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TV Bites: Cutting the Cord


TV Bites

Cutting the Cord

by Neena Louise

cord-cutter-tv-bitesI’ve done it. I’ve cut the cord and canceled my cable service. Me! A bonafide, admitted TV addict who has had cable my entire adult life. I can hardly believe it myself. Why in the world would I do such a thing?


In no small part, is was due to my absolute disgust with the cable company. In these parts, they are colloquially referred to as “The Evil Empire” and they are, indeed, truly evil. They have sub-par service and absolutely horrific customer service. They could get away with it when they were the only game in town, but that is no longer the case, and hasn’t been for many years. Not only is there more than one cable company, there is also more than one satellite service in the area. The Evil Empire seemed to refuse to accept this and steadfastly stuck to their antiquated ways. They constantly shuffled/removed channels, then demanded you pay more if you wanted to continue to receive their removed services. To add insult to injury, their service became more and more unreliable. After their latest shenanigans of removing/shuffling channels and frozen stations (one series premiere had just a single frozen image for the last 30 minutes), along with their obnoxious customer service, I’d finally had enough after many years of being a customer.


At first I explored other service providers. Another cable company wanted about as much money for the programming I wanted, with an enticing introductory offer. Enticing until you read the fine print, that is: you needed to sign up for a 3-year contract, installation was $100.00 with an “activation fee” (whatever that is) of $49.99. To make things worse, to get the one channel I wanted, I’d either have to add an entire new programming package, rife with channels I didn’t want, or pay an extra $10 a month for that one single channel. I think not. I then investigated a satellite company. No contract there and the monthly fees for the channels I wanted were reasonable. But it would cost almost $400 for the initial set-up to buy the receiver/DVR. I could rent the receiver/DVR, but then I’d have to shell out $100 for installation and pay $10 a month in perpetuity. Not doing that, either. The other satellite company I investigated was even worse, expecting me to bundle all my services (TV, Internet, phone) and sign up for a long-term contract with them in order to receive a decent monthly cost. I will never bundle services with one company nor get locked into a contract, so that was out, too.


I gave up at this point and explored what I could get over-the-air (OTA) with an antenna. Before doing anything else, I took to the Internet to see what I could watch for free online – something I generally do only during the Olympics. Well, my goodness, you can watch just about everything online. Yes, there are a few shows you need a cable subscription in order to watch online, but most don’t, and if you’re tech-savvy enough, there are ways around the blocked shows. Most shows I’m interested in watching are just there. You have to wait anywhere from a day to a week after they air before they’re available online and newer episodes get dropped pretty quickly, so snooze and you lose. But, hey, they’re free. Free is good.


I also subscribe to Netflix. Netflix offers a plethora of television shows that you can binge-watch in their entirety. You generally have to wait at least until the broadcast season is over (often longer), but who cares? For $8.99 a month ($7.99 until 2016 if you signed up before May 2014), you can watch a multitude of network and cable television shows, as well as movies and original programming (Arrested Development, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, etc.). The only drawback to Netflix is that it can gobble up your Internet usage – especially if you choose to watch in HD or like to binge-watch. Though preferable, I can live without HD and rarely have time to binge-watch, so I have yet to go over the generous amount of bandwidth included with my Internet service.


As a TV addict, I was still reluctant to cut the cord, however. No Discovery Channel? No AMC? No History Channel?? I might just lay down and die! That is, until I took a much closer look at what I watched in a week. For the shows only available on cable, I asked myself “Will I miss this terribly?” and “Is this worth the $75 a month I pay for cable?”. The answer was always “no”. Studies have shown that most people watch an average of 17 channels at most. I went through all the channels I received with my cable subscription and was quite surprised that I only ever watched 17 of them – some of them less than once a month and several others were of the “only if there’s nothing else on” variety. $75 a month for that? What a rip-off! That clinched it: Bye, bye cable!


First up was getting a new antenna. I already had a dollar-store antenna that I used during the Olympics, but it was woefully inadequate. I could never receive all the networks at one time no matter where I placed it: I would have to move the antenna to get one or two networks, then move it again to get the other two, thereby losing the first two. That just wasn’t going to work, so I started my search. Amplified or unamplified? Indoor or outdoor? The choices and price ranges were dazzling. I did some research into the experiences of people in my area with OTA stations. Since I live in the downtown core of a fairly large city with close proximity to the U.S.-Canada border, the consensus seemed to be an unamplified indoor antenna would be sufficient. I ordered a good-quality antenna from Amazon for about $40 and hooked it up to the main television in my house. I thought maybe I’d receive 5 or 6 channels. As long as I received the Big Four and CBC, that was fine with me. After experimenting with different locations in the house and fiddling around with the cabling, I received 12 channels! All were HD (something I didn’t get for every channel with my cable subscription) and some channels simply weren’t available from the cable company. I couldn’t believe my luck!


Still, I was cautious. I hadn’t been cableless since I was a child living with my frugal parents who refused to pay for TV programming. When I struck out on my own at an early age, after the telephone, the cable was the very next thing I had hooked up. Could I really do this? For two weeks, I only watched what I would receive from the antenna to ensure I wouldn’t be driven mad by not being able to watch something I really, really wanted to on cable. Admittedly, I cheated a time or two since it was during the fall premieres, but that was to time-shift during scheduling conflicts on network TV, not to watch cable programming. I never once longed for any cable show. Surprisingly, I didn’t watch anything online, either, but it was nice to know I could and it’s very likely I will in the future.


There was now only one huge problem: how to record one channel and watch another? Back in ancient times, if you didn’t have cable, all you needed was a simple VCR with a built-in tuner. Since the emergence of the digital age, I wasn’t sure what the options would be once I lost the cable company’s DVR. I took to the Internet to find that there are numerous options, some of which were a little confusing to me. Though there were many choices, it seemed that most didn’t allow you to watch one channel while recording another (crucial for me). The vast majority of people who had cut the cord hooked up a laptop and added a hard drive to jerry rig their own DVR. I didn’t have a laptop or tablet I could devote entirely to TV and buying one with an additional hard drive would set me back at least $500. A standalone DVR cost nearly as much. I searched and searched for some sort of recorder to use with an antenna. Initially, I was set on a DVD recorder with a built-in digital tuner. I couldn’t believe how scarce these things are! There are plenty of recorders available, but very, very few have a built-in tuner. The few I tracked down – some with additional built-in hard drives – were just stupidly expensive: $400-$700. Even though they would pay for themselves in less than a year with the cable bill savings, I wanted something more reasonable, given that such technology becomes obsolete very quickly. I finally hit on a solution: For $40 I bought a digital-to-analog converter box with “loop through” capability in order to watch one channel while recording another. It also has a USB port to connect a hard drive to use for recording, so for another $50 I bought a 1T external hard drive. For under $100 I had my own personal DVR, capable of recording more than 140 hours of HD at a time, with the bonus that I can use the box with the analog TVs that still skulk around my house if I feel so inclined. Furthermore, if I want to keep any recordings, all I need to do is copy the files to the computer and do a simple conversion with software I already have.


I unplugged the cable and lived with this set up for two weeks, just to be absolutely certain this would suit me. It did. It was then and only then that I finally called The Evil Empire to cancel. They tried and tried (rather obnoxiously) to talk me out of it with dire warnings of what happens with antennae during storms and how other service providers had the same services, and how it would cost me all kinds of money if I changed my mind and wanted to reconnect and blah, blah, BLAH. But the best they could offer me was a whole $10 off a month for the next 12 months. As a very long-term customer, did they seriously think that was enough to keep me?? When I said (for what seemed the zillionth time) “no thanks”, they then offered me a “light” package for $17 a month, which was essentially what I already got with an antenna for free. Nearly forty minutes later, I finally convinced them. I. Just. Was. Not. Interested. The cancelation was processed and I breathed a sigh of relief, happy to be rid of these thugs. It’s been almost a month since I cut the umbilical cord that used to keep me tethered to the TV. The only channel I miss? The Weather Channel. But there’s an app for that. For an investment of less than $150, I have enough free television programming to keep me as entertained as when I paid for cable. My total monthly TV-watching cost went from more than $80 a month to $8 a month for Netflix. Major bonus that I never have to deal with The Evil Empire again!


Lately, people have been canceling their cable and satellite subscriptions in droves. When are service providers going to wake up and realize viewers are sick and tired of being held hostage by their greed and puzzling whims? They’ve never given a hoot about their customers, of course, but do they not understand current technology? That people no longer need paid TV services to get decent programming? They don’t seem to.


Good riddance, I say.


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