Cutting the cable

“Rescue Me” is what planted the seed for me. I’d never watched the engaging drama when if first aired, but a few months back I started watching it on Netflix Instant Watch through my AppleTV. It was an intriguing show, and it got me thinking about how much good TV I’ve never seen that’s now available at the touch of a button. I remember thinking that the Screenwriters Guild is in trouble. A writers’ strike will never have the same impact. There’s enough good television already available through Netflix and Hulu Plus to last a lifetime.

It was a short leap from there to wondering why we kept paying for cable TV. My family doesn’t watch much regular TV. My wife and I mostly watch movies and the Daily Show. My son watches cartoons on Netflix. I’m a Walking Dead fan and have been watching Season 2 of Game of Thrones on DVD. None of us are into televised sports, except maybe the Super Bowl, which I watch mostly for the commercials. Most of my television viewing lately has been catching up on series that I didn’t watch when they originally aired: Rescue Me, Breaking Bad, Mad Men.

I called up the cable company and asked how much it would chop off our monthly bill to shut down the TV and just keep Internet service. I was shocked when the operator told me it would save us about $100 a month. That’s with no premium channels. A subscription to Hulu Plus will cost about $8 a month and give us access to The Daily Show and a bunch of other television shows. We’re already paying for Netflix. The Walking Dead just wrapped up its season. When it starts up again, I’ll be able to get a season pass from iTunes for less than $50 — about half a month’s worth of cable for a season’s worth of episodes.

So we cut the cable. So far, the main impact is we no longer have a clock in the living room.

Though I will admit that last night, after a long day of work and driving and a long weekend working on the basement, I was tired and brain dead. When I sat down to veg in front of the TV, I didn’t really want to scroll through all the choices on Netflix or Hulu to find something to watch. What I really wanted was to channel surf. See if some movie I’ve seen a hundred times before (Roadhouse, Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard) was on. Something I could watch without thinking about it. Sure, I could have streamed any of those movies from my home computer, but that required more deliberation than I felt like exerting.

Yeah, there’s tons of great TV on Netflix, but I wasn’t in the mood for great TV. I was in the mood for mindless surfing. I settled on watching an episode of the old Mission Impossible television series.

I can’t say that I won’t miss cable at all. I’m sure, though, that I’ll figure out an alternative to mindless channel surfing.

A few days after I took the cable boxes back to Cox, I got a text from a friend of mine. He’d just started working for Cox, and one of his first jobs was switching off my television. “Small world,” he said. My thought was that he was probably going to have plenty of work to keep him busy.

At least for awhile.

The cable television industry — like the music industry, like the publishing industry, like the newspaper industry — has failed to adapt, to give customers what they want, how they want it, at a reasonable price. Lots of people are figuring out there’s an alternative.

Now if only there was more competition for high-speed Internet service.

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