Our friend the television: Is cable an outdated dinosaur?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Comments on Our friend the television: Is cable an outdated dinosaur?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 someone who just cancelled cable because I watch only a dozen channels, I’d like it if we didn’t just have to pick from like 3 packages + hbo etc type add ons.

    I used to live in Winnipeg, Canada and of all the odd places to get it right, I feel like they did. The only way it could be better is if channels were completely a la carte. MTS (their major cable company) had levels of service, but the way they did it was that on level A you’d pick a certain number of “theme groups” (bunches of channels grouped together by theme) and so a group might be a bunch of sports channels or a bunch of cooking/home channels, or kids channels, etc.

    I have to admit that I’m tempted to go back to cable in a few months or so, just because the TV I tend to watch is cooking and home stuff, and then stuff on like discovery channel and that sort of stuff is impossible to find online.

  2. other than netflix i dont even know what all that other stuff is?!?! im very interested as we just cut off our cable and internet (mostly cause someone forgot to pay it for 3 months MOM!) and we’ve been trying to decide who and what to go with. . . . .
    ok dumb question alert** how do you watch all your shows on your computer??

  3. We chose to sell our tv and get rid of cable when we were pregnant with our first (about 2 years ago). We felt like it was just too easy to sit down and flip through the channels and all of a sudden the day/night was gone and what had we accomplished? Not that you can’t have downtime, but there are better options most of the time.

    We currently use Hulu and tv.com for all of our tv watching. We watch specific shows, for free. We also occasionally youtube “laughing babies” for our son, because he thinks they’re hilarious. 🙂

    We have talked about getting Netflix so we can watch through entire seasons of tv shows that we’ve missed. Hubby wants to get a tv again with basic local channels for news and sports. I would probably be okay with that. I just don’t like it to be the go-to activity for free time.

  4. My mom just got a new computer and we asked her for her old CPU, completely wiped it, and hooked it up to our TV. We bought a wireless mouse and keyboard that usually hang out on our coffee table. We stream TV shows from Hulu, read news online, use the tower as a DVD player, and we have all our our ill-gotten movies, TV shows, and music stored on an external hard drive that stays hooked up to the computer. We also have a PS3 we use for Netflix instant. Overall, the picture quality isn’t as high, but the entire thing costs us $40 a month for internet and Netflix. We were playing almost $100 for digital cable. The only things I miss are ESPN and the History Channel. EPSN because we like sports and nothing really streams live, and the History Channel because it’s like white noise while we’re working/napping.

    Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve played Plants vs. Zombies on a 42 inch HD flat screen.

  5. We have a Roku player that we use to watch Netflix on our TV (’cause our TV is old and we have no game system or anything to stream with). We have basic cable by default, because it’s included in the HOA fees. We’ve been considering just unplugging the TV from the cable though – like so many people have said, it is really just a timewaster for us. CSI marathons or the Food Channnel get us every time. I’d love to switch to streaming Netflix exclusively (right now we have the one DVD at a time plan), but until there is a better selection of British TV shows to stream, I need the DVDs.

  6. For my sports (proud member of the Steeler Nation baby!) I actually turn to an older technology – I’ve taken to listening to them on the radio. But the radio station is a hometown station that’s streaming it’s coverage over the internet. It’s fun to hear the familiar voices and totally biased commentary. It’s not the same as TV and I wouldn’t “watch” a playoff game that way, but it does scratch the sports itch.

    • This is the reason why I could never get Sky sports. It really wouldn’t be the same to “see” cricket on TV. (guess where I’m from) It’s not real unless I can hear it on the radio. If I want a treat the money saved goes towards a ticket to see it live.

  7. except for one summer when i was sub-letting in someone else’s apartment, i’ve never had cable, and never care to. we have waaaaaay too much else in our life to watch TV. we bought a TV for our first married christmas, since a friend had given us a netflix subscription. we got rabbit ears so we could watch last year’s olympics, we watch movies and TV shows through netflix (DVD and streaming), and also have boxee which mostly gets used for pandora (still a free account, but no commercials! woohoo!). no need for or interest in anything else; i’d rather go play outside. =)

  8. I was a bunny ears child as well, never had cable growing up (to this day the Hubs is amazed I’ve never seen Fraggle Rock).

    I didn’t have cable until I graduated college and moved in with the then future-hubs. As the years have gone on, I definitely could do without it, as most of the shows I watch are on the regular channels anyway (like Fox, or ABC). I do love the DVR though. But anything I’d miss without cable I could always catch online.

    That said though, the one thing I don’t think has been mentioned is the whole experience of watching something on a computer. I truly HATE watching TV on my computer. We don’t have any sort of wireless device, just a desktop computer and a TV both anchored with wires into the walls in the office and living room. So in order to watch something online I literally have to sit at the desk in my office. I sit at a desk most days of work, so watching a movie or something at my desk is so unapealing.

    We have a Wii, but in order to use the Netflix/Wii thing we need a wireless device. I am kind of out of the loop with tech anyway. I still use a Palm Pilot for my calendar. And I don’t know what any of those other “connected devices” are. I think I am a 28 year old old lady.

    • Post Script, I just read the mashable article and one of the points is, “Rather than competing against offerings from Amazon, Netflix and iTunes, cable companies should leverage their strengths and make content more accessible on computers, tablets and smartphones.”

      Yeah see. I have ZERO desire to watch TV on any of those devices. I want to be sitting in my huge comfy sofa with a blanket and my flat screen. Dinky smart phone TV watching is not for me.

      • I’m with you. I can’t see the point of watching on a computer or other device. I’m tied to my computer screen all day at work — so an evening with it BLECCHH!

      • I’m not an avid TV watcher. I don’t have the attention span to just sit down and watch TV, I’m usually doing a million other things, and the TV serves as background noise with a plot. So, watching TV from my laptop is a no-go, because it’s hard to do other things. I’m all about curling up on my couch and knitting a blanket while watching reruns of Scrubs that I got via torrent.

    • Totally with you on not wanting to watch tv on the computer! Thats what awesome comfy couches and big widescreen tv is for!
      That being said we have turned a spare computer into a media centre so you get the benefits of computer all from your comfy couch in the living room 🙂

  9. We are a strict Hulu/Netflix family. We mostly watch it on our iMac. We found this amazing desk that looks a lot like a tv stand so it blends into normal living room decor and has eliminated the need for a separate office space. We LOOOOOVE it.

  10. After over a year of Netflix and Hulu only, we recently got cable hooked up again when my in-laws moved back home. I’m happy to accept free satellite tv, but I already know I won’t be footing the bill when they leave again. I can’t imagine paying $100 a month just for the privilege (I use the term loosely) of watching the same thing that everyone else is watching at the same exact time. It actually creeps me out a little when I imagine millions of other people chuckling at the same punchline. I prefer my tv on demand!

  11. My honey and I have no cable, and no immediate plans for it. Our dvd collection is horrifying and diverse, and we have accounts for Netflix and Hulu. The only drawback to our setup is that the living room is arranged in such a way as to make my computer table the de facto entertainment center -which I don’t like. We are looking into getting a tv and running a feed into it, though. Anybody know about that sort of thing?

    • depends on what kind of ports you have on your computer. My husband and I have a Macbook Pro laptop we use a mini-dvi port to connect it to the TV

  12. My fiance and I moved into our duplex in 2007 and we haven’t had cable this whole time. At first we made do with just rabbit ears, but since the D-TV conversion and our purchase of an HDTV a couple of years ago we’ve even ditched those. We have a netflix subscription, which we watch streaming through the wii, and an internet connection. Really, there isn’t anything else we could need.

  13. We are netflix junkies. And hulu. And those technically-illegal-but-so-worth-it sites.

    The only way I would ever ever get cable is they had some package where you could pick whichever five or whatever channels for x affordable dollar amount and not deal with the rest of them. I would have Discovery, Natgeo, Food network, travel and BBC america. The rest of the channels are either crap or online.

  14. I never had cable growing up and now that the wonderful world wide web provides me with all the tv and movies I need, I don’t think I’ll convert. The only draw for my husband are televised sports and it’s just not worth the $$ to us. We recently got hooked on Netflix, but for us, it’s all seasonal – we spend much more time watching tv & movies in the winter because we just don’t want to brave the cold!

  15. I like my cable, mostly because I like to flip and find something silly or interesting that I still wouldn’t click on if it crossed my path online–like River Monsters or America’s Funniest Home Videos (bridesmaids circa ’86 accidentally panty flashing? what could be more fun after a soul-sucking day at work?)

    There’s an element of deliberation to online viewing that is nice, but I also like the chance of watching tv tv. And I use it as covering noise for my thumpy and argumentative apartment neighbors, too.

  16. I’ve not had cable for the last seven years or so (I had a tower hooked up to my tv way before it was called a “media center”), and so now neither my husband or I have it. It just seems like a waste of cash to us… Why pay to watch commercials when *all* the shows are available elsewhere? 😉

    It’s actually gotten to the point where we sometimes watch commercials on Hulu because they’re such a novelty.

  17. We’ve been cable free for a couple of years. We use the xBox streaming Netflix or Zune. We were spending Almost $300/mo on cable because of all the fees/upgrades etc. We get the same service now for the cost of internet and our Netflix subscription. It’s just a better deal.

    Bonus: No commercials.

  18. First and foremost let me just say I’m a tv movie junkie! I am not techno-savvy so to netflix or hulu on gaming devices totally sucked. I love Roku it come with a clicker so there no monkey-ing with a game controler. James my techno-guru hubby has always streamed video in over a computer-he’s english and ocassionally wants to watch DR. Who that won’t be available here until christmas next year or world cup etc. So he built a computer that is a server that contains our music and video back ups plus served the purpose of allowing us to stream which meant for me to veg out and watch the tele there was this complex sequence which just made it so not worth watching tv at all. Roku is simplistic has relevant content other than netflix and hulu theres justintv which is random by nature it broadcasts others recorded content. The other night we found The Wonder Years being broadcasted. I just ordered another Roku, I plan on slowly outfitting each tv set we own with one. I hope specialty channels start catching on that no one watches cable(or can afford cable anymore) and start to broadcast exclusive content to these devices. I miss the style channel and food network most. OTHER than that I’m quite happy not having cable.

  19. My husband and I have been cable free since we moved into our first home January 2010. We love our Wii for Netflix, our Roku in other rooms, and a MacMini attached to our HDTV for Hulu and pretty much anything online. Cable is a novelty we enjoy when we stay in hotels and visit people. Plus if we really want to see something we plan a date with a fellow tv fan or go to a bar to watch a game with other sports fans. It makes TV more interactive than sitting on your couch growing your butt.

  20. This discussion is really interesting to me, as someone who has never owned a television in my life. I’ve been seriously considering getting one to cut down on my entertainment expenses, but I don’t want to get cable, and I don’t know if my wireless internet would be robust enough to handle Netflix streaming.

    This is really showing me what my options might be for in-home visual entertainment!

  21. I LOATHE watching TV on my computer … but I’m starting to do it more and more. SO I just bought a Roku – all the beneits on streaming TV on, well, a TV! I haven’t gotten it yet though.

    That said, we do have Cable and I would prefer Cable’s onDemand functionality to Hulu, etc … except that it rarely works. Time Warner blows.

    • I LOVE how cable touts its OnDemand like it’s super special. Instead of being two-three weeks behind on shows, only a few episodes deep, and only hosting a few shows from a few networks. I WANT to not steal TV, cable. Make it easier.

  22. I love tv 🙂 & I love my U-verse! & I really don’t think of it as “cable” ~ they have this whole interactive component that I love, I can check real time weather, news, etc.
    The On Demand is out of control. I can watch all of my favorite HBO. SHO, & Comedy Centrals shows whenever I want.
    The On Demand for the premium networks (HBO/SHO/Starz/etc) all have tons of movies too.

    Oh & I couldn’t live w/o my Netflix that I stream via (get ready) my laptop, my desktop, my bluray & my iPhone.

    🙂

  23. seconding and thirding so many others , yes. CABLE BLOWS. Ive been cable free for nearly 6 years and I dont feel like I am missing anything. What we cant get on Netflix or watch online, we dont miss. What I love MOST about being cable free, aside from the money we save is NO FUCKING COMMERCIALS.

  24. No cable in this Household. We only watch TV for local news channels. Even those times are few and far between. Netflix to our game system and to our home is all we need.

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