How to save hundreds of dollars on cable

It’s pretty simple: Don’t get it. If you already have it, cancel it. Seriously. You don’t need cable.

I remember when I was in middle school, begging my father to shell out for a subscription, as the lack of cable in our three-bedroom apartment in suburban Philadelphia was resulting in a horrendous record of missed TV programs: Live music specials. Various geeky documentaries. Bitchin’ super-hero cartoons. I produced a list of such examples, upon which I built an elaborate argument for getting cable.

The bottom line was the cost. For the few channels on cable that my dad and I would actually watch, he argued, he couldn’t justify spending hundreds of dollars per year on it.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe how badly I wanted cable, especially in this age of iTunes, Hulu, YouTube and whatever else lay on the horizon.

Then again, the Internet was only in its embryonic stages back in the mid-1990s. We still clogged up our telephone lines signing onto America Online and if we wanted to watch video, we had to wait at least a solid hour for some low-quality, AVI clip to download. Flash itself hadn’t yet been invented, not to mention streaming Flash video.

No wonder its #1

AOL: So easy to use, no wonder it's #1

As for music, we were lucky to find a 20-second WAV clip of the new Smashing Pumpkins single, as a cutting edge alternative to the full-length MIDI file, which played like the soundtrack to one of history’s worst Super Nintendo games.

Today, the story is quite different.

Recently, my girlfriend and I decided it was time to replace the 23” TV that saw her through four years of college. At first, we looked at digital projectors, but when I found an insane deal on a 42” HDTV, the decision was made.

You might guess that a new TV requires something more than dilapidated rabbit ears to enjoy. And, it does. But that something is not cable.

The only cable line coming into our Philadelphia row house is not carrying the latest OnDemand content from Comcast, but rather an Internet connection. That’s really all we need. Beyond that, a standard VGA cable (with a DV adaptor if you have a Mac) will connect one’s TV to a laptop or desktop computer. Once online, the notion of “television” as we once knew it seems ridiculous.

First, there’s the multitude of user-generated video sites, of which YouTube is the obvious leader. Whether you want to watch clips of Walker Texas Ranger, creepy John McCain speech mash-ups, decades-old music videos or pretty much anything you can imagine (copyright issues not withstanding), this site alone could almost be one’s sole source of entertainment.

Add to that what’s available through iTunes, and you have a pretty robust offering of entertainment choices available over the Internet. In addition to paid content like movies and TV shows, there’s a host of free video (and audio) podcasts available on iTunes, from providers as diverse as National Geographic, Al Jazeera and ESPN, as well as independent video blogs.

That’s the other thing about the post-television era: Anybody can be a broadcaster… for better or worse.

YouTube and iTunes have been around for a few years and, to be fair, those two outlets alone don’t quite cut it, considering the historically low quality of YouTube videos and the fact that most of the good content on iTunes is – in an online anathema of sorts – not free.

Totally awesome. Totally awesome.

Enter Hulu, Joost, and the like. These new Websites offer full-length, high-quality episodes of shows from Alf and The Facts of Life to The Office and The Daily Show, as well as movies.

The downside is that viewers have to wait anywhere from a few hours to a day to see new episodes, but you know you were gonna Tivo that shit anyway.

Not to be outdone, YouTube also recently started hosting full-length content, should you desire something more than a clip of Haley Joel Osmond telling Wilford Brimley that Chuck Norris told him he has AIDS.

It’s been about two months since we bought our TV, and so far we haven’t yearned for cable. Here’s how we’ve coped:

  • We watch The Daily Show and Colbert Report on Hulu.
  • Hulu also has The Office.
  • Faye bought the season pass for Mad Men on iTunes.
  • We were able to watch all three presidential debates live on (and host a debate-watching party for the first one at our house).
  • I still watch all my nerdy podcasts and alternative news programs, now much larger.
  • Netflix.

We’re not the only ones replacing traditional TV with Internet video. Advertising Age recently reported Saturday Night Live’s Sarah Palin-inspired TV ratings surge will soon be surpassed by the number of people watching the clips online: nearly 15 million.

8 Responses to How to save hundreds of dollars on cable

  1. jason pope says:

    cable is the biggest rip off around. call up and try to cancel and they’ll cut their rates in half for you. i’m moving and just signed up for service. i got them to extend their promo of $66 cable/internet for 6 months to 12 months, just by asking.

    if they raise it to the $100+ rate they normally would have after the promo i’m canceling cable and keeping internet and i’ll just torrent everything. you can get way better quality up there anyway. plus i just got a popcorn hour and a 1TB hard drive for it.

    the only thing you really need cable for is live HD sports

  2. Melissa says:

    Also, with the conversion to digital signals, you get more channels than people used to get with antennas — and clearly.

  3. Joe says:

    Spot on. It’s all just 1s and 0s anyway. If you have cable TV, all you are paying for is a better UI accessing and viewing broacast video. (Interestingly, I was going to write ‘TV’ there, but realized that the term ‘TV’, as in ‘lets go watch some TV’, is going to be an artifact of the past. Our grandchildren will laugh at the fact that we had to get our video entertainment through a dedicated device – but I digress).

    Sadly enough, I still pay the immense premium for this better UI because no one has developed a good enough ’10-foot’ interface for online video. I’ve been using Microsoft’s Media Center (the best product they have ever created) for 7 years now as it is the closest thing to a solution here. But until it better integrates the Hulus and other online video portals, it will still require the cableTV content source.

    Can’t wait until it get works out and I can cancel that bill… of course by then internet access will be $100 month…

  4. mimiharrington says:

    Greetings … thank you for all the information. Now start guessing as to what I want for Christmas present. You are right….

  5. Ryan says:

    I know I’m a bit late to the party, but, excellent post! Despite full agreement with all of the points you’ve made, I continue to pay big bucks for cable.

    Hell, I even pay extra for the “Digtal Premium” and “Sports Entertainment Package” services simply because that’s the only way I can get NFL Network and Fox Soccer Channel.

    I yearn for the day when some new, forward-thinking cable company comes along to offer a reasonable “a la carte” package that will allow us to pay for only the channels in which we have an interest to watch.

  6. […] I wrote a few months ago about how when I bought a 42″ HDTV earlier this year, it never crossed my mind to subscribe to cable, but instead opted for a $10 VGA cable (and DVI adapter) to hook my Macbook directly up to the TV. One commenter, who agreed in concept, nonetheless was forced to pay top dollar for cable, “because no one has developed a good enough ‘10-foot’ interface for online video.” […]

  7. […] Related Posts: » How to save hundreds of dollars on cable; »Eliminating the cable bill, part deux: […]

  8. We stumbled over here different website and
    thought I should check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you.

    Look forward to exploring your web page repeatedly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: