Why I Can’t Break Up With Cable/Sat TV (yet) but it’s still doomed

kids_health_tvThere are a lot of monthly bills I really don’t like paying, where I know I’m not really getting my money’s worth. My iPhone bill is in that category ($30/mo for data alone!) But today, I’m going to talk about the Cable bill and, in my case, the DirecTV Satellite TV bill – yes, I have both. I pay about $1,800/yr to DirecTV and I pay another $800/yr to Comcast. $2,600 per year.

Needless to say, I grew up in a TV generation. My wife is even worse. The whole reason we have BOTH Cable and Satellite TV is because the cable lets us hook up the “extra” TVs in spare rooms and such around the house without a cable or satellite box. We use DirecTV in the three “main” TV rooms. We have TVs everywhere – it is so 1992 around here.

So that makes me odd (I’m sure you’re surprised) and not exactly a model use case, where the real reason that I continue to just grin and bear it is laziness and habit. But even without these lame excuses, I’ve looked at some of the reasons why it’s harder to quit than I’d like and I think some of these may apply more generally.

Issue 1: The Social Side of TV

One of the positives of TV, especially TV series, is sharing with friends – Laughing together about the latest 30 Rock etc. You lose this if you haven’t seen the program yet because it hasn’t come out on DVD yet. One of the problems with using the Internet or VOD, or worse, Netflix, to watch TV series shows is that you won’t see the show until it’s “old news” – you miss out on that sharing experience while it’s “new” and “hot”.

I think this is a much bigger deal and I have not seen it come up much in the “dump cable” discussions.

Issue 2: HD

idiocracy-tv-dvd11We all have paid for that fancy HD TV – it would be nice to watch HD content on it. Today, there is barely SD content on the Internet or in streaming video.  And HD uses a lot of bandwidth, so one needs a good pipe and good pipe provider to get HD over the Internet. That’s even worse if there are people watching different shows on multiple TVs.

Issue 3: User Interface

Super-Sized TV RemoteInternet TV is still too clunky and difficult to use. It’s getting better, but it’s not there yet. You can’t get enough content in one place with one interface (no matter what the marketers tell you). A mouse and a keyboard are still the only practical answer if you want to really get to the best content, and a mouse and a keyboard are simply not the ideal TV watching tools. Nobody has a good TV-simple one-thumb remote interface yet. This will be a big factor in crossing the chasm to mass adoption.

Some Good News

There are some areas where things have really improved in recent years.  One is sports. There is a lot of sports TV available on-line. These guys know where the money is and I think they are really leading things (well, after porn that is).

Another is Live TV News. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, pretty much all the local channels have live feeds of their main news broadcasts. I suspect this is true in most reasonably sized markets.  And of course, you can also get out-of-area “local” news, which is something you can’t get with Cable TV.

I’m so locked into the old way that I personally may never fully drop Cable/Sat TV – but I can see how close this is to bursting wide open. What happens to Comcast, DirecTV and DISH etc. in this scenario?

4 comments for “Why I Can’t Break Up With Cable/Sat TV (yet) but it’s still doomed

  1. Interesting post – thank you.

    I see you mentioned Netflix not being an option for some of these TV needs. I think I agree with you based on the premise of the post.

    However, I am curious if you or any of your readers have tried the “Instant” viewers for Netflix? I bought the one from Roku for about $100 2-3 months ago. I have been amazed at how much my wife and I use the thing and how well it actually works. (Being in the computer field, a $100 box that actually does what it is supposed to do AND is easy to setup seems odd to me. Roku seems to have figued this out…)

    The latest upgrade has opened up some other possibilities too. However, many of those possibilities are not that great in my experience so far.. We have not tried Amazon’s service yet on the box but will soon. I have been surprised by how much variety is available from Netflix. Semi-current to old TV and movies (1-5 years old, let’s say), really old stuff that we both enjoy (10-20+ years old), foreign films, documentaries, etc. If someone has an open mind, I think the Netflix service with the instant option (for free by the way) is great and will fill a lot of hours of viewing time.

    I better end this really long post.

    PS- Have you considered hooking up the non-DirecTV TV’s in your house to an antenna? Just wondering if you ruled that out for some reason.

  2. I’m with you – Something big needs to happen before I get rid of my Comcast HD service. I’ve tried HULU and some of the other online providers of service, but it’s just not the same as sitting in front of my 42″ HD set with all of the “live” options in front of me. During sporting events I’ll often log on to see what additional information is available to me, but online is never primary.

    I agree with you though that we are nearing that point where many of us will make this jump just as many of us have made the jump from a land line to just wireless phone service for our homes. Will it take another company to fuse this gap, or will one of the big guys step up to the plate?

  3. @Jonathan I should have mentioned that, unfortunately, I can’t get over-the-air signals here, or at least not very well. Otherwise, your suggestion of an antenna would be perfect. I wish I could do that.

    And yes, I use Netflix “instant” and I agree that it’s pretty good. I wish it had more content. It seems like only about 30% of things I want are available “instantly” – and there’s no HD yet, I don’t think.

  4. I probably should have noted in the original post that I do use “Internet TV” today, using an Apple Mac Mini – I use Hulu, Boxee, Netflix, iTunes, and independent web sites directly in cases where that’s the only (legit) place to get the content.

    That brings up a separate but somewhat related topic. As with Music, the harder the studios make it to get to the “legit” versions of content, it makes the “illegitimate” versions easier by contrast, driving even people that would be willing to pay for the content to the “illegitimate” content. You’d think they would have learned that lesson with CDs but it’s not clear they have.

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