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Adventures in Cord-Cutting: My First Two Weeks Without Cable

By Daniel Carlson | Think Pieces | October 16, 2013 | Comments ()


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My wife and I got rid of cable a couple weeks ago. I’d kicked the tires on the idea a few times over the years — ever since reading this piece, actually — but the inertia of paying the monthly bill made it hard to take the necessary steps. As recently as last month, I’d done research on what it would cost to switch to a lower package but not give it up altogether. As part of a flurry of cost-cutting measures, though, we eliminated cable TV altogether and kept our Internet service. Comcast sent me a shipping box with a prepaid UPS label, and the cable box was gone.

And nothing has changed. Everything is the same, but better.

I should be clear, cord-cutting might not be for everyone. But for us, right now, it’s amazing. Here’s why:

We don’t watch sports.

At all. My wife and I don’t follow sports, watch live games, or keep up with sporting news. I couldn’t tell you what channel ESPN was in my now-defunct lineup. I don’t remember who won the Super Bowl earlier this year; I don’t even remember who played in it. I know the baseball playoffs are happening right now, and my gut says something happened with the Tigers, but I don’t care enough to look it up because I’m just going to forget it in an hour.

This is probably the biggest barrier for people who want to ditch cable, because even with a digital antenna or a device like Aereo to watch over-the-air games, your selection is still limited by location. (And at this moment, the future of Aereo is uncertain, too.) We’re lucky, though, in that we’re just not that into sports, so giving up the opportunity to watch them wasn’t even a factor.

We already pay for Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime.

Our Netflix plan allows for unlimited streaming, as well as one disc (Blu-ray or DVD) out a time, because there are still loads of movies and shows not available to stream. That covers dozens of series, as well as recent seasons of things like Breaking Bad or Mad Men. We’ve also got Hulu Plus, which has back catalogs of a variety of series as well as new episodes of ongoing series that are still airing, like New Girl and Parks and Recreation. And I’ve been an Amazon Prime member for years, since it was solely a shipping-related perk, so the addition of streaming video made it an even better deal. (At $80 per year, Amazon Prime is also cheaper than either Netflix or Hulu Plus, both of which offer streaming service for $8 per month, or $96 per year.) We already had so many ways to watch TV and movies, whether on our computers or phones or streamed to the TV via my Xbox 360. We weren’t hurting for entertainment options.

We’re already used to time-shifting.

Related to that, we were already so used to watching new TV series a day or two after the latest episode aired that having to wait for those episodes to hit Hulu Plus doesn’t feel like a chore. Even when we watched shows the night they aired, we rarely watched them live: we’d usually allow for a buffer of 15-20 minutes that meant we could skip commercials and rely on the DVR. Bumping New Girl from Tuesday night to Wednesday night doesn’t feel abnormal or inconvenient.

A family member remarked that one of the things that made it easier to cut cable when we did was that Breaking Bad had finished airing a couple days before we pulled the plug. And yes, it was nice to watch Breaking Bad the day it aired, and to be able to publish pieces on each episode the same night. But I didn’t need cable to watch the show. I could just as easily have bought the show via iTunes, downloaded it a day after air, and been fine. My reviews would’ve been a day late, but that’s it. It was the powerful illusion that I needed cable that kept me on the hook.

We don’t watch that many new series, and we’re OK paying for the ones we do watch.

My wife and I both like to keep up with (among others) Parks and Recreation, New Girl, Bob’s Burgers, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, all of which are available the day after air via Hulu Plus. We’re also big fans of FX’s Justified and The Americans, both of which are available to purchase through iTunes and Amazon. (Currently, the fourth season of Justified is $35 on iTunes, though that’s HD; the SD version is $23.) It’s easy to purchase a season pass for those shows and then have them download after they’ve aired, which we plan to do when they return next year. I could easily see us buying an Apple TV or a Roku to make the TV interaction even simpler. Paying for a season pass is cheaper than footing a cable bill, and the episodes are yours to keep, too. I could buy both season passes at once for $70, which is still less than one month’s cable costs in my old setup.

I never cleared out the DVR.

I’m a recording hoarder. I’d get excited about some great movie coming on TCM, set up a recording to catch it, and then never watch it. Our DVR was choked with movies I kept telling myself I’d watch but that I never got around to watching. More importantly, almost all of them are available to stream or rent on disc. (If you’re curious about a film or TV show’s availability online, CanIStream.it is a great resource.) I was hanging onto the idea that someday I’d make time for these movies, but I was fooling myself. Getting rid of the cable box meant giving up the DVR, and it was something of a relief to be able to be honest with myself. Now, if I want to watch a movie, I stream it, rent it, or pick it up from Redbox. I don’t record it and ignore it.

We watch Netflix most of the time anyway.

My wife likes to watch some shows I don’t, and vice versa, but even accounting for those, we spent most nights watching movies or favorite TV shows on Netflix instead of watching something new on cable. Earlier this year we caught up with some classic movies, and we’ll sometimes go on runs where we just want to watch something comforting and entertaining after dinner (Bob’s Burgers and old-school West Wing get a lot of play in our house). Sometimes my wife would watch Netflix on her laptop while I played video games on the TV. So what sense does it make to pay for this service with a bundle of hundreds of channels we almost never used? Especially when there are so many other ways to watch the exact same stuff?

We haven’t bought any extra hardware yet. Digital antennae are available for HDTV sets if you want to watch something live over the air, but the on-demand functionality of next-day streaming — where I can pause, rewind, and start and stop as needed — is so convenient that I don’t mind waiting for it. The DVR didn’t entirely do away with the idea of appointment television, but it did deal it a severe blow, and I’ll happily trade the ability to watch a show the instant it airs for the ability to watch it in the time and manner of my choosing.

We’ve returned to intentional watching.

The trickiest part of cable, for me, was its ability to act as a time-suck. We paid for movie channels I barely used unless it was to watch 20 minutes of a movie while waiting for something better to come on, or while I tried to decide what else to do. Or I’d just surf around, settling on sitcom reruns I’d seen a hundred times and that I didn’t really care to see again. I wasn’t watching them to watch them, I was watching them because they were on, and the TV was just sitting there, so I might as well use it. Now, though, everything’s a choice, even if it’s just picking something to watch for a few minutes while I have breakfast. Cutting cable has helped me become more of a conscious, intentional consumer of these things, and as a result I’m more aware of how I spend my time and what I actually watch. For the first time in a long while, I’m watching things I really want to see, not just things that happen to be available at a given moment. We turn the TV off a little more than we used to, yet we’re also getting more use out of it than before.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Lynn

    That is so accurate. I mainly channel surf then end up on some rerun I have already seen and waste my time half watching it for lack of anything else. I rarely intentionally watch anything and whatever I do want to watch, I intentionally watch it the next day or later that day to avoid the excess commercials. I would be perfect for cord cutting, but unfortunately, my husband mainly watches sports or mindlessly watches reruns and I think he would be too lazy to adapt to using online services, which is how I primarily watch already.

  • mattand

    Hey, Daniel:

    Good article. I've been researching cable cutting myself. However, I've run into a brick wall in the form of really expensive internet-only fees.

    I'm in the Philly/South Jersey area, and our only two options are Verizon and Comcast. I've been with Verizon for years. Right now, if I re-up for another 2 years, I'll pay $87 a month for their 2nd level HD package and 15/5 internet, or $1049 a year. The DVR and STB bring that total to $1337 a year.

    If I switch to an internet only account, Verizon wants $70 a month or $840 a year. Comcast is offering $30 a month/$360 a year for two years, but then that goes up to $65 a month.

    Where we're getting killed is the DVR and extra services, like Tivo, Netfix and Hulu. Once you add that back in, we're almost back to the new FiOS prices. The DVR is non-negotiable; we can't do without that.

    Am I missing something? I've crunched these numbers five ways to Sunday and keep coming back to the the same answer: it's really not that much cheaper to cut cable. I'd love to be proved wrong.

  • sardu55 .

    All I really watch are old shows that currently air on METv, Antenna TV or a few of like oldies channels. Other than check the weather now and then or maybe an old movie that's it. I haven't seen any alternative service which has the old shows, beyond a limited batch in the public domain.

  • renGek

    I prefer google play over netflix because I watch movies very infrequently. Rather than pay a monthly subscription I can rent just that one movie. I may watch 1 movie every other month.

    Depending on the sports you might be able to buy online subscriptions. The tennis association for example let's you buy monthly or yearly steam packages for 20/month or 130/year at tennistv.com where their coverage is better than cable. I think MLB does as well. Of course if you are a sports nut the numbers won't add up for you.

    I cut my cable TV last week because after channel surfing for 15 minutes I realize I don't watch anything. It's just a background noise machine.

  • renGek

    Also, if there is a particular cable channel you like, check their site. Chances are they have stream feeds on the site. For sports don't just rely on espn. Often I find better streams from international sources. But do out for some of the russian sites. They are mind fields of spam and malware. Lol

  • marko

    We cut the cord at least 6 years ago. Never regretted it- in fact when we stay at
    a hotel I still find nothing on cable that I can't get on Netflix.

  • e jerry powell

    I'm never at home except to sleep.

    I only really need the Internet at home, and I watch all my TV at a friend's house. I just haven't gotten off my ass to take the cable box back to TWC.

  • This was a good article. When I moved into my current apartment three years ago, I never got cable put in. I've never really missed it for all the reasons stated above, except for the first one.

    I do watch sports, mostly football, wrestling, and MMA. All of which are still easily available without a cable or satellite package. I can go out to a bar or some place like Buffalo Wild Wings with some friends to catch the Packers game, or I can watch TNA or UFC off of my laptop just as easily I could watch it courtesy of Comcast or DirecTV.

  • 2HB

    All these points are very rational. But...Sports! My husband and I are both very passionate sports fans, and in our free-wheeling childless days we loved to go to bars to catch the big games. Alas, that's not an option anymore. Also, we moved to the west coast and all our teams are across the country (and the Atlantic)! We would miss everything if we didn't have DVR. We did recently reduce the package we had, though. The Mr. is still feeling bereft without NFL Red Zone.

    But I TOTALLY get the time suck point. Why am I watching "The Long Kiss Goodnight"? Because it's on. And I kind of love it.

  • selucius

    I did this last April after considering it for quite some time. Possibly after the same article you referenced. The final nail was when my DVR cratered and would not allow me to watch the Louis C.K. special on HBO. The choice between setting up a new DVR and learning to live without one became very easy.
    Having no sports has easily been the biggest adjustment, but that also makes me more social. I'm more likely to go where other people are to watch a game.
    The DVR guilt used to be the worst! I'd have so much stuff saved up (that I kept telling myself I would eventually watch) that it was a chore to keep it clear enough for other stuff that I actually did want to watch. Also, more often than not, it would cut off the last 30-60 seconds of every show. I'm much more calm when I can watch an entire program of my choosing.
    I bought the last half-season of Breaking Bad on itunes. I'd have to skip over your reviews for a day, but by then there would be more interesting comments anyway.
    I'm borrowing HBO-Go by using a friend's password, but I would totally pay for it if HBO would just pull their heads out of their asses and offer it as a stand-alone service.
    Don't buy an HD antenna. You can build a perfectly good gray-hoverman antenna yourself with a 2x4, coat hangers, some screws, washers, and a UHF adapter. $10 max. I get crystal clear local channels in HD with mine.

  • Jon

    I did the exact same thing. me and my wife don't watch sports at all either, we have amazon prime, hulu, and netflix. plus i piggyback on my sisters HBO Go account. it's been way easier than i thought it would. it's been about 4 or 5 months now and no looking back :)

  • James

    Cord cutting comes down to how many new series you watch and if that route is cheaper than a cable subscription.

  • tracey8051

    We did that about a year ago. We have a roku and stream netflix, amazon and hulu. Plus with roku you can download tons of games. We have angry birds and pacman, which get a lot of play on the weekends. There are a few shows we miss, but not enough to go back to the high cable bills. My eight year old was at her grandma's and came home telling me our tv was better because every other show that came on over there was something she didn't really want to watch, and at our house you can pick whatever you want. I guess that says it all.

  • hindulovegod

    I did this years ago, and now use the same three services along with my parent's HBO GO account. If I want to watch sports, I go out to a bar or find a stream. The only thing I miss is Top Chef. Cable companies are the new record labels, hanging on to an outmoded business model because they never invested in innovation. Screw 'em.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    It's all about the intentional watching. I'm a dvr hoarder also (I still have 8 unwatched Vikings episodes on there) and make the mistake of thinking that watching/clearing things from dvr is some sort of accomplishment. I'll probably reduce my cable soon - get rid of all the premium channels - but I can't cut it since my roommate watches.

  • Gabs

    My only issue is sports. I moved in April and haven't had TV since then, but my Cardinals are about to make the World Series, and my Chiefs are shockingly undefeated, and I've missed almost all of it. I did try to get Dish about a month ago, but too many trees in the area block reception. But that's literally the only thing I miss.

  • Gigi Agius

    I cut the cord almost 3 years ago. No regrets.

  • I cut the cable cord when my last roommate moved out in 2006 and I've been going with broadcast and Hulu ever since. The main things I miss are sports and the non-Hulu shows but I've been happy with the decision overall. I never had HBO or the like to begin with so I guess I never knew what I was missing.

  • tmoney

    We went without cable for a year, but when we moved to Montana, we signed right back up. We did this for several reasons- 1) Football Season/ESPN (sportscenter, really), 2) The savings of getting rid of cable while keeping internet service is pretty negligible, 3) Antenna service is non-existent, 4) Our internet connection is slower than molasses, and streaming things at prime-time is not worth the frustration.

  • Michelle

    This. Yes. We gave up cable when we bought our house, which is just over 3 years ago, and I don't regret it at all. I still get to watch things mindlessly when I'm cleaning if I want, thanks to Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, and it's also given me the ability to decide if I *really* want to a watch a show or if I'm just watching 'cause the TV is already on and that's how they get you.

  • Guest

    This makes me so happy, because everything you say is exactly my life. I haven't had cable in over three years and I have never missed it. We have Apple TV and the only downside is that to watch Prime on the TV set, we have to connect a laptop, which is super easy to do.

    The one issue is that my boyfriend loves soccer and we have no way to currently watch the World Cup qualifying matches on ESPN. But we have friends with cable who will let us crash when the World Cup or Euro championship is on.

  • renGek

    Better yet, don't limit yourself you US broadcasters. For sports like soccer or tennis you are much better off going overseas. I usually get a feed from euroSports or the bbc for tennis because American coverage stinks. European feeds sometimes have zero commercials on top of that.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the advice. I'll look into it!

  • John W

    If it weren't for sports I'd be in almost the exact same situation.

    If the NFL goes to an 18 game schedule or expand the playoffs that may be my signal to cut the chord.

  • My solution to the problem with missing games is the local bar down the street. I don't know if I'm actually saving money given my expensive beer tastes but watching hockey in a bar with other hockey fans is a lot more fun than watching it solo.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    However, some of us aren't American and can't stream ANY of the shows from Hulu or Amazon Prime or from the network websites because y'all Canadiancist. Which is why I hate you all.

  • Hey, if you lived in a civilized country, shit like that wouldn't happen. Way I see it, you've really only got yourself to blame here.

  • emmalita

    I've been without cable OR network tv for a year. There is very little I cant get through Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. It makes me more thoughtful about what I watch. I do miss the mindless convenience, but the extra money in my pocket makes up for it.

  • Obst N. Gemuse

    The thing I don't get is what about the resulting massive upswing in internet usage? We've got a monthly limit on our Verizon Wireless phone/internet. And we found out the hard way that watching just one streaming Netflix movie results in overages for the month.

    How do you get around that and not end up spending a lot more money? It just doesn't make sense to me. Opting for a much larger monthly data limit seems just as expensive as our DirecTV bil..

  • renGek

    Well you can't stream from your cell plan because of bandwidth limits as you said. You will have to rely on your home Internet and wifi. It may still be an issue if you are in a household of heavy HD steamers depending on the limits your Internet providers places on you which is usually 100 to 250 gigs. Not really a lot for a home of 4.

  • PerpetualIntern

    You may need to change your plan. We have a Verizon internet plan, and its a flat fee every month. And we stream HuluPlus and Netflix all the time.

  • Modernlove

    My husband and I are actually in the process of doing this right now. We bought Apple TV last weekend and have challenged ourselves to not use the DVR/cable box for at least a week. (I admit we broke our own rule for Fast 'n Loud on Monday.) I really like this so far, I like watching TV at my own pace and not having to worry about things being deleted from the DVR for space before I can see them. The combination of Netflix and HuluPlus means we have almost everything we want right there. I'm a little sad about the sucky CBS selection on HuluPlus, and the lack of football choices. We might invest in an antenna for that. This is probably one of our better, and more money-saving, decisions.

  • JJPP

    When I cut the cord I also bought a cheap ($15?) TV antenna, so I still get NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC, CW, ION, and PBS. It probably depends on your area (I'm in NYC), but for me it works really well! I do have to retrain myself to actually pay attention to when shows air, since with a DVR I had no concept of that.

    Also, if I miss something the day it airs, I can often catch it on the network's website a day to a week later. I tried Hulu Plus for a bit to see if it was worth it, but there was very little that I wanted to see that I couldn't already watch on Netflix or Fox.com, CW.com, etc.

    I don't miss cable at all. And I definitely don't miss paying $89 a month just to fill up my DVR.

  • sjfromsj

    That's exactly what my parents have. They are more than content.

  • JJ

    I ditched cable for all those reasons as well but also because of the glut of horrible programming. Nothing made that huge monthly bill seem more asinine than browsing page after page of shows I would never even pause to look at, let alone watch.

    A la carte subscription services would be great (for viewers), but cable companies claim that they aren't profitable or viable. I have to imagine that's because those pick-and-choose options would mainly be driven by hit shows like Game of Thrones, Homeland, etc. and would therefore drop off if programming suffered. Of course, they are also weighing that against the current model/resident elephant in the room: online piracy.

  • the "time-suck" aspect is why i gave cable the heave-ho a few years ago. it also helps that in the last ten years i've pretty much given up on serialized tv in general (though i'm willing to get into a show after it concludes its run if the consensus is that it's worth watching).

  • sjfromsj

    I didn't grow up with cable, and my parents still don't have it. During the time in my adult life that I have lived with my parents (a couple years in college and up to 6-month stretches between campaign jobs), I rarely watched TV between there being almost nothing interesting to watch all day on network and the fact that I didn't have a TV in my room. Those were probably my most productive times in life. Living away from my parents with cable access in my bedroom has turned me into a lazy motherfucker. There is just always something stupid to watch (HGTV is my kryptonite). I'm looking to move into a place completely on my own in the coming months, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether I will get a cable package or just internet. This piece reminded me why I've done okay without cable before, and I think it's something I could enjoy on my own.

  • Lynn

    I think you should go cable free. Tv definitely makes me lazy and I'm not even watching things I'm all that into , I just constantly have it on in the background.

  • PDamian

    I've been thinking about cutting the cable cord for ages, and the only reason I haven't is that I don't think I can live without Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. I know Breaking Bad is over, but what do you do about series in progress that show no signs of stopping for a couple of years at least?

  • renGek

    Google play and I think Netflix recently added game of thrones to their service.

  • Guest

    I end up having to buy Walking Dead/Mad Men/Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones on iTunes or Amazon after the fact. It sucks, but when the AMC shows are airing it's only a one-day delay. The HBO thing is trickier, but then, you can watch the entire show and not wait weeks in between.

  • Lynn

    Amazon has all seasons of justified. The past seasons are free with prime and I would guess the new ones are per episode or season. I'm behind so it works out well for me. Same for walking dead and mad men. I believe even Netflix offers all but the current seasons too.

  • A Bounced Czech

    I just cut the cord a few months ago, and I had the same worries / problems. I use a friend's HBO Go account to watch everything on HBO, and my parents Dish Network Dish Anywhere website to watch Walking Dead. I missed the end of Breaking Bad, but I'm waiting for it to come on Netflix.

    The only problem I've found is FX. I can't watch new episodes of Sons of Anarchy, The League, or It's Always Sunny, and I've tried a few sites that will stream them, but there's way too much lag. I've bought a couple of episodes, but after getting rid of my $150 a month cable bill, it feels weird paying for TV. They used to stream their shows on their websites or on Hulu, but they've stopped doing that, which really pisses me off.

  • I'm behind a couple of seasons on Justified because it went off Hulu. I'm lucky in that my friends DVR the FX comedies but I couldn't get them into the dramas.

  • I tried that rationalization too, but all 3 of those series will probably cost less than $100 for their complete seasons on Amazon or Itunes in HD. It's still money ahead when it comes down to it. My problem is sports. I like to watch hockey and football so that is a problem and I tried the antenna option and it failed miserably.

  • do it

    you watch everything at http://projectfree.tv/ and get an apple tv.
    and you can use someone else's password for things like HBOGO and Watch ESPN

  • Fredo

    We don't watch sports.

    I'd call you some sort of anti-American Commie, but even they watched sports.

  • Misomaniac

    Yep.

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