Cutting the Cord

As of Monday, August 22nd, 2011 my wife and I are no longer cable television subscribers. For both of us this is the first time in our lifetimes that we have not had cable television in our home. While this sounds like a dramatic change in reality it will not be that much different from when we had cable.

For the last six months I have been talking about canceling cable with anyone who will listen. I spent the six months before that pondering how I would do so. Like a true geek I inundated myself with information on the topic, devising various configuration options. Not wanting to fall into analysis paralysis I pulled the trigger in April and purchased a Roku XD for $79.99.

For those unfamiliar with Roku let me provide a bit of background. Roku is a consumer electronics company which Netflix selected in 2007 to build an exclusive device for their streaming video service. Netflix then decided it would be better served to release a plethora of Netflix Ready Devices instead of offering only a single device. Undeterred Roku released their initial device as a platform making it easy for other providers to deliver content to the device. This shift was the right move for both companies as Netflix streaming is ubiquitous and Roku offers over 300 "channels." There have been several hardware iterations since the initial release, the most recent being the new Roku 2 models unveiled at the end of July.

With shiny new hardware in hand we began to stream Netflix instant videos and Pandora to our television via the Roku. This was not a huge change as previously we had both of these services available to us on our Samsung Blu-ray player. The Roku offered a better user experience so it replaced that function of the Blu-ray player, but was not yet a cable TV replacement.

In May Hulu offered a free month of Hulu Plus to anyone with a dot edu email address. A Carnegie Mellon graduate student at the time I took them up on their offer. Hulu Plus offers not just a handful of episodes but full current seasons which can be streamed to a variety of devices, my Roku included. While Hulu Plus does not feature every show we watch in prime time it covers the majority of them.

The combination of content offered from Netflix and Hulu Plus made me begin to believe it would be possible to cut the cord. But we were still missing shows which were not available on either service. Lacking services to provide access to content I began to examine what it would cost to purchase shows à la carte from Amazon Instant Video. Amazingly Amazon provided options for purchasing most of the shows missing from Hulu Plus. The cost for individual shows feels a bit overpriced but is not egregious. Amazon does offer season passes to most shows which provides a discount over the individual price.

My wife and I have different tastes in TV shows, but here's what we are watching and where are we watching it:

  • Hulu Plus
    • Castle
    • Biggest Loser
    • Cougar Town
    • Modern Family
    • 30 Rock
    • Parks and Recreation
    • Office
    • Glee
    • Secret Life of the American Teenager
    • Saturday Night Live
    • Body of Proof
  • Amazon
    • Breaking Bad
    • How I Met Your Mother
    • Mad Men
    • Psych
    • Dexter
    • The Killing
    • The Walking Dead
  • Hulu Web
    • Covert Affairs
    • White Collar
    • Burn Notice
    • Community
  • Web
    • Gossip Girl
    • Project Runway
Of the shows we "care" about only The Middle and The Big Bang Theory are not available. Which is ironic because The Middle is about a family who would never think of streaming their television content and The Big Bang Theory is about geeks who most certainly would.

With entertainment television mostly covered sports are the only piece missing. I do not watch a lot of sports, but do closely follow Lobo Men's Basketball. Sadly The Mountain does not provide a streaming option so cutting the cord will cost me my ability to watch Lobo games at home. I have already had several invites to watch games at friends houses, can turn on the radio and there are always sports bars. Next summer I will have to determine if there is a way to easily stream the Tour de France. Beyond cycling and Lobo basketball-- ESPN3 HD content can be streamed via my Xbox Live subscription. If I cared to pay for MLB, UFC or the NHL I could stream them to the Roku. If I owned a PlayStation 3 I could subscribe and then stream the NFL Ticket. Point is if sports are your thing there are options though I am finding for college sports they might be a bit more limited.

So what's the bottom line? How much is this shift saving me? Let me break things down:

Service Monthly Cost
Hulu Plus $7.99
Pandora One $3.00
Netflix Streaming $8.55
Amazon Instant Video $30.00 est.
Xbox Live $9.99

I am not convinced we will be purchasing all of the shows I've listed from Amazon Instant Video so the $30.00 estimate should go way down. Jamie and I just had twin girls so we do not have the time for television that we used to. My guess is that because of our limited time available, back seasons of shows we have not seen will suffice to keep us entertained. Unless we really need to see a show near when it aired, I can see us waiting for the price to go down or become available on Hulu or Netflix. Additionally, I am not convinced I need ESPN3 or that I will have time to enjoy Xbox Live so we might be eliminating that cost as well.

Bottom line we were paying a little over $100 a month for cable television. With a full package of Amazon Streaming and Xbox Live our monthly cost would be $59.53. Cut Xbox Live or a percentage of the shows we are willing to pay Amazon for and that number drops perceptibly. My guess is our actual monthly total for television entertainment will be closer to $30 or $40.

The simple fact that I am in control of what shows I want to pay for, rather than having them prescribed to me as a bundle from my cable provider is what I am most excited about. If a show becomes uninteresting I stop paying for it immediately saving not only money but time.


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