Money Matters - Simplified

Why I Cut the Cord on Cable TV

 I finally decided to hold my nose and take the plunge -- bye-bye cable TV and landline phone, hello modern communications. And I picked a heck of an interesting time to do it.

 

 A solid single

As of Monday morning, my household is no longer tethered to Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) subsidiary Bright House Networks. We ditched our Verizon (NYSE: VZ) FiOS fiber optics over the summer, but now we're back -- this time, without the triple-play account. A halfway decent data connection is all you need to stay sated in the increasingly digital infotainment world, so that's all I'm willing to pay for.

The catalyst
My wife and I have found ourselves channel-surfing a lot lately. There's never anything to watch when you have the time to spare; Bright House's on-demand offerings are almost offensively limited (and badly organized); and even the DVR is no help unless you take the time to schedule some good recordings. Rather than paying an obscene pile of cash to the cable company for the pleasure of wearing out my "Channel Up" button, I'm going cold turkey right before Thanksgiving.

For similar reasons, the landline phone service is also a goner. I'm paying cold, hard cash for this modest Android phone, and it's always lying around my desk to charge anyway. What's the point of paying for what's effectively a second line? Sure, I'm running a home-based business for this writing gig, but my contacts will never know the difference.

That's the backstory. What sent me over the top was a miserable couple of weeks in which my cable modem would inexplicably lose its connection to Bright House; the router in my closet dropped dead for no reason whatsoever; and Bright House inflicted an apparently planned but never disclosed multihour outage last week in the middle of what I consider to be working hours. None of this ever happened with Verizon, whose Internet plans are both faster and cheaper anyway. All in all, now seemed like the perfect time to ditch cable.

It just might be a lunatic you're looking for
You may be right -- I may be crazy. But at the very least, I'm not alone.

The cable companies have been bleeding customers to their satellite rivals and to IPTV providers such as Verizon for some time. The last two quarters marked an inflection point in which the satellite and IPTV gains didn't make up for the cable losses. In short, more than 200,000 consumers actually did what I'm doing in the second quarter of 2010.

The broadcast guys like to chalk this up to a weak economy, but that's only part of the story. I know better because I'm officially a part of the statistics. At long last, you can fulfill your media needs without a broadcast schedule.

We don't want to!
The cable and satellite industries are getting dragged into the new era kicking and screaming. When you can't control the programming schedule, you can't guarantee eyeballs in front of your advertising. Down that road lies lower sales, weaker margins, and general madness. That's why the networks are making it so hard for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) to sign content deals for its Google TV platform, for example.

That plus the high cost of the first wave of Google TV hardware makes Google TV unsuitable for my cable-replacement needs. That's too bad, because this solution could be a real winner -- if the content providers would get on board.

Needs, wants, preferences
My requirements for living room hardware are really pretty simple:

  • Wi-Fi connectivity to hook into my wireless home network.
  • The ability to feed a signal to my stable of mostly older TV sets, without expensive adapters.
  • Provide streaming video from Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX), the option to use Hulu Plus(which launched over the weekend), and a direct hookup to the Pandora music service.
  • Feed movies, photo albums, and music off the networked storage in my closet.

I gave Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and its Apple TV box a look, but it fell down on the connection stage. I'm not going to buy an HDMI-to-component adapter that costs more than the Apple TV itself, and I don't have my media organized in an iTunes library anyways. Also, I don't have any iPhones or iPads available for streaming stuff to my TV. Apple's closed ecosystembackfires when the potential customer isn't locked in properly, although I'm sure it's nice if you're already indoctrinated.

But I still have a staggering amount of choice available that meets all of my criteria. Since I'm also a cheapskate at heart who believes that Blu-ray discs are destined to become a very short footnote in entertainment history, about a million suitable Blu-ray players are out. Connected media players by Seagate Technology (Nasdaq: STX) and Western Digital(NYSE: WDC) would fit the bill perfectly if it weren't for that "cheapskate" quirk. So I'm going with a good old Roku box for each TV set to handle all my streaming needs -- including Hulu Plus and (with a quick, free, and legal all-software hack) the local network streaming I crave.

Wave goodbye, wish me well -- you gotta let me go
I'm sure there will be trouble along the way, but I'm not turning back to the regimented channel lineups. Maybe Google TV will someday become the ideal digital media platform by landing a few juicy content deals. Maybe Apple will, if it opens up beyond the iTunes ecosystem. Or perhaps it'll be someone else. But cord-cutting is here, it's real, and I'm doing it myself.

In fact, I snipped the cord yesterday morning, and I haven't missed it yet.

© 2010 UCLICK L.L.C.