of channels.
The solution is an