In 1993 my college roommates and I made the New Year’s Resolution to cancel cable and stop watching so much t.v. (which was done out of economic necessity more than a desire to spend more time studying). It’s a resolution I recently re-adopted for somewhat different reasons than I did 18 years ago, and so far I’m thinking it will end up being a lot easier now that, even without cable, I have more viewing options than VHS cassette tapes.
I was paying $112 for combined cable, phone and Internet service from Comcast plus $15 a month for a Netflix membership. Like a lot of Comcast customers I A) felt that there were no other options and B) got roped into using Comcast with a special deal that expired after I had been a customer for a year. About six months ago I called and threatened to leave, which got my bill knocked down to the current $112 for a fairly standard cable package with no movies.
Like a lot of people, I took cable T.V. as a given, a monthly expense that was categorized right along with utilities like electricity and gas. But the more I looked at my viewing usage, the more I realized I wasn’t watching $127 worth of television and movies per month. I called again and the only other option was to dump my phone service (which I combine with Google Voice for huge savings on my monthly cell phone bill) or scale down to the most basic cable package of 20 channels, most of which I didn’t watch with any regularity.
The Solution: Cancel Cable
I hemmed and hawed on this quite a bit but very quickly realized most of the “quality” time I spent watching television was either on-Demand programming or videos sent from Netflix. I was also losing money on my Netflix subscription, paying for video streaming service as part of my subscription that I didn’t use (Netflix has since separated the two services, but, for now, I’m keeping both the DVD’s at home option for the more recent releases and the streaming service for its convenience, which I’ll explain in a few paragraphs).
An offer from Verizon for phone and Internet service for $24.99 per month for two years with no contract, plus the ability to combine it with my cell phone bill, pushed me into a decision that a lot of friends have, so far, considered radical. I ordered a $80 wireless Internet player from Sony that would allow me to stream content to my television from the Internet. I cancelled cable the day my new phone and Internet service was installed.
Netflix will raise its prices later this year to about $20 for the service I currently have. Still, my new combined services costs $45, meaning a savings of $67 per month, or $804 per year. Here’s how I did it:
The Technological Realities of Being T.V. Free
The box I bought from Sony was cheap and as easy to install as a DVD player. The picture quality is not as great as DVD, but not all that noticeable on my relatively inexpensive flat-screen, either (and the added benefit for movies from a service like Netflix is they have, so far, been automatically formatted to fit my t.v., so no more annoying letterbox viewing sessions).
When I made the shift I signed up for a week-long trial subscription to Hulu’s streaming service, which normally costs about $7 per month. I was able to extend that trial to a month by taking advantage of a promotion that allows anyone with an .EDU email address to get a longer trial period. The promo is targeted at students, but there are no restrictions from anyone with an email address from a college or university taking advantage of the offer.
The idea then was that I’d be able to keep up with the few shows I do watch, and maybe get some other content when I simply needed some passive entertainment. But the plan now is to dump the service at the end of the trial: beyond the problem’s outlined in a New York Times article yesterday, the service just didn’t work for me. Load times took forever and the downloads would often hang for several minutes in the middle of a show despite a high-speed Internet connection, bringing back memories of retrieving .JPEG’s over a dial-up connection.
Hulu also has commercials, which I understand as a necessity and don’t particularly mind, except that it was more content to download and broke each 30-minute show into separate files which also had to be downloaded (and, as a result, had the potential to get hung up).
Netflix has been much better. I’ve had next to no problems with playback. There’s a rather wide selection of films to choose from, and while most new releases are still only available via DVD, that seems to be changing (I watched The Fighter over the weekend). I can go back and watch pretty much any television series I’d want to, providing they’re released on DVD, although, if I were the type of person who worked in an office I’d have to sit out of t.v. talk around the water cooler as the lag time to Netflix for most show is at least several months.
What I Lost
So what am I giving up? I’m not going to be the first to see new television shows but, then again, I never really was. I’m finding as I get bombarded by more and more information – from social network feeds to book samples downloaded instantly to my Kindle – being an early adopter isn’t always important (I see a lot of potential for Google+, for example, but right now my profile remains pretty much an after thought in my strategy).
And the same can hold true for television shows. Did I really need to be among the first to jump on the Boardwalk Empire bandwagon? Am I missing must-know information if, this fall, I wait a few days to a Stevel Carell-free Office premier? Maybe time will prove me wrong, but right now I think I’ll be good. And, while this may be a rationalization, I no longer have to worry about getting invested in a television show only to see it get canceled.
The other big things I potentially miss out on are news and sports. Television news isn’t a big deal to me; it’s mostly vapid and my news consumption is almost exclusively done online and in print (as well as some terrestial radio news listening when I’m stuck in the car). When I do see something that may be better told in video and sound, such as remembrances following this weekend’s death of Amy Winehouse, I’ll look up the video clips to supplement whatever it is I’m reading:
Sports is a trickier proposition, and I’m lucky in the sense that I am not, admittedly, a diehard sports fan. I miss the luxury of being able to watch Red Sox games live on t.v., but lately I found myself only watching one or two a month at home which didn’t justify the extra cable expense. And when I was watching, the game was often on mute as I read or did other stuff, allowing me to turn up the volume when something interesting happened on the silenced screen. Most of my other sports watching – football and must-see games – tends to be done in person or socially.
What I Gained
This is not, admittedly, a move for everyone, particularly sports fans and political news junkies. I’m not going to get on an intellectual high horse and prop myself as some better life form for dumping television. A lot of people — me included, at times — love television and there are several sadder ways to spend your idle hours.
But I was never much of a channel surfer and with course prep and a bunch of writing projects in the works, reading is a job requirement, so that is my primary way to spend my down time. And even I know this is easier now, in the summer, when I can spend evenings outside. Part of the reason for making the jump now was to make sure I got into the non-TV habit by winter, when the temptation to get fat with a bloated cable package will increase.
But I’m facing the very real prospect of underemployment this fall. And even if I do get a full-time job, that extra $804 per year is close to a monthly rent payment, a weekend vacation, or an extra nice meal out per month. Or something to throw in my emergency savings account so the prospect of underemployment won’t seem as daunting in the future.
Beyond that, there’s the time factor. Once I started considering taking this step, I started paying attention to how I watched television. There were a few programs I looked forward to, but most of it was throwing something on as background noise while I ate dinner. Is $804 a year worth reruns, most of which I can still watch whenever I want?