Jul 21, 2011

Why I Cancelled Cable TV

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had cable TV. I grew up watching cartoons after school, sitcoms through university and whatever else caught my fancy since. But this summer I abruptly cancelled my cable TV subscription. I gave my 30 day notice, returned the DVR and went cold turkey. For the first time in my life I can’t just surf the channels to find what’s on.

I didn’t cancel my TV subscription for the money; mind you eliminating a $130 a month expense is quite nice. And I didn’t cancel it because I stopped watching TV; I’m still watching all my favorite shows. I cancelled it, because I don’t need the cable company to deliver the content I want anymore. I’m using the internet.

It dawned on me this year that cable TV is an old model. Why was I subscribing to over 700 channels when I am only watching a dozen shows plus some sporting events. With a little investigation I found I could get all of this content in high-def online. I could buy or rent the programs from iTunes, stream them from the network sites, or subscribe to services like Netflix or Hulu.

The transition has been eye opening.

Content is valuable

Cable TV masks the value of the programs we’re watching. We are paying for the cable companies for access versus paying for content. This divide has skewed our perspective on content, and may be the reason why companies have struggled to value and sell their content online.

For example, the newspaper industry has grappled with the issue that consumers aren’t paying for their digital content. Advertising can only take them so far. But some publications are taking a stand. Earlier this year The NY Times implemented “paywalls” to restrict users’ access to content. They made a bold statement: our content is valuable, and users will have to pay for it just like they do when they purchase a print version of the paper. So far it seems to be working.

When I eliminated the cable subscription, I really started to value the programs I was watching. I picked up two of my favorite series this year, Justified and Sons of Anarchy, from iTunes. Season 2 of Justified was $35.99, and season 3 of Sons of Anarchy was $29.99. Since I wasn’t paying for cable, I had no problem buying these series. Actually, I felt like I was getting a bargain compared to what I would have paid the cable company for access to these shows.

When you aren’t governed by what the cable company feeds you, it’s very liberating to go out and find the content you want and pay for it.

Opening up new worlds

One of the most interesting aspects of this journey has been finding content from around the world. It has become evident to me that North American broadcasters keep us in a pretty sheltered world.

Do a little digging, and you can find incredible content. Some of the best comedies I have found come from the UK. The IT Crowd and The InBetweeners had me in stitches. Both are fantastic comedy sitcoms.

I also have a slight addiction to anime, Japanese cartoons. I love the art, the stories and the humor. There are fantastic subbing communities translating the shows as they are released in Japan, and you can pay for the content from sites like Crunchyroll. Every week I download or stream the latest episodes, and get my cartoon fix.

It’s a different mindset

Breaking the shackles of cable TV has opened up whole new worlds for me. I’m watching better quality content. I’m getting what I want, when I want it. And I really value what I’m watching.

I may be an early adopter, but I think we are on the edge of a larger trend. Hulu, Netflix and Apple are pioneering new means for us to purchase and consume content, and I’m sure there will be more services to come. As the practice grows and more services are launched, consumers will get more and more comfortable downloading and paying for content. I see this as an avalanche about to roll.

If you have the opportunity, try going cable free for a month. Hook up a computer with highspeed internet to your TV, and only watch stuff you get online. See how it changes your perspective.

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