Life without TV

The other day, I got the cable bill in the mail. Like so many Americans, I bundled cable, internet and phone together into one gargantuan package that I justified because “Cable is only a little more than internet alone, and I cannot live without internet.” But this cable bill was a little different. Like 100% different. It was within a few dollars of double what it usually was. Apparently the two year contract had expired and this was my new price.

SURPRISE!

I, of course, called the cable company and said “no way, what can you do for me”. Comcast generously offered to only increase the bill by $80 instead of $100. Thanks, guys. But no.

So I called Verizon and negotiated their three way package for roughly the same price I’d previously been paying at Comcast. I took time on a Saturday to return all the stuff to Comcast in person. (Thanks for making that so easy Comcast… not.) And we were all set. Right?

Except we were really annoyed by Verizon. The UI on their menu was between bad and appalling. There didn’t seem to be anything on. It all just seemed like the same thing we’d had before, but lamer. And I took a close look at that $130 bill. Was it really, after all, that necessary? I mean, we don’t watch that much tv. We already have Netflix. We already have Amazon Prime. We have a ton of kid’s DVDs. Once you net out all the things available that way, how much is really left that we’re paying for? The answer is: Red Sox baseball, Patriot’s football, Nick Jr. and the Macy’s Parade. The difference between the triple pay package and just internet service is $60. As much as I love baseball… that’s like $1460 over the period of a two year contract.

So in our “30 day satisfaction period” we cancelled our cable service. (Note: Verizon sends postage paid boxes. Much more convenient than Comcast!) Then we bought a Roku. For $100 one time, we now have a device designed to stream digital media to our tv. It has a beautiful interface and about 10 buttons. We bought a nice version for our big tv, and connected our two ancillary tvs (guest room and laundry room) with less expensive versions that cost about $50 each. So for $200 one time, we just enabled all our tvs with massive amounts of content. This is particularly nice since with Comcast we were paying roughly $10/month to have tv in the laundry room. With Verizon, it was only $5/month, but there was no guide. It’s amazing how spoiled we are since my childhood – it was difficult to operate the tv without a guide! So at $60/month, the ROI on the Rokus is just over three months.

Going back to the “what we can’t get online” list, in order to get the Macy’s parade (or the news, for example), we would probably need to get an antenna and digital converter. I’m not sure we’ll do this since we watch very little network tv, the antenna sounds like a bit of a pain, and we’re not missing much.

However, when it comes to live sports, I’m SOL. We’d originally thought that my existing MLB subscription would permit me to get baseball. But for me Red Sox games are blacked out with MLB tv (which I’d be able to stream through the Roku as well). NFL is similarly locked down, or maybe worse. So I have a choice: cobble together my sports hobby through radio and strategically getting invited to friend’s house (more plausible for football than baseball), just stop caring very much about the local teams (I’m so time crunched this might be a viable solution), or spend $60 a month on cable. For a long time I’ve made that latter decision. But as the other media choices have gotten richer and richer, it feels increasingly extortionate and the number of things I truly want cable for is down to those two: the Pats and the Sox. It’s just not enough.

So what am I watching on the Roku these days? Adam and I have gotten into Burn Notice. It is a fun spy-thriller, with a mostly off-screen body count and amusing mixture of plots and subplots. Well acted, well written, and there are about 60 hour-long episodes on Netflix. That’s like my tv watching for a year. It is so convenient. I can pick up an in-progress episode on any of the three tvs. Or, alternately, watch it on the iPad while travelling or upstairs in the bedroom. (Heck, the Roku is so tiny we actually brought it with us to DC in case we had extra time at night while the boys were asleep. They made sure this didn’t happen by going to sleep at 10 each night, but it was a possibility!)

Finally, I figured that while I could go BACK to cable any time my yearning for a Sox broadcast got that powerful, the cable companies lock you into two year contracts. This was my chance to go cable-free and see how good or bad it was, without commitment.

So how about you? Do you have cable? If so, have you ever thought of giving it up? If you don’t, what do you miss and how do you get around it?

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6 thoughts on “Life without TV

  1. MLB.tv blackouts are only for 90 minutes after the game ends; we signed up last year, and it’s eminently possible to watch every single game, including blackouts. It was a good deal, too, compared to DirecTV’s sports package.

    I’m getting closer and closer to wanting to cancel TV as well, for many of the same reasons.

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  2. Yes, I’ve been without cable for a year. What I really miss are movie channels (I’m not sporty). Also I am incredibly annoyed by Fox’s decision to only stream their content on Hulu 8 days after the original airing, which means I am constantly a week behind on Fringe.

    I have the converter box and an antenna, which are barely useful. I get six channels with the antenna: two networks, PBS, two channels in Spanish, and one channel that seems to constantly airing Doppler radar weather.

    I wrote about a year of cablelessness here: http://culturalcivilian.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/todays-probing-question-should-i-get-cable-again/

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  3. I was forced to have basic cable and have learned to live without it. I do like it for the Christmas stories but other than that don’t miss it and find other things to do. I basically still can’t afford it and would rather sleep well at night than watch the junk that is on cable. Joanne Stephen

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  4. Every time we get access to full cable (we do have the basic 15ish stations), we always end up having a conversation about how much we don’t really miss it. It does help that P had given up watching most sports before we actually got rid of the full range. He subsists off radio and internet these days for that.

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  5. Oddly enough, we are going through the same thoughts here. We had netflix on my son’s 360, but he has moved out. My own gaming interests do not warrant spending 200-300 $ on a platform that also allows netflix. I was curious about the roku, but you have used it and seem to like it.
    Yes, we are big Burn Notice fans, as well! And, I rarely watch regular programming. The stuff I do like will be available anyway, like Bones and CSI. The Guild is fun, too- so much content, more than I will ever have time for! I would be hard for me to justify spending a huge amount on cable. Actuall, just the customer service issues would put me off, let alone the hidden costs and all.

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  6. I’ve been without cable for years. The only thing I watched before I gave it up was C-Span 2 Book TV. I don’t miss it at all. What TV watching I do now is through DVDs, currently of Mad Men or Babylon 5.

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