We have been cable package free for 5 years now, and with a huge merger of Charter and Time Warner happening this year(1), it seems even more important for consumers to make informed choices and to break free of the huge monopolies that offer our entertainment packages.
TV broadcast started in the US in 1929 as an antenna broadcast in New York City and quickly spread across the country. TV originally used radio’s model of selling ad space to generate revenue, a business model that continues today. Now that the internet is nearly ubiquitous across America, it has opened the door for streaming media content and offers a wide variety of customizable entertainment, untold volumes of which are free with an internet connection.
Do you remember Blockbuster? Companies like Netflix were the death knell of walk-in video stores. Our local video rental store closed up shop last year, a rare hold out in an almost defunct delivery system. The ability to watch what you want, when you want it continues to drive consumer choices and cable companies are being forced to adapt their own streaming packages and offerings.
The only challenge remaining in terms of cost and choice is sports. There are MLB and MLS subscription packages, but college football and NFL remain some of the priciest streaming options. This should tell us something about what generates revenue for cable companies.
As a new customer or existing customer expanding service, I can get a cable and internet package for $80/month for a year (maybe two if I’m lucky). This will offer me most of the channels I want, but does not include a Netflix subscription, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, all things I’ve become used to, and Netflix in particular is offering new content that is frankly amazing: House of Cards, Daredevil, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Orange is the New Black, and much much more. Amazon’s original content Man in the High Castle was fantastic, and I highly recommend James Corden in the Hulu original The Wrong Mans.
And on these services, I can usually find most of the same content that a cable package offers, albeit sometimes I have to wait up to a year to see the last season. Right now, I’m watching the CBS show Supergirl on Netflix. In October it transitions to the CW which used to rebroadcast same season shows on Hulu, but now has a deal with Netflix and its own app. CBS is one of the few major networks that doesn’t rebroadcast it’s shows on Hulu. They have their own streaming service at $6/month.
So how do I get sports? A good old fashioned roof-mounted antenna. Ironically, when we moved in to my wife’s grandparents old house, there was a pole mounted antenna on the back of the house that I never got around to using, wouldn’t have known how, and let a friend dismantle and take away. This was one day a few years before I realized that free HD TV was just a relatively small investment away. We live about 60 miles away from a major metropolitan area and about the same distance from the major network affiliates there that broadcast from an antenna.
We are in what to antennae afficionados is called the deep fringe. So I did my research on TV Fool, Antenna Theory, and some other sites and figured out the different kinds of antennas, and ordered one on Amazon (because I get free 2-day shipping with Prime), and after some DIY installation, I now get about a dozen channels I want and a dozen I don’t in clear HD, including ABC, PBS, NBC, CBS, and the CW. FOX is unfortunately the only channel I can’t get to come in well. I put in about $150 in hard cost for antenna, cable, and mounting, some manual labor and time, but have no additional cost for a cable subscription package.
I spend about an additional $30/month for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, but they offer me so much more choice and content and put me in control of my entertainment. When I finally left the cable subscription, I was paying over twice what I’m paying now. It offers me portability and access from multiple devices and locations as well.
My Roku box is as old as my cord cutting and has yet to completely fail me, but that investment as well was relatively small. The USB version Roku stick can be purchased for around $30, with the high end box being just over $100 and a range of options in-between which offers more free content than can ever be consumed.
Most of my entertainment requires internet which I pay for currently, but with city-wide wifi gaining popularity there may come a day when the internet is truly free. Until that time, let’s fight and work hard to find ways to stick it to the man by taking control of our entertainment choices. Entertainment may be a standard of living, but we are not entitled to it and neither are the big cable companies and major networks entitled to our money.