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A Pajiba Special Report: Should You Give Up Cable Television?

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | January 22, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | January 22, 2010 |

Cable television is expensive, and the rates continue to rise. For a lot of folks, cable television costs as much or more than your average electric bill. I’m a DirectTV subscriber, and I believe I pay somewhere in the range of $130 a month, a price that includes HBO and Showtime plus the leasing charges for a couple of HD DVRs (honestly, why can’t we just buy the HD DVRs, instead of paying a monthly fee to use them? ). I watch a lot of television, though — it’s part of the job description, but even I often wonder if there’s a less expensive (and legal) way to get the same amount of television for a lower price.

A few weeks ago, Time Warner nearly lost Fox when the network asked the cable provider to pony up some extra fees for the rights to broadcast the station. This will probably be a future trend, and why shouldn’t it be? Cable channels not only get advertising revenue, but an additional revenue stream from cable providers. Networks, especially now that DVRs are squeezing out advertising revenue, ought to be afforded that same income stream. Additional revenue, one would imagine, would help the networks pay for higher-quality programming.

At any rate, I suspect at some point — particularly now that so many people are purchasing television shows on iTunes and watching streaming video on sites like Hulu — that the model will move eventually toward a la carte, which is something we’re all clamoring for. Why should we pay for 115 cable channels when we only watch ten of them? And once our televisions and our computer monitors are more or less merged into one Internet Television, I get the sense that we’ll actually be able to subscribe to specific channels, including the networks, for an a la carte fee.

But until then, we’re stuck with the existing model. But how do we beat the system? Most of the younger generation and a lot of those older have already figured this out, but for others, it helps to see the evidence in print. So, for my own edification and to illustrate a point, I thought I’d try a math experiment.

Is cable television worth what I’m paying for it?

Currently, I believe, you can watch any network television program you want, for free, online, or you can pony up somewhere on average of $30 (for a 10 - 13 episode season) or $60 (for a 20 to 24 episode season) on iTunes. Now, let’s assume that the average television viewer’s cable bill is $100 a month, or $1200 a year. Let’s also assume that you don’t watch sports (a big assumption for many of you).

Now, what I want to learn from this experiment is, for me (which you can extrapolate for your own television-watching situation), would it be more cost effective to subscribe to cable in its current incarnation or purchase television programs on iTunes. At the outset, I assume, for me, that it will be less expensive to subscribe to cable, but I welcome all of you to do your own math and decide which format is cheaper based on what shows you watch.

A caveat: I’m only including shows that I’d be willing to pay for, and not those that I watch because they’re free. I’m also only including shows currently on the air (or in between seasons). And let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that I don’t want to watch streaming commercials, so I’d prefer to purchase the program on iTunes.

Let’s break this down by network:

NBC: “Chuck” ($60), “Friday Night Lights” ($30), “The Office,” ($60), “Community” ($60), “30 Rock” ($60)
Total Costs: $270

ABC: “Modern Family” ($60), “Scrubs” ($30), “Better off Ted” ($30), “Castle” ($60).
Total Costs: $180

CBS: “The Good Wife” ($60), “The Amazing Race” ($60), “Survivor” ($60).
Total Costs: $180

Fox: Nothing.

CW: Nothing

F/X: “Damages” ($30), “Sons of Anarchy” ($30),
Total Costs: $60

Bravo: “Top Chef” ($30)
Total Costs: $30

HBO: Eastbound and Down” ($30), “Big Love” ($30)
Total Costs: $60

Showtime: “Dexter” ($30)
Total Costs: $30

TNT: Nothing

TBS: Nothing

The USA Network: “Psych” ($30), “Burn Notice” ($30)
Total Costs: $60

AMC: “Mad Men” ($30), “Breaking Bad” ($30)
Total Costs: $60

Total Television Watching Costs: $930

Wow. That is not what I’d have imagined, and it’s actually fairly telling. If I purchased all the shows that I regularly watch, I’d only spend $930, which is $600 less than I normally spend per year for cable. And, for $600 less, I’d have complete portability — I could watch the show on my iPhone, on my desktop, or on my laptop. (Again: This doesn’t, of course, take into account late night shows or sporting events, which I also watch).

Now, if I decided that I wanted to watch streaming television, in which case all the network primetime and late-night programming is free, I’d only be paying roughly $270 a year to watch everything I currently watch (or at least, the important shows). For me, that’s a total savings of around $1200 a year.

In essence, what this experiment is telling me is that I should give up cable television.

Will I? Well, no. I need it for my job. But what about you? Have you stopped and done a cost analysis of your television watching to see what’s more inexpensive? If you could save $400 or $500 or even $1000 a year, would you give up the ability basically to flip through channels to watch shows you’re not that invested in? You’d not only be paying significantly less money, but you’d force yourself to give up watching a lot of unnecessary television. Cable television — and the thousands of hours of filler programming — is creating coach potatoes out of so many of us, and we’re paying for that right.

Just think, folks. You don’t even have to give up your fancy new 42-inch HD television. You can buy a simple cable (S-Video, VGA, HDMI, DVI, depending on your computer or television) and watch those shows on your big-screen TeeVee. Most of the programs are already in HD, too, so you won’t even be giving up that. Moreover, you won’t need to buy our lease a DVR because you can watch television programs on your computer at any time (with the ability to pause) — most network shows are available for up to the last two to five weeks of episodes (in some cases, even more), and if you’re not watching a show within the first five weeks of its air date, then maybe you’re not that invested in it, after all.

Lookit: I’m not telling most of you anything you don’t already know, but I know some of you have never stopped to do the math (I had not until today). You don’t have to be a slave to your cable provider. And the best part is: This is perfectly legal. In fact, You’d be doing even more to support your favorite shows — the streaming shows come with commercials (though, far fewer than on regular television) and, of course, they’d get a share of the money from purchase on iTunes. And if you need cable for sporting events — fuck it. Go to a bar — use that money you usually spend on cable to buy beer. Support your local watering hole instead of Comcast or Time Warner. It’s a win-win!

So, do it! Give up your cable television. You know the cable guy who never shows up on time and wastes half your day? Screw him. Those taxes and fees that cable providers add to your monthly bill? Fuck it. The countless hours you flip through channels only to settle on some shitty reality show on E! Give it up. Do you really need to see that latest Lifetime movie of the week? Read a book. Surf the web. Watch a movie. More money. More time. Less hassle.