In the months since I announced I’d be cutting the cable cord at the end of 2012, I’ve done a lot of research. There are so many services currently vying to embody the natural progression from cable to internet that it’s a bit overwhelming. It’s kind of like the string of gas, electric, and steam-powered automobiles that flooded the market at the turn of the last century. Then, as now, it was impossible to see which platform would be the one that everyone would eventually adopt.
One thing I’ve come to realize is that “smart TVs” are not the future—at least, not the way they are currently integrated. Technology moves too fast, and televisions are too expensive, for normal folks to spend that much money every few years upgrading their tech. I think internet-enabled TVs will become ubiquitous, but set-top boxes (so to speak) are still what people want. The TV should just show the picture that streams from somewhere else. That way, consumers can jump on a good TV sale without having to swear allegiance to any OEMs or ecosystems.
No company today has a product or service that is head-and-shoulders above the competition; the space just isn’t developed enough yet. To the detriment of consumers, cable companies still have a stranglehold on the content producers. I’m willing to bet that when a leader emerges in the next ten years as the go-to service for internet-only media consumption, it won’t be one of the companies that is leading the way today. It will be a new innovator that has simplified and integrated the many processes and services that are competing today.
The Solution (For Now)
Based on what’s available, what I need, and what I’m willing to pay, I think Roku has the best product/service. Roku led the way in providing an inexpensive connection for users to stream Netflix content directly to their televisions. In the years since, they’ve added over 700 channels of programming. A Roku channel is not a rotating block of television shows, but rather a menu of available shows, movies, music, etc. Think of a Roku channel as the pay-per-view menu in a hotel room; you browse through titles and then select what you want to watch. Now, imagine 700+ channels, each of which contains its own subchannels and programs. Add in the channels of aggregators like Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, et al, and you have access to most of the stuff that’s out there.
Roku comes in several models. I bought the $90 Roku 2 XS for my 1080p HDTV in my den. I got the most expensive model because it’s hard-wired to my router and it has USB and micro SD storage. I might get an antenna and/or a wireless Roku ($40) for the kitchen TV, but we rarely use that TV outside of sports. Anyway, I’m hoping to get away from having extra TVs in general. When people visit, they bring their own entertainment with them in the form of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and portable DVD players. There’s simply no need to put expensive screens in each room just to mirror the content they can already access in the manner in which they’re already accumstomed.
The Way It Works
As you already know, I have a PC hooked up to my HDTV in my den. It acts more like a network-attached storage device than anything else, but I occasionally use it browse the web and stream music, movies, and TV episodes. I even created my own home theater homepage app that makes it easy to navigate to the sites I visit the most. I also have an HD antenna attached to the wall behind my TV that brings in some of the local channels over the air in HD. That gives me access to some of the network (non-ESPN) sporting events, but I’m not happy with the variety. I think I might be able to do better with an amplified antenna.
The way my entertainment system works now is pretty much the way it’s always worked. To my dissatisfaction, we still have several remote controls. I use the input button on the TV remote to switch between live TV, Roku, BluRay, and my PC. I could probably get a universal remote for everything, but sometimes you need a small remote and other times you need a handheld keyboard and mouse. One day, all of this will be fed into one centralized system with one very easy-to-use remote control, but that day is still years away. Remote controls have simply failed to evolve along with media players. There’s ample money to be made in simplifying the process.
I know it sounds like there are a lot of fees stacking up, but I’m coming out way ahead overall. My original accounting was a little off, as I ended up paying $50 per month for Charter internet. But my speed went from 15 Mbps to 30 Mbps, so I can live with that. They didn’t even try to talk me out of dropping my bundle. Like I’ve said before, their customer service has been great lately. I just wish they’d offer a la carte pricing. Ten channels for $10 would be all I need.
Here’s how I actually made out:
- We used to pay $2160 per year for our bundled cable/telephone/internet, plus around $290 annually for Netflix and $90 for Amazon Prime. Let’s call that $2550 per year for digital entertainment on top of our existing smartphone bills. $2550! Combine that with what we pay for our smartphone data plans and it’s easy to see that we have a major first world problem.
- By dropping telephone and cable and subscribing to Netflix, Hulu+, and Amazon Prime, our digital entertainment bill will drop to $1073 per year. Let’s call that $1100 to leave room for the occasional movie rental on Amazon Instant Video and Vudu.
- I figured that I could spend a one-time fee of $1000 in my first post-cable year and still feel like a winner for covering all of my future costs. As it is, here’s how much I spent:
In order to save $1450 per year, I spent a grand total of $135. My monthly Charter bill dropped from $186 to $50, so I made that up in the first 30 days.
All in all, our decision to unbundle and move to internet-only service will deliver annualized savings of 57% in our entertainment media costs. We still have some redundant services, so we may be able to pare down those costs as we see which services are worth the money and which ones aren’t. The best part is, our media is now web-based and mobile, meaning we can access many of our programs anywhere—not just from the home cable box like before.
The Big Picture
As much as I seem to be enthralled with technology, I actually like the idea of tech-free spaces. That’s why I’m trying to get rid of TVs and otherwise-unnecessary electronics. I’ve been on the warpath against pointless LED lights throughout my house. Why does everything electronic have to light up even when it’s powered down? It’s so annoying.
As funny as it sounds, this technological creep is actually freeing us from tech. Or, to be more specific, smaller, newer, more customizable tech is freeing us from the external timetables foisted upon us by older, more rigid tech. The fact that we can consume entertainment media pretty much whenever and wherever we want takes the impetus out of being in the right place at the right time. This show or that film is being filed away in the background around the clock. We can do whatever we want to do right now. All of that other stuff is now waiting for us to be ready. That’s the way it should be.
I’ll report back in a few months to let you know how we’ve adjusted to life without cable. Wish us luck!
UPDATE: Cutting The Cable Cord, Part 3