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Summary:

The guy who once wrote a vociferous defense of cable finally cut his. But is it the paradise he’d heard so much about? Yes, and no.

Cord cutting / cutting the cord
photo: Shutterstock / Mikhail Melnikov

For years I was a cable apologist. Others cried foul on ever-increasing prices, poor customer service and network dirty tricks, and dropped off. I held fast, ordering more and more channels and services, until one day, half-watching a marathon of House Hunters International through glazed-over eyes, I realized my unhealthy addiction to cable TV.

So I finally cut the cord, and it’s fantastic… I guess. Maybe? The content is there, but the delivery still has some issues.

Things change

When I joined Gigaom in 2007, YouTube was still about cat videos and copyright battles, Hulu hadn’t launched (and we mocked it), and your Netflix queue was the pile of no-don’t-send-that-back-I’m-totally-going-to-watch-it-someday art-house DVDs piled up on your coffee table.

Now a third of YouTube viewing comes from content 20 minutes or longer and millions of people pay for Hulu. Netflix drives more than 30 percent of all peak downstream internet traffic AND its original programming was nominated for 14 Emmys and 6 Golden Globes this year.

The cord-cutting trend was long thought to be a myth, but lately, it’s becoming more of a reality: A potentially frightening one for cable and satellite TV providers.

I changed

There were three main reasons I hopped on the cord cutting bandwagon:

  1. I got old.
  2. I had a kid.
  3. Netflix.

Getting old can’t be explained until it happens to you; at some point you just stop caring about most of the crap you used to obsess about. But that’s a lament for a different blog.

The kid thing was huge. We don’t let our three-year-old watch a lot of TV, but when we do it’s through No. 3 — Netflix. There’s a great selection of kid-friendly content and no commercials yelling at him in between breaks in the action. That may make me sound like a bad parent, but seriously, when you need 20 minutes to cook dinner, slapping on an episode of Wild Kratts buys you the time you need.

Of course, it’s not all about the kid. There’s plenty my wife and I watch on there as well. The Netflix originals have been awesome and a very real reason we’ve kept our subscription (though polarizing, Arrested Development season four is a master class in storytelling structure).

“Price” isn’t on that list. I’ll enjoy saving $100 bucks a month, but in some ways, I was just running on tradition. I had always paid for cable. Cable prices always sucked. Shrug shoulders, c’est la guerre, what’s on the Food Network? A big difference now, though, is that options like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more are mature and won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

So, gone is the big bulky cable box. In its place are: rabbit-ear antenna, Apple TV and Chromecast along with subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu Plus and an iTunes account.

Change ain’t always easy

Despite the promise of cord cutting nirvana, there have been a few bumps.

The uncompressed HD picture through an antenna is quite nice, but there are reception issues and no DVR. No DVR means no pausing for bathroom breaks or rewinding to show the wife something. Plus, the mere presence of the rabbit ears makes me feel geriatric. As my colleague (and expert cord cutter) Janko Roettgers pointed out, I could have spent more on a more stylish antenna, but I guess I’m old school.

I want to like Hulu Plus, but the service still doesn’t make it blatantly obvious what seasons and which full episodes it has and for how long. This is maddening when trying to catch up on something I can no longer DVR. Plus, commercials.

And there have been technical issues. The video quality of Netflix on my Apple TV has become horrendous in recent weeks, even after all manner of factory resetting, software updating and instant messaging with the company’s help line. I’m not the only one experiencing this issue. I switched to my Chromecast, but that up and died after the most recent software update.

Say what you will about the price of cable or the cable companies, I knew whenever I turned on my TV, it worked, and did so without buffering or rebooting.

In the end, I’m not ruling out a return to cable at some point. Despite being in a golden age of TV, we’re in the post-Breaking Bad, pre-Mad Men doldrums. The true test of my cord-cutting mettle will be when Game of Thrones returns (I can only avoid Twitter spoilers so much). But thanks to great alternatives, I don’t think I’ll ever feel addicted to cable again.

  1. Approaching three years without cable; don’t miss it. I watch everything on the iPad now.

    http://jimromenesko.com/2012/04/17/my-valentines-day-break-up-with-comcast/

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  2. For what it’s worth, there are DVR solutions for OTA broadcasts, like MythTV, Freevo, or tvheadend. Some are easier to get up and running than others, and all require a dedicated HTPC with an antenna adapter. But it’s quite possible to DVR over-the-air programming.

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    1. Windows Media Center and MediaPortal

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  3. Yes, you are going to be disappointed if you don’t do the research to buy the proper equipment. You are not “old school” if you are using the wrong antenna, you are “unschooled”.

    Get a good antenna for your location. If you are in a single family home or in a condo/townhome that allows dish antenna installs, outdoor antenna mounting is the way to go.

    Buy a tivo with lifetime service. You can get a new Roamio, or “settle” for a used HD Tivo or Premiere unit. It depends on what you want to do with it (streaming services) and if you are comfortable with following simple instructions to do a hard drive upgrade that will get you more storage space.

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  4. The getting old part is very relevant. If it wasn’t for that, piracy would be a big part of your menu.
    And ofc you can have DVR.

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  5. As others have said, there are a variety of DVR solutions for OTA TV. One that I haven’t seen mentioned though, and what I just implemented at home, is Windows Media Center. If you already have a Windows PC (or virtual machine) around, it’s “free”, as in, there are no monthly costs for the guide data, like some of the other solutions like Tivo. Another advantage of this solution is that I can actually keep my PC where it is doing its usual work, and I watch live TV or recorded shows through my Xbox 360, which serves as a “viewer” for media center. The only things I had to buy were an HDhomerun dual tuner, and a better antenna. I used to use rabbit ears, but they didn’t work that great. I picked up a decent antenna (RCA ANT751), installed it in the attic, and am getting much better reception. I may still get a TV signal amp or pre-amp to get that last little bit of improvement.

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  6. Chris Albrecht Sunday, December 15, 2013

    Thanks for the comments all.

    You’re right, there are some OTA DVR options out there. I need to go back and look at what my colleague, Janko, has written about them.

    I also need to keep this pretty straightforward. I don’t mind futzing with cables and inputs, but — ahem — other members of my household have less patience.

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    1. TIVO does work great with OTA options – have used it, and it’s no more complicated than hooking it up with Cable. For the other users in your house, it will actually make life easier.

      Having said that – I did the SAME exact test – but it was the SAME exact problem that got me – I just HAD to have my pay SUB series when I wanted them. If only I could get HBOGO instead of having to have an entire cable service…

      Also, I’m curious if Windows Media Center would do the trick (though it’s a lot more expensive to implement…)

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  7. I’ve been looking at the AverMedia a188 card to turn my pc into a DVR. Only $50 on Amazon.

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  8. Since you did not mention sports my guess is you are not a sports fan. As a hard core sports fan, cable (or satellite) are hard to beat. For me cutting the cord is not happening although I have no premium channels but i like my sports. I wish someone would offer a sports ONLY package.

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  9. I wish some one would offer a non-sports package. Time Warner, please.

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  10. I’m going through the cable to internet-streaming transition presently — that is, still have cable set-top for the next two months, but streaming thru Roku from one TV set, a Sony Blu-Ray from another, with both sets attached to Winegard Flatwave antennae. Hardest part for me is weaning myself off being a slave to the TV programmers’ scheduling and becoming my own content curator. I’m surprised you didn’t mention this intangible, psychological hurdle. Netflix’s intuitive software helps enormously, best-guessing what I’m likely to enjoy. I also see now why young people rely on YouTube; saving all my TV faves to YouTube subscriptions helps the curating process enormously.

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