Our friend the television: Is cable an outdated dinosaur?

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TV HEADLast week I read this article on Mashable about cutting the cable cord. In it, they cover the results of a study in which five families replaced their cable with a “connected device” (vocab word, yo!) for a week. We’re talking Boxee, Roku, Apple TV and Google TV, and an Xbox 360.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a man pretty high up in the pecking order of a midwestern cable company. He was very interested in learning about how us kids watch TV. I explained that we’d only recently gotten cable again — because there was a deal when we moved.

“And how did you watch TV before that?” he asked.

We watched a lot of Hulu and Netflix.

“When the deal’s over, will you continue cable?”

I dunno. Probably not.

“What would make your cable subscription more useful to you?”

If I could just effing watch it on my computer. Seriously. Not even our local news stations stream their shows online. AND, my cable plan includes On Demand Streaming, but I can access content days faster online.

I’m sure a number of you don’t watch TV at all — but that will never be me. I love my teevee. When we don’t have cable, we watch Netflix and Hulu, and I even have a set-up that allows me to stream Japanese daytime television (Amazing. Their version of Fred Willard is a trio of very young women.) So, I’m kind of curious — does cable feel like a dying dinosaur to you? Do you already own — or are you researching — a connective device? Do you even need one? Is Netflix enough for your household? Let’s prognosticate a bit on the future of mass media.

Comments on Our friend the television: Is cable an outdated dinosaur?

  1. As a pair of college students and part-time workers, my fiance and I never even considered keeping the cable when my mother moved out and stopped paying for it. Other than Discovery Channel and Vh1, I didn’t watch TV much. He grew up only watching what one could get via rabbit ears and didn’t mind this much. After about six months of no TV, we got Netflix instant streaming on the PS3. It’s fast, simple, cheap, and (save for the streaming version of Caligula) uncensored. Way better than TV.

    • I currently live with three other college students and am about to move in with my fiancée and I in one room and my best friend and her boyfriend in the other bedroom, and this is the debate we’re having, more or less. I think cable is a waste of money when you have a computer, Netflix, and more homework than time anyway. Best friend wants to be able to watch a few shows before they come out on DVD in a few months, if ever. I think she could get just as easily hooked on something Netflix is streaming, as we have before. We all get news online anyway, so we don’t *need* TV, and being college students we are all near-broke all the time. I actually make a rule for myself that I can’t install any computer games or turn on any gaming device during the semester, anyway. The one thing I will give her though is that I do desperately love watching something mindless and mocking the commercials while drinking Corona and lime when we go to a parent’s occasionally on school breaks…

  2. I moved into my apartment on July 1st 2010. I still have yet to buy a TV, I have no cable, and I frankly couldn’t care less. I can stream any news shows from my laptop less than a half hour after they’ve aired, and I have a hard drive chock full of my music, movies, and various TV shows.

    Living in Sweden, my tough sacrifice is not being able to use Hulu, Netflix, or even Pandora. But I still make it work.

    I do plan to buy a TV soon, but I am not planning on getting cable. I am going to continue using my laptop as my media center, and simply hook it all up to my TV. My TV will essentially become a large computer screen, and I love that.

    • That’s some good, sound advice. I never tried it, but I hear evrnyoee rave about the service. I’m a YouTube man, myself. Bad quality, as compared to a DVD, but it’ll suffice. I stopped watching TV when I was a teen (decades ago), and had a tube-type TV in the basement that I tried to dump for so long. Finally got rid of it without anyone in the house complaining, because TV is digital now (don’t mention the analog to digital converter!). I might look into the streaming to computer…

  3. I only have freeview (which I guess is like cable but free) I used to watch A LOT of tv but its just getting worse and worse. I’d rather just watch old things like Freaks and Geeks or the news (Man! I must be getting old 😉 ) I’ve never had Sky but I must admit I do love house sitting for the bf’s parents as they have every channel going. Which meant last easter we watch 3 days solid of Ace of Cakes. Which is why I think more channels is bad and streaming what i REALLY want to watch should be what i’m doing instead of zoning out to dross. If only my internet conection were better and my current channels not free I’d get rid of the tv for sure.

  4. We only have cable because our internet is cheaper with it. We get something like 10 channels. I’d just ditch it if we could get cheaper reliable cable internet without it!

  5. We just moved into our new house and we pay for internet and a netflicks subscriptions. We also have a tv antenna (but need to get a better one) so that we can watch the local stations. Sometimes I miss watching my shows on USA (because they often don’t put their shows online) but I plan on just waiting until the DVDs come out and netflicks them.

    Cable is convenient and there is always something on. Plus the DVR recorder was nice. But I have no plans on going back to cable. We are saving at least a hundred dollars a month by not having cable. Cable needs to adapt if they want to stay relevant for a long time.

  6. The hubs and I looove TV, but hate cable. We haven’t had cable for about 5 years now and are doing just fine.

    Okay, to be fair, I suppose we do technically have cable… but it’s only because the most very basic of cables came with our DSL line for $2 more per month. So now we have pretty converter box-less digital local channels and nothing else. We pretty much just use our Wii and Netflix.

    I work from home, so I’m more likely to watch MTV’s ‘Made’ and A&E’s ‘Hoarders’ directly from the websites than he is. It sucks a little waiting for things like ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Mad Men’ to hurry up and come to Netflix, but all the repeat crap on cable (not to mention the endless jewelery channels!) just isn’t worth the cost.
    To us, at least.

  7. It’s so funny you mention this now because my cable company called last night and was trying to convince me to subscribe to something besides internet with them — the guy was like, “But don’t you watch TV?” and I was like, “Yeah…on my computer using the high-speed internet I already get from you…”

    I haven’t had cable since 3 apartments ago and that’s because, like you, we had a deal on it. I watch a TON of TV (probably too much…) but it’s all through Hulu, Netflix Instant, and various streaming sites for the ones that aren’t on the first two. Honestly, the only thing I really miss is zoning out to the Food Network!

    • Yes! The fact that I cannot find fluffy food network shows online is the only dent in my hulu/netflix only loyalty. On the other hand, since I *only* watch those shows to waste time, I can’t really use them as justification for paying for anything.

      • Cooking shows are THE only reason I want cable. That and Travel Channel! But if I’m really THAT desperate, I just hang with my dad for an afternoon making pasta sauce with his tv going. lol.

  8. I live in the UK and I don’t have cable, nor do I miss it. I can access programmes I enjoy watching through my laptop (BBC iplayer and Channel 4 OD [on demand] over here)

    I hear about cool shows from my friends – if I enjoy the show, I’ll buy it on DVD and watch them on my laptop.

    As Cortney said above, if I reach the stage of buying a TV, I’ll use my laptop as a media centre. It’s nice that I can have TV working for me, not the other way round 🙂

  9. I agree that between netflix and hulu my computer’s got the whole tv thing pretty much covered. EXCEPT for a glaring omission: sports. I’m a huge baseball and basketball fan and I try to watch my teams as often as I can. When the Knicks are on espn sometimes espn will stream it on their site, but that’s only some games. mlb.tv streams baseball games (and you can listen to the home announce or the away announcer!) but that’s only if you live in one city and are a fan of a team in another city. If you are in the city where the game is televised, mlb.tv blacks out the game on your computer. There are some illegal streaming sites, but they are reliable enough to trust with a mets-phillies game. Believe me, I’m ready for cable to go the way the rabbit ears, but I need my sports so I’m stuck with cable for now.

    • This was actually a real issue for me as well: I am a die hard Detroit Red Wings fan. I still haven’t come up with a way to watch the games, but I get play-by-play updates sent to my phone from their official Twitter, and that’s the best I can do, for right now.

      • My solution has been to find a local wing restaurant and go there. I normally only purchase a $3 vodka drink, though sometimes I splurge with some wings. I’ve made friends this way, and $3/game is still much cheaper than a cable subscription. Since I live in a city far from my favorite teams, I find its a worth-while expenditure to make friends with other local fans.

    • EXACTLY! I would be so ready to pull the plug on cable…if not for ESPN and the Big Ten Network – Go Buckeyes! We’re really only football people, and NFL is mostly on the basic channels, so we were trying to figure out the cost difference between going to a sports bar for the games (about 10 college games and some Monday Night Footballs), but this has the multiple fold problem of (1) eating healthily while watching sports, something I’ve been working hard to do, (2) sometimes you just don’t want put on real clothes (other than your lucky jersey) to leave your house, and (3) I am umm “that fan”…yes, I yell, and people tend not to like that on Saturday at noon when they came to get their hangover cheeseburger. If any other sports nuts come up with a good solution to this problem, please let me know!

    • Oh gods yes to the sports, especially baseball! My living situation has been a bit migratory for the last couple of years due to the Recession and my current house-mate doesn’t own a TV. For the most part, I was never a huge TV person, so I’m generally content with Hulu and Netflix, but I seriously miss being able to watch the Red Sox games!

    • Our sports solution – if cable would have cost $40/month, we have the same $40 to spend out at a pub watching a game. We seem to find time only once or twice a month anyway, so it works fine!

    • i have a roku player for netflix streaming to the tv and there are a couple of sports subscription things pre-loaded on there. you have to pay a monthly fee like netflix. i’m not sure how much it costs or how great the coverage is, but it’s an option to check out for sports fans!

  10. When we move out next month we won’t be getting cable, it’s just money we don’t have and we only watch the Travel Channel and Cartoon Network really. I’ll probably just buy Tony Bourdain episodes on itunes and my husband will watch Family Guy online too. Netflix we dig though. I like getting things in the mail, it makes it more fun and it’s eas…plus I can watch Vicar of Dibley on Netflix’s website.

  11. We’ve had a “media center” (aka a desktop computer) connected to our TV for 3 or 4 years now – we stream TV mostly from Netflix streaming but also some other services.

    Last time I had cable was during the Olympics, and I seriously watched like, Science channel and TLC. Possibly if I could subscribe to cable channels a la carte then it would be more attractive to me. Furthermore, the Olympics coverage was very disappointing, and I found myself wishing I could just stream the sports coverage of my choice at my convenience, like I do for television shows!

    • We have also had a desktop pc connected to our tv for the last 3-4 years (used as media centre). Our house doesnt get tv reception so we never bothered getting it fixed. This works great for us cos we just download everything we want to watch and watch at our own time.

      The ONLY time this is a problem is when guests are over (generally older generation/non tech types) and they dont understand how to use a media centre.

  12. P.S. It’s definitely time for a la carte cable if anything. I would get it if I could just get and pay for a couple the channels, the ones I would actually watch.

    • SO badly this. We’ve only ever been able to justify teir 1, so we get none of the channels we really want and it is such a waste of money. Plus I end up wasting so much more time watching crap. I’m not totally against TV but I hate how much TERRIBLE TV I end up watching with cable. If we could choose the channels we wanted (Discovery, History, Food network) then I;d consider paying for it. Otherwise, netflix is cheap and easy and I end up watching more quality (at least, to ME) and less Hawaii 5-0 and CSI:Miami…boo.

    • Excepting during the soccer World Cup, I haven’t had cable since I moved out of my parents’ in 2005. What for? The internet provides! I *may* use less than legal means on occasion, but that’s mostly because I’m too impatient to wait until everything I want to watch to be on DVD.

      Meanwhile, we have netflix through our blu-ray player– high def, baby!– and a significant movie collection. And friends who share. And the public library, who totally has DVDs to lend. 🙂

  13. We don’t have cable, in part because we love tv too much. If we had cable, we might never stop watching, plus we’d definitely watch a lot of stuff we actually have no interest in at all. I haven’t had cable in about 8 years and for most of that time never had a tv in the houses I’ve lived in, though we are currently “babysitting” a friend’s tv while they are traveling and get a few channels with the rabbit ears.
    As the tv that’s living in our house right now is soon going to go away, we’ve started thinking about whether or not to get one for ourselves and if so should we get cable or Apple TV. We watch tv pretty much exclusively online, so it would be nice to be able to watch it on a television set instead of a laptop. Catch is, though, that we live in Canada – that means no Hulu for us. We don’t have access to a lot of the streaming sites, and a the American networks that stream their shows online aren’t licensed to show them in Canada. So we only get the stuff you can find on sites that link to illegally uploaded stuff. Netflix only just came to Canada, we got it recently and it’s ok – but the selection is not as wide as in the US because of licensing crap.
    Anyway, point is cable doesn’t seem worth it, but I’m not sure if doing something like Apple TV is worth it either just to watch poor quality stuff.
    Still leaning towards the Apple TV, but I wish American networks would hurry up in licensing their stuff for online distribution in Canada!

    • I am totally with you on the Canada thing. Right now my dude and I do not have cable. We were going to get it (he works for one of the companies so he gets a nice discount) but we weren’t available the day they came to install. So we never bothered to reschedule. We have netflix. I watch some things on my computer *ahem*. We buy new shows from itunes or zune on the Xbox 360. I would love cable so we could do “on demand” or record the shows we both watch. But will we? Maybe not. Netflix is slowly getting better, Zune covers quite a bit, and we don’t mind buying dvds of shows we enjoy.

    • I also hear you guys about Canada and the crappy Netflix! How many times I’ve searched for a movie that’s Not Available.. GRR! Zune is OK but they don’t get many really new releases. But I guess I can’t complain cause you could always go download movies from those movie download sites I won’t name 🙂

  14. I used to be a TV junkie, but when I moved in with my husband I realized there was just not room in the house for a TV. It’s actually been really nice. I can find any TV show I want to watch within 24 hours of its air date, but it’s taken the pressure off me to keep up with what’s cool so my watching time has decreased. When SVU marathons roll around on Tuesdays and Sundays, I really wish I had a TV so I could veg out all day and watch it, but in the end it’s led me to being more productive.

  15. We have lived in our little Asian apartment for 3 years and never owned a TV. Being in Asia, Hulu and other similar sites are off-limits, and Netflix charges way too much if you want to stream overseas.

    So we watch a few shows (Daily Show, Colbert, South Park, etc.) streamed from the network sites, rent movies or see movies in theaters. I get my news from online newspapers and magazines (Washington Post, NY Times, Slate) and the Taipei Times, an English-language newspaper here.

    We have no need for a TV – we’d get 100 channels mostly of Taiwanese talk shows/Korean dramas, people with charts telling you in Chinese how to invest, ten channels of chanting monks, a few porn channels that show Japanese cartoons by day, some weird variety shows in Chinese and Taiwanese and very little programming in English (a few movie channels like HBO, CNN International, BBC and Travel and Living…some people also get Discovery and Animal Planet).

    For us, it’s not worth it for such a limited selection, when we aren’t big TV watchers anyway.

    I will say that CNN International is a lot better than the domestic version!

  16. My pre-husband and I haven’t had cable in years, and we LOVE it. We watch just the shows that we want on Hulu, Netflix (disc and Instant Watch), or our own DVD collection. We are sports fans, so we use the free over-the-air HDTV channels to watch the games that we’re interested in. If it’s a big game, and/or it’s a game that’s not available over the air, we’ll scoot over to a sports bar.

    We’re seeing a lot more savings than just the lack of the cable bill. We’re exposed to a LOT fewer advertisements, so we’re finding that we not so driven to buy junk we don’t really need, we don’t crave so much highly processed junk food, and we don’t feel the need to eat out so often either.

    All-in-all, no cable is GREAT!

  17. My husband and I have talked about getting rid of cable a number of times, but we keep not quite doing it. And poor sweetie, last time we tried to cut back, he got a good cable sales person who managed to up our channels instead. Heh.

    But for the holidays we got an Apple TV, and we love it. We’re catching up on older shows we never saw the begining of, subscribing to our favorites, and I could totally see us getting rid of cable soon. I’ll miss the random Discovery and History channel shows on for noise while I’m sewing or whatever, but as long as we have our good high speed internet, we’re golden.

  18. Neither the Mr. or I have had cable for about 3 years [8 for him], and we don’t miss it at all, nor do I see us ever paying for it in the future. We definitely rely heavily on Netflix [we just figured out that if we watch 3 movies a week, we’ll get through our queue in, oh, 2 years] and the internet [comedycentral.com for my Jon Stewart fix and hulu or megavideo for things like Glee and Mad Men]. It is a little embarrassing how transfixed we are by cable whenever we’re visiting family, etc. though. When we were visiting the in-laws a while back and watching the olympics, my brother-in-law said, “I can tell you guys don’t watch much TV– you laugh at all the commercials.” HAH! I just say it’s like being a modern culture anthropologist. :p

  19. Due to hard times with money, our household hasn’t had cable for about two years now. And I’ll admit, I do miss it at times. Yes, most of the shows I want to watch, I can stream online, and we even have the computer set up using the teevee as a monitor. But I still can’t find every show I used to watch, and I also kinda miss just watching reruns that I’ve seen a million times, something that I find I do less of with online TV.

    I’ll probably be getting cable again when I have the money. But being able to watch online too would definitely be a plus.

  20. We have cable TV and we love it and we watch it regularly. I honestly couldn’t imagine not having cable TV.

    We also have a Netflix subscription.

    We don’t really stream stuff though because we only have a desktop computer and not a laptop. And we have archaic interest connection.

  21. Although we currently have cable (living with the boyfriend’s father, who insists upon it) we plan on ditching it as soon as we move. I am more of a TV person than a movie person, so Hulu is better for us than Netflix. The shows I can’t find there we usually just watch illegally (shh!) thanks to internet bootleggers.

  22. Before I met my husband, I did not even own a TV. I read or borrowed/rented DVDs from the local library. They have whole seasons of cable shows. I also was getting a lot of home projects completed faster and don’t watch the non-news; Lindsey Lohan going to court again, does anyone really care about this?

    Life without TV was definitely more productive.

  23. We originally signed up for cable because they had a special going if you got it in combination with internet, but we almost never use it. After a few months went by, we thought about ditching the cable, and just paying for the internet, but because the special they had was over, now if we were to pay for just internet, it would cost the same as we are currently paying for both.

    So we kept our cable. And I guess it’s worth it for the few times we use it, but honestly, the XBox, PS3, and the Wii (all with Netflix, we seriously need lives) get quite a bit more use, as does Hulu on my laptop.

  24. Do you still get adverts with things like netflix? Its the one thing I find frustrating with things like 4od in the uk is all the adverts and not being able to forward through them. It makes me tempted just to get the shows illegally.

    • NO. Love Netflix, so hard. They have a large number of movies and TV series available to stream instantly — without any ads at all. In the US, streaming-only subscriptions start at $8/month.

      • My dude got in with the beginning of the Canadian subscription on Xbox for $6 a month! And it’s staying that price for him until they do a major upgrade. Woohoo! That’s what we’d pay for one freaking movie rental.

      • Adverts/not depends on what programme you’re watching. Brand new ones don’t have them for some reason, but reruns of Come Dine With Me do.

  25. My partner and I have cable right now; but it’s a similar situation to the one mentioned in the post, it came with the place. We’ve agreed though that we are definitely not getting cable when we move; it is a dinosaur. With all the crazy resources online, you can watch anything, anytime, and there’s not many things that are exclusively t.v. that either of us are dying to watch.

    Cable’s definitely dying.

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