I’m getting rid of cable TV. There, I’ve said it.
What a long, strange trip it’s been with cable TV for me. I remember living in Kew Gardens, Queens and keeping block by block track of where cable had been laid, waiting for it to finally come to my building. I remember being at a cousin’s house in the first year MTV was on the air, and the huge cable box they had, with each channel getting its own individual click-down button. I remember having WHT (Wometco Home Theater) and staying up late to watch weird horror movies. I remember the trick of entering the channel number for the scrambled porn station twice and repeatedly punching ‘Last Channel’ to try and grab a glimpse of a tit or a body in sexual motion.
But now I’m all done with cable TV. It’s been a long, slow breakup. It’s taken me a number of years to see that I’ve outgrown cable; new friends TiVo and Netflix and Xbox helped facilitate this change. Recently I met someone even newer: Hulu.
Netflix started the journey away from TV, or rather TV shows on DVD did. Over the years I’ve learned again and again that many TV shows are just far more satisfying on DVD, where I can enjoy them at my own pace. Instead of being doled out weekly, with multiple and flow-disrupting hiatuses and interruptions, TV shows could be approached as wholes.
Some shows, of course, demand to be seen more often than once every year. I don’t know that I could wait for the DVD on a whole season of Lost without succumbing to serious spoilers. But TiVo has weaned me off the first night viewing habit; the ability to time-shift when I watch my weekly shows (which are few anyway) has freed me from the grasp of network scheduling, and that was an important element in my larger freedom from cable TV.
See, now that I’m no longer tied to watching shows in real time (and as more and more people follow suit, meaning I’m not as left out of the discussion), I begin to wonder why I’m even tied to watching shows on cable. Most of the major networks offer their shows on the internet for free in the days after they air; I’ve watched the last three weeks worth of 30 Rock and Survivor this way, and I’ve found minimal problems with it. Hell, cable TV run through my early generation TiVo actually looks worse than stuff I’ve streamed from Hulu and CBS.com. And this is just the stuff I can watch online legally.
And the finishing move: next month I’m moving, and I’ve decided to leave the roommate schtick behind (this is now my second roommate who failed in Los Angeles and flaked out on me at the last minute, not giving me much warning) and get a studio. The cost of a studio, especially where I want to live, stretches my budget, so stuff has to get cut. And after looking at my many stupid expenses one that jumped out at me was cable TV. We’ve grown so far apart and now it seems that the time has come to say goodbye.
I’m hoping that a solution will present itself in the coming months for watching streaming browser content on my TV; I know devices exist, but I’m waiting to see how that market shakes itself out. I may investigate some do-it-yourself options that will be cheaper than a year of cable. In the meantime I have an Xbox that does a nice job of streaming content off my hard drive, and I have a big enough monitor that watching shows isn’t a complete nightmare.
The only thing I’ll miss, honestly, is CNN. I like keeping the channel on in the background while I work, and I really love Anderson Cooper. But is that worth 30 or 40 or more bucks a month? Looking at the money I need to save to justify living on my own (and the money I should be more frugal with as we prepare to enter Thunderdome as a society), it seems hard to spend even those few dollars. Especially when I realize that what I’m paying for here is stuff that I can access legally and for free on the internet.
For a while I’ve been excited about the idea of content on demand, a world where my entertainment options aren’t dictated by a network programmer and aren’t trapped on physical media, taking up space all over my home. Next month I’m taking the next step towards a completely on demand world. I’ll let you know how it goes.