Nearly a year ago, I decided to take the plunge and drastically cut back my cable services. I previously subscribed to the "triple play" bundle that included cable TV, phone and Internet services. As the costs creeped up and my free time dwindled I wondered whether I really was getting the value for my money. It's been almost a year now since I cut the cable TV from my package and a few months later I cut the phone cable too. While there are a few shows channels that I miss, far and away the experiment has been a great success. Here's an update on where things stand: Cost Savings
In total, I'm saving about $100 a month since cutting my phone and cable service. Roughly $75 a month was being spent on basic cable service (no premium channels but HD service) and another $25 a on phone service. While money wasn't the primary motivating factor in making this switch, having an extra $100 in my pocket every month has been nice.
Over The Air TV
By far, the overwhelming majority of my content comes from free over the air broadcasts through a $20 HD antenna I purchased from MonoPrice. Figuring out the optimal placement took a bit of trial and error. Interference from other electronics around the house and weak signal were initial concerns. About 2 months into the process I experienced signal trouble and ended up relocating the antenna from the corner of a bedroom to a window but since then I've had minimal problems. It took a lot of tweaking and some very particular placement but I now have good signals for all the major networks including multiple channels of PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and affiliates. In total I receive 10 channels free and in high definition. On occasion I'll have hiccups in my signal, but they're fairly rare and more prone to happen on FOX, where the signal source is further away. By and large once I found optimal placement and leave the antenna alone things have been good. We've had two minor tropical storms so far this summer and I haven't noticed any major signal problems.
This cord cutting experiment would not have been possible without TiVo. I have an older TiVo HD unit which sadly has not been as well supported by TiVo with software updates of late. First and foremost, the TiVo is a digital video recorder and allows me to time shift my programing. I watch very little when it's on live, even less now that I have fewer channels. I'm not aware of that many DVRs that are not associated with a cable or other subscription provider, fortunately myTiVo is a stand alone service that will support an over the air antenna source. Without some kind of DVR for time shifting this transition would not have been possible. TiVo also supports other content sources like Amazon video on demand, Netflix, YouTube, podcasts and more for supplemental programing but honestly I'm not using those much.
Now that it's summer and most of my favorite shows are on hiatus, I'm finding that I'm catching up on a lot of series I didn't have time to watch during the normal season and supplementing with a DVD rental from the corner movie kiosk some weekends. I saved a couple of series for summer viewing and at the rate I'm going I'll have plenty to watch all summer long.
For $99, the Apple TV can't be beat. This little box is probably my secondary source of content. Through the AppleTV I have access to all of the content of iTunes including thousands of free video podcasts, movies for rent and television shows. A new addition that I'm particularly fond of is the Wall Street Journal news service which gives me an on demand source of recent news. I primarily use the AppleTV for accessing Video podcasts and streaming video. Although I dropped my Netflix streaming subscription, the AppleTV is by far the best Netflix experience of any device I've used and perhaps one day I'll reactivate my Netflix subscription if the content availability improves. I will occasionally use the AppleTV to download TV shows I may have missed or are otherwise not available and to rent movies on demand. In my mind the AppleTV would be nearly the perfect box if it would support third party apps and have the cable/antenna and DVR functions built in. In particular, I'd love to see apps for Hulu, Amazon Video on Demand and the networks. Maybe one day.
New with Mountain Lion is the ability to AirPlay from your Mac to your Apple TV. This is huge for cord cutters! Although I have a Mac mini connected to my TV currently, had AirPlay been available last year when I was setting up this service, I probably would not have purchased the Mini. (Though I am glad I have the Mini for other purposes, I'm using it quite a bit as a home server - maybe another post on that later.) AirPlay to an Apple TV opens up the world of flash based video, network streaming video content and Hulu. This just about covers "everything else" I would want.
There are still a few shows that I can't get through my antenna, apps or the Apple TV so I stream them through other sources. For example, there are a couple of shows on the USA network that I enjoy and are only available through the USA website or through Hulu (ironically not through Hulu Plus). Now, I watch these shows through Hulu on the Mac mini connected to the television. I also am a sucker for HGTV's "Design Star" and I couldn't find full episodes available anywhere other than the HGTV site. While I am glad to have the mini as an addition to my home network for a number of reasons, it is my least favorite part of my home media center. Pulling out a trackpad and keyboard and watching clunky flash video is a pain. I much prefer the simple and elegant interface of the Apple TV and use that whenever possible to access content stored on the mini.
What I Miss
While I am overall very happy with my lack of a cable the subscription, there are a few pieces I miss. First and foremost is cable news. I am a news junkie and I would regularly watch cable news in the morning when getting ready for work and in the evenings when winding down. It served as "background noise" on the weekends and was how I would keep up with the ongoings of the world. While I have cut out a lot of noise, I do feel that it takes more of an effort to stay informed. I have supplemented with online sources, news apps and alternative news sources including network news, news podcasts and the Wall Street Journal streaming news services available on the Apple TV which have helped quite a bit. If there was any one thing I could pay for a-la-carte it would be a subscription to CNN.
The other piece I miss is HGTV, my guilty pleasure. If I wanted to veg for a few hours in front of the TV on a Sunday afternoon, HGTV was the way I would do it. I can still get my HGTV fix to a leaser extent as some of their shows are available through their iOS App, their website and sources like Hulu, but it's not the same.
No Lack of Content, Increase in Time
One thing I've found is there's no lack of available content. In fact, as I write this blog post, I have over 100 shows available on my TiVo that I still need to catch up on. I'm watching less TV now just for the sake of watching TV and more of only what I want. Between the shows available on my TiVo and secondary sources like the Apple TV there's always something available to watch. But, more importantly I'm finding that I'm spending overall less time in front of the TV which gives me more time for other projects. I wish I did this years ago.