Frugal Tips: End of the Great Experiment – Dropping Cable

Being a professional geek I love all things technology.  I have been using the internet before most of you had your first email address or paid per minute to AOL or Earthlink.  As a beta tested I have witness the slow death of Friendster, Palm and soon the Mac OS for desktops.

I have seen internet content become mainstream and contaminated with viruses, bloatware and malware.  I remember when the only way to download anything was through my lime green screen connecting to a private BBS with my 14.4 bps modem.  Those were the days when being a geek was a subculture with  a technical handshake (handshake is the squeaking sounds of your modem talking to the server).  The best thing about being a subculture is the pricing.  We set the price, not “the man”.  Once it became more popular, thanks Al Gore, then everything became profit.

Just like the Ferengi of Star Trek  (look it up on wiki) everything became about profit.  The phone companies changed policy for modem use (via dial-up numbers assigned) and web pages became fuddled with  pop-ups, ads and flash heavy content.  Content became a micro profit commodity; the post 80′s start-up failures and then the death of the CD left media to turn to the court rooms for pennies of profits.  It soon was found that even a penny per download led to millions of dollars.

With music online it set the stage for all media including books, movies, newspapers, magazines, yellow pages, radio, telephones,  and television.  But television changed for the worst.

Except PBS all networks are run by just six actual companies (read here . . .), and 90% of all television is reruns or rehashed originals. Why pay so much just to six (6) companies for 700+ channels?  That just doesn’t make any sense.  You only want to watch 1 program at a time, but you pay for everything else you are not watching. That is like going to a buffet and paying for not just your plate but all the food in the buffet and everyone else eating.

When Hulu was announced in March of 2007 took a leap. I decided to start an experiment, to drop cable TV and rely only legal internet entertainment (I’m not an island I discussed the experiment with my significant other with the pros and cons). It was time to take control of my money, content and life.

Cons

  • Most cable networks will not have streaming or content online, yet. This means our favorite shows on FoodTV, HGTV and G4TV will not be legally available.
  • Legally obtainable content is harder to get than illegally.  We have a busy life and downloading illegal content is time consuming and messy.  Let’s be honest – just because the title of the torrent is “Glee_S1EP1″ doesn’t mean you will get “Glee” season 1 episode 1. Chances are that you will download a virus that kills your hard-drive, malware that steals your identity or worse you actually downloaded “The Chevy Chase Show”. But you just spend 5 hours watching it download – and you can allow yourself to just go and delete the file.  Storing becomes an issue.
  • No sports.
  • Computer screens are small.

Pros

  • It saved allot of money.  We were paying for phone, internet, cable and Tivo all for $140+ a month (after the first 6 month special pricing).
  • We had redundant technology cell phone/home phone; Tivo/computer; and internet television/cable television – it was time to streamline everything.
  • Television was dominating our lives and it needed to stop.
  • We have a membership to Netflix which allows us to watch DVDs; summer months 3-DVDs with winter month around 5-DVD subscription.
  • Online content either has limited or no commercials.  Only Hulu has commercials which are limited and tolerable.

Start of Something Interesting

First thing that actually changed was our pocket book; cha ching!  There was a dominoes affect immediately.

  1. Since we no longer had to use the television our electric bill was cheaper.  No need to power a cable box, television, or Tivo.
  2. The end of microwave, seriously. We were no longer a slave to the schedule or sucked into just watching infomercials (addicting).  We found ourselves actually having meals and enjoying each others company which meant actually preparing food and cooking healthy meals.
  3. We spent more time at the movies.  If you had over $100 a month extra for entertainment what would you do?
  4. Got rid of our 46″ wide screen HD TV, 5.1 surround sound system and Tivo.  Took the money we saved and bought a projector and a better home theater (see DIY A/V Project).  Created a media space and made sure that the A/V room was not in the living room, dinning room, or any other common area of our home.  Our entertainment space no longer dominated our lives.
  5. We utilized the limited Netflix streaming (which at that time was 1 hour/steaming per each $1 on subscription – a $16.99 plan entitled us 17 hours of streaming media).  Which means each month we had minimum of 30 hours a month of content on Netflix alone. (see Frugal Tip: Get the Most From Netflix)
  6. Since we had saved over $1200 a year we can actually spend the money to go to live sporting events.

Broadcasting Businesses Model Changed

There was more online content and supported hardware!  We were riding the wave of options.  Even with the DTV transition it failed to meet all our needs.  Everything was changing.

2005 ESPN started streaming sports content

October 2007 Hulu opened to beta testers, including myself, and we liked what we saw. Not so much about the content but the future.  Hulu did it right.  No limits on watching nor cost to view.  Smart.

January 2008 – Netflix started to invest in their streaming content and lifted any constraints including unlimited streaming content.  Sweet.

May 2008, Roku announced the first Netflix Internet video streaming receiver box. Bought it right away.

Watch 100,000 Movies & Shows instantly on your TV

November 2008 TVU Networks starts streaming US major networks.

August 2009 Roku announces streaming content for Major League Baseball (MLB.tv) subscribers.

December 2009 Roku opens free their SDK that enables anyone to create new channels.

January 2010 Roku promises 100+ Channels by 2010.

Fall 2010 Roku announces Hulu Plus channel. (read more . . .)

Jan 2011 CBS and NFL Stream Super Bowl

Fall 2012 Time Warner Open Content to Roku

Final Assessment:  Spending Less & Get More Content

Internet: low as $15/month
Netflix: $24/month (3 DVD out w/ Instant Streaming)
VPN: $10/month  (read more . . .)
Hulu Plus: $8/month

Total Monthly Cost:  $57 ($83/month savings or $996/year or almost $5,000 over five years )

It was about getting the most for our money.  Sometimes it was not always a straight obvious line between content and access. Case in point; NFL online is offered to those outside the US cheaper and without any blackouts.  You can watch any game any time online if you live in the UK (see Frugal Tip: Watch Entire NFL Season Cheap).

NOTE: We found spending $10/month for a VPN would give us more content including BBC, ITV, Sports and so much more.  BBC America has commercials, editing content and only 2% of BBC programming. With watching via BBC iPlayer we now have more content.

We will never go back to paying for cable, satellite or broadcast television ever again.  If we feel we are missing broadcast TV, we’ll just get a HDTV antenna.  Do you research and read Tech Talk article “Watching Online Content”.  Online only changes everything including your bank account.

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