A Cord Cutting Anniversary


A year ago, we made a very momentous move. We disconnected our cable boxes, returned them to Time Warner Cable, and cancelled our cable TV service. By doing so, we joined the growing ranks of people who – fed up with the ever-rising cost of cable TV – have decided to cut the cord.

So how has this year of no cable been?

I barely miss cable anymore. For some events – for example, the MythBusters finale or the Presidential debates – it would be nice to watch it as it happens. In the latter case, though, there are often streaming alternatives. In the former case, I’ve found that I can wait until they arrive on streaming.

B has adjusted well also. She’s viewing some old TV series that she missed the first time around. Her big worry was that she liked using the TV as background noise while she slept. Nick At Night was our go to channel for this, but we obviously don’t get that anymore. Luckily, our antenna picks up some a station called “Laff” that broadcasts old comedy shows at night. I’ve come into bed after B has fallen asleep only to see Abbot and Costello on the TV.

My oldest son, NHL, has adjusted nicely. He’s completely fine with watching various series on Hulu or Netflix. His latest addiction is The Batman – which recently came on Netflix and which I introduced him to. He also likes devoting his attention to video games so he has less of a need for alternative video entertainment.

JSL, on the other hand, never lets a moment pass to complain about the lack of cable TV. He’s sad that his friends get to watch various TV shows as they air while we often need to wait until the series is over. To counter this, I plan on buying the complete seasons of one or two of his TV shows from Amazon VOD or Google Play. Even with this additional purchase, we’ll still come out far ahead.

So how much did we save? After all, the main purpose of cord cutting is to save money.  Well, even after deducting some hardware purchases, a Hulu subscription, and some VOD/DVD buys, we still saved over $660 last year. Not too shabby. We might even buy a new HD TV to replace an aging standard definition set using our savings. As the cost of cable rises, we’ll only save more.

What about the downsides? Surely cutting cable isn’t all fun times streaming, right? No, it hasn’t. There have been some challenges and setbacks along the way.

First of all, we lost our DVR when we cut cable. This means that any broadcast show we want to watch, we need to either watch live or catch on Hulu. For most shows, this isn’t a problem, but CBS shows don’t go to Hulu. They go to CBS’s own streaming service: CBS All Access. We tried this service and were underwhelmed. It got cancelled after the free trial period was up. I’m looking into building my own DVR with a HD HomeRun tuner and a laptop, but that’s been slow going. So for now, we’re missing a few shows we’d like to watch.

Another downside has been increased reliance on Time Warner Cable’s Internet service. We only get the standard Internet service from TWC. In our area, that’s 15Mbps down and 1Mbps up. Lately, however, we’ve had nights where the speeds slow to a crawl and streaming refuses to work. TWC initially blamed our wireless network, but a technician they sent confirmed that our network is running fine. Still, though, TWC insists that nothing is wrong with their lines even when our upload speeds drop to 100Kbps. If we had an alternative ISP in our area (e.g. FIOS or Google Fiber), we’d jump to them. Unfortunately, though, TWC is the only wired, high speed ISP in the area. Like it or not, we’re stuck with them and they know it.

Overall, though, cutting cable has been great. I’m actually watching more TV now than with cable TV. The difference is that I’m choosing which shows to watch, when, and I’m watching them either ad free or with greatly reduced commercial breaks. I’d definitely recommend that everyone at least explore the cable cutting option. (My Cable Cutting Guide could help.) Nowadays, cable TV isn’t the only game in town and you can save quite a bit of money by cutting the cord.

The Future of Cord Cutting

Cord cutting is on the rise, but is it inevitable?  As much as I’d love to shout out "Yes it is! The big cable companies are going down!!!", I don’t think it is.  In fact, I envision three different scenarios playing out in the future.


The Pessimist

The pessimist in me sees the cable companies already implementing data caps/overages and trying to strike down Network Neutrality.  These efforts are aimed at using their Internet monopolies (in many areas, they are the only source for wired, high speed broadband) to keep Internet video companies at bay.  If they can set a limit that essentially says "you only get 1 hour of Netflix/Hulu a day or else you pay a ton more" then they can convince people that their cable TV services (which conveniently aren’t subject to caps) is less expensive.

The pessimistic future sees caps/overages becoming the norm and the government turning a blind eye thanks to massive cable company political donations.  Some people might cut off entirely from video services or rely on purchased/rented/borrowed discs, but most would go to the "cheapest" option which would be cable TV thanks to the cable companies stacking the scales.

On the content provider front, content owners could keep their content off of streaming services.  This would turn Netflix into "some great original content but otherwise a wasteland of second-string stuff."  Time Warner already has said it wants Hulu to stop showing shows the day after they air on TV – Hulu’s biggest draw.  A concerted effort by the content companies could force people to choose between not watching shows at all or only watching them on cable TV.  While some would jump ship, most would move back to cable TV.  (Or pirate – not a valid option to me, but one that many people would find acceptable.  Personally, I’d be more likely to just go without.)

In this scenario, the cord cutting phenomenon would essentially die as the cable companies and content providers tighten their grip on the market and our wallets.

The Optimist

The optimist in me recognizes the problem of ISP monopolies and content owners holding back and sees them as temporary speed bumps, not show stoppers.  In the optimistic scenario, the government does what they’re supposed to do – ensure that companies with monopolies (e.g. the ISPs) don’t use their monopolies (e.g. Internet access) to push other, non-monopoly services (e.g. TV) over their competitors (e.g. satellite TV or Internet video).  Data caps would be banned and overage fees would be a thing of the past.  Without being able to rely on their monopoly to prop up cable TV, more and more people would flee to Internet video.

This would cause the content providers to realize that they NEED to have their content on Internet video sites or they won’t survive.  Some content providers will opt to make their own streaming services (see: CBS All Access) and some will form exclusive deals with other streaming companies.  As the market forms, content providers will see that it is in their best interests to have their content on as many services as possible.  Not only does this give them a wider reach, but it prevents any one streaming service from getting powerful enough to dictate terms to the streaming service.

The more that legal content is available via streaming services, the less that cable TV attracts people to it.  The less it attracts people to it, the less necessary it appears.  The less necessary it appears, the less people subscribe.  It becomes a vicious cycle until cable TV winds up as a story that grandparents tell to their grandchildren.

The Realist

The previous two scenarios told the tale of one side or the other winning, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it’s going to be that neat and clean.  Instead, we’re likely to get a combination of the two.  The TV and content providers will fight to maintain the status quo – using the power that they’ve amassed over the years to slow the tide of cord cutting.  They will attempt to frame it as a fringe group and not a growing movement.  They will be successful in the short term.  Over the long term, though, cable TV might just survive with Internet Video offerings alongside as part of the new status quo.  They will be competing services the way cable TV and satellite TV coexist while competing against each other.  Cable TV would be just one of many different possible video offerings that people might sign up for.


In the end, the cable companies might be able to delay the spread of cable cutting, but I don’t think the Pessimist scenario is likely in the long term.  It would be very hard for cable companies to stop cord cutting completely.  There is a massive change coming down the pike.  The younger generations don’t see cable TV as a requirement or even something to be desired and they are quickly approaching the age when previous generations would normally sign up for cable TV.  These "cord nevers" consume online media and other forms of entertainment and don’t rely on scheduled videos with ads.  The cable companies’ only hope for survival is to adapt to the upcoming new reality.  Unfortunately for them, it is extremely hard for a company to simultaneously protect an entrenched interest while launching a product that disrupts said interest.  This is why past cable company efforts have failed.  However, as cable TV declines, the companies will find themselves in an innovate or die situation.  This might be enough to push them to actually create useful services to secure their futures. 

A Cable Cutting Guide

A Cable Cutting Guide

Back in March, I wrote about how we finally cancelled our cable. We marched into our cable company’s office, cable boxes in hand, and told them to cancel our cable TV service. What I didn’t detail was the years long process we went through before we got to this point. If you are wondering whether cutting cable is right for you, following my steps will help you figure it out.

Step 1: What Shows Are Must Watch?

First, make a list of the shows that you watch.  (I used a spreadsheet because, later on, you need to total costs.) This list can tend to be looking as we often fill our time with TV shows that we don’t really care about. So filter this list by asking yourself the question: If I missed an episode of this show, would it matter to me? If it would, then add it to the list. If you wouldn’t often care if you missed it, leave the show off of the list.

Where Are The Shows Available?

Now that you have your list of shows, you can figure out how you’re going to watch them sans cable.  If you don’t care whether you keep up to date on the shows’ latest season, Netflix or Amazon Prime will often have previous seasons’ episodes available. Your local library might also have DVDs of shows that you can borrow.  If you must stay up to date, Hulu can often have episodes posted the day after they air. Sling TV will also give you access to many channels. You might also be able to purchase an antenna to receive channels Over The Air (OTA).  If neither of these suit your needs, you can always purchase your shows on an episode by episode or season by season basis from Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, or Apple’s iTunes.

How Will You Watch The Shows?

Without a cable box hooked to your TV, you’ll need another way to view programs. Depending on the methods your decide upon to get your shows (Netflix, Amazon, antenna), you might use a Smart TV or Blu-Ray player that you already own.  Otherwise, you might purchase a Roku box, a Chromecast, or an Amazon FireTV.

How Much Will This All Cost?

Once you’ve figured out what shows you will be watching and how you’ll be watching them, it’s time to add up the recurring costs.  Factor in subscription fees for services such as Netflix or Hulu and episode/season purchases (either from online sources like Amazon VOD or disc-based sources like DVD purchases).  Next, total up one-time costs like buying a Roku.  Once you have your "Cord Cutting Costs" totaled up, it’s time to call your cable company.  Ask them how much it would cost to switch to their Internet-only plan.  This should tell you how much you would save by cancelling cable and getting your video entertainment from other sources.

Not For Everyone

Of course, you might find that you wouldn’t save by cancelling cable.  Perhaps you watch too many shows and purchasing them all would raise your "cord cutting" rate above cable TV.  Or maybe you like watching live sports and can’t find an acceptable online source.

Then there’s the possibility that your cable company is actively working against you cutting the cord.  Unfortunately, some cable companies use their monopoly (or duopoly) wired, broadband Internet access to prop up their non-monopoly TV business.  They’re doing this by, among other things, making Internet-only plans more expensive than Internet+Cable TV plans.  This keeps people on cable TV (since it’s cheaper) and reduces the official numbers of cord cutters.  Even if you put the cable box in the closet and never hook it up, you’ll be counted as a cable TV subscriber.

Even if your "cable cutting" cost is more than the cost of staying with cable TV, this exercise might still be worthwhile.  It might reveal shows that you really don’t care enough about to keep watching.  In addition, cable rates seem to rise every year.  Combine that with the fact that the online options increase every year and what isn’t cost effective you this year might wind up being worthwhile in a year or two.

Have you considered cancelling cable?  If you did and didn’t go through with it, why not?  If you did and cut cable, have you missed cable at all?

Unexpected Zombie TV Show Enjoyment


I can be a bit squeamish when it comes to my TV show choices. Medical dramas are not my thing because I don’t like seeing people sliced open.  A two second scene of eyeball gouging (shown on Wil Wheaton’s now-canceled show) solidified in my mind that I’ll never watch Game of Thrones.  And Walking Dead? Definitely not.

So why am I currently loving iZombie on CW?

First of all, the show is not gory. Yes, there are occasional bouts of blood, but they are minimal. In the pilot, a boat party turns zombie feeding frenzy, but there are so many quick cuts that the brain eating and dismemberment is more implied than shown. In the second episode, a zombie kills two people in a car. All you see, though, are the windows suddenly get red.

How do they handle the brain eating? In a very matter of fact manner. Liv, the zombified main character, works at a morgue so she gets her brains from people who are already dead. She doesn’t just munch on whole brains, though. She cooks them in noodles or adds them to pizza pockets. She also adds tons of hot sauce because apparently undead taste buds don’t work well.

The lack of gore wouldn’t be enough to sell me on the show, though, were not for the twist. When our zombie protagonist eats someone’s brains, she takes on some of the memories, talents, and quirks of the people who once possessed said gray matter.

In the first episode, Liv becomes a kleptomaniac – pocketing things because they are there. The second episode shows her getting very "passionate" about many things. (Leading to a very funny "good cop, horny cop" scene.)

Liv winds up using her "skills" to help a police officer solve murders. Eat some brains, see flashes of the person’s life, use them to crack the case. The officer thinks she’s a psychic, but we’ll see how long she can keep that ruse up.

For the most part, Liv keeps her zombie nature suppressed, but when she gets angry, her eyes turn red and she goes "full on zombie." Woe be anyone who gets her angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

We’re only two shows in and iZombie is definitely shaping up to be a very fun show, which was a pleasant surprise considering that the main character wants to eat brains.

NOTE: The "Zombie TV" image above is by cliparteles and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

Goodbye Cable, The Cord Has Been Cut

cut-cordLast week, I wrote that we had made the decision to cut cable.  On Sunday, I disconnected our cable boxes and we walked into a local Time Warner Cable office and returned them.  The employee helping us briefly tried finding us a better cable deal than we had been offered on the phone, but realized this was not to be.  So our cable TV service was turned off and we walked out as cord cutters.  We actually wound up doing better than we thought we would, cost savings-wise, as the employee in the office was able to get us a lower price for just Internet access than the phone representative was.  When we left, we were saving over $80 on our cable bill from what cable TV and Internet would have cost us.  Even factoring in Hulu and some Amazon VOD means we’ll save about $65 a month.

So how have we fared so far?

B is adjusting well to life without cable.  She actually doesn’t watch much TV to begin with and what she does watch is mostly available via Hulu.  Once Downton Abbey starts up again, we might need to supplement with some Amazon VOD, but until then she’s just fine.

I’m settling in as well.  As I’ve been typing this, I’ve been watching The Daily Show with John Stewart on Hulu and realized that Hulu will automatically proceed to the next show in the cable lineup (The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore) and then the next one after that (@Midnight with Chris Hardwick).  It’s like I’m watching my own mini-Comedy Central station!  As for my other programs, some of them ended their seasons already and I don’t mind the delay that I’m experiencing with the others.  It’s a lesson in delayed gratification.  I don’t really need to see that episode RIGHT NOW.  I can wait a week or three.

NHL and JSL seem to be getting used to the no-cable lifestyle as well.  Heading into cutting the cord, they began to complain that they would miss all of their favorite shows.  In my typical math geek fashion, I crafted  spreadsheet tracking which shows they (and the rest of us) watched.  There were over half a dozen shows that they watched that, pre-cord cutting, they just "couldn’t" do without.  After cutting cable, only two shows have been even mentioned.  NHL watching the episodes of Uncle Grandpa that have made it on Netflix.  He doesn’t mind watching the same episodes over and over and over again.

JSL, on the other hand, really misses Teen Titans Go.  He’s talked about it a few times.  I’ve been pricing the season DVDs and the Amazon VOD options out and the DVDs seem to be the better deal.  (Our savings definitely allow us to buy more DVDs.  Cutting the cord might mean less cable company profits, but it might mean more profits for the companies selling DVDs.)  The other transition he is having a tough time with are commercials – or the lack thereof.  Believe it or not, JSL actually liked commercial breaks.  When we would watch shows on our DVR, JSL would make me promise not to fast forward through the commercials.  No, he wasn’t watching them.  Instead, the commercials starting meant he could leave the couch and play with his toys for a few minutes.  Now, watching TV means either no commercials at all or a short 15 second commercial on Hulu Plus – way too short of a time to get any decent play in.

OTA-AntennaWe also ordered an antenna which I quickly hooked up.  Now, we’re getting an assortment of local stations in HD.  Luckily, the area we live in has plenty of stations to choose from.  Your mileage may vary if you try this where you live, so check Antennaweb to see what stations you can get, how far away they are, and what kind of antenna you will need.

Before we cut cable, I remarked that I thought actually making the decision to cut cable would be harder than living without cable.  So far, this seems to be true.  We discussed and considered cutting cable for so long that actually getting rid of it seems almost anti-climactic.  It turns out that we really don’t miss cable all that much.  As the weeks and months pass, we’ll forget about having 200+ channels and only really caring about a dozen shows on a handful of them.  Instead, we’ll pay for only the shows we want to watch and the savings will quickly add up.

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