A year without cable and I’m still alive

We gave up our TimeWarner Cable addiction here over a year ago. We kept the phone for a few months, but eventually dropped that and ported the number to Google Voice. The only product we buy from TWC now is high-speed internet. Without it, we would in the darkness.

Quitting cable wasn’t something we came to quickly, but it something we’re happy we did.

With two young kids and our own screen time habits, we were average consumers. Perhaps we were even less than average because we only have two televisions, and the second one was used only occasionally. Our TimeWarner DVR was filled with shows we watched regularly, and we scheduled time to watch our favorites on cable (or satellite)-only channels.

We had to consider this decision for awhile. My wife and I asked ourselves and each other whether we wanted to live without certain shows. She had her favorites. I had mine. We shared a few, too. We eventually answered the question with a question: Why not try it?

The decision was forced on us a bit. We were happy with the service we were receiving from TimeWarner. It was clear and consistent. But it became too expensive. For three bundled services it was over $170/month. This wasn’t question of value for us, either. It was a question of affordability. On top of all the other monthly utility bills, this was the one we could “live” without. We couldn’t maintain a household without electricity, gas, or water.

Before giving it all up, we also tried a few different options. We priced out the dish, and it wasn’t really any different. Their pricing deals were pretty much the same. Our local phone company had also just started offering its own “cable” service, but it was priced the same. I also called TimeWarner and asked for a reduction in price. I told them I couldn’t afford it anymore and I would have to cancel. That was when I found out I was locked in at that price until the next price increase. Meanwhile, new customers were being enticed to sign up for TWC with great yearlong introductory prices like all three services for just $99/month. That was a difference of over $70 a month, and I couldn’t even get a reduction in price of $20 or $30 a month.

roku boxSo, we paid the early termination fee of something like $150, bought a Roku and an antenna, and signed up for Netflix and Hulu.

And we haven’t looked back.

It took some getting used to, especially since we gave up the DVR. We had to go back to the “old” days before DVR (I think that was 2004) of watching TV shows when they aired. We quickly found out that many of broadcast shows we watched were available via Hulu Plus or the networks’ own websites for later viewing anyway. Eventually, like everything else, we settled into a new routine. Dialing up Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon to watch a show or movie became the new norm.

The biggest missing piece has been live sports on ESPN or other cable networks. Luckily, MLS, MLB, NBA, and NHL all sell some form of subscription streaming service per season. I think we could even buy British Premier League if we wanted. Some of the college conferences also sell streaming subscriptions. I believe that this will be resolved in the next couple of years. These content providers will have two converging reasons. The first is the contract disputes with the companies that own the bandwidth such as cable and satellite. Negotiating contracts with each company is always a counterproductive process and it only benefits the delivery service, not the creator. The second is the increasing number of people who are turning to streaming video, live or recorded. I might be a pioneer in dumping cable, but I’m not alone.

The biggest hole in the content we stream is from CBS. The broadcast network’s CEO, Les Moonves, has notably avoided the streaming market. There are reports he and the late Steve Jobs talked about a deal, but it never materialized. That’s a shame. NBC puts a decent amount of its broadcast content on Hulu Plus, but limits it to web-based streaming only which means those of us who stream through a Roku, game console, or web-enabled television or DVD/Blu-Ray player are exempt. Fox, by far, has embraced the streaming environment by making most of its shows available on all devices.

Before we quit cable, I had apps on my iPad for major cable networks like ESPN, but those apps went dark as soon as we cancelled our cable television. This was a big disappointment. We pay $42 month for broadband Internet from TimeWarner Cable. I would pay $100/month if it meant I could stream just the channels I want to my television.

Despite that, I don’t lack content. I live in a constant on-demand video state, and I like it. My wife likes it. And my kids like it. In fact, I see more of what interests me now than ever before. For me, at least, I feel like I’m a smarter television watcher.

No More TimeWarner Cable Here

It’s official. We quit cable. TimeWarner Cable is no longer showing in our home theater (read: family room). 

We still have our internet and landline through TWC, but the phone may be gone soon, too. Before we can start saving money, though, we have to pay their early termination fee, of course.

The decision wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. At first, we thought we could just cut the line and be done, but there were some roadblocks. The first thing we encountered was the early termination fee. This was news to us, too.

Apparently, two years ago when we added phone and internet to our television package, we were put on a contract similar to the ones you sign up for with cell phones. This wasn’t made clear to us, though. There was no mention of an early termination fee at the time. Earlier this year we were notified that our preferred rate was coming to an end, but again the information we received didn’t say that we would be penalized for canceling. We deliberately did nothing, because our opinion was to let our contract expire and make a choice later. That was a bad choice, but not an informed one.

The first time we tried to cancel, we ran into the ETF, and at approximately $135 we had to consider whether it was worth it. We tried to negotiate with TimeWarner Cable over the phone to get it reduced or removed. For over an hour. I talked to four different people in four different departments. Each time I had to verify my information. You know, name, address, phone number, last four of Social, etc. I didn’t even want to talk to the fourth person, but got transfered there after being put on hold while the customer service person tried to find the answer to one of my questions. This fourth person was so condescending and rude when I asked to be transferred back and I was so tired that I just hung up. Also, one of the people I talked to put me through a survey to see if I wanted to purchase more television services!

Staying the course to quit cable was going to be tough, apparently. We had to do some research and be willing to adjust our watching habits. No more live TV (unless we bought an antenna), and a lot of our shows would be unavailable to us. But when we weighed the cost of the television service against the cost of our time actually sitting in front of the television. Two questions occurred to me: What else could I be doing with the time I’m spending in front of the television? and What specific programming do I want to spend my money on?

We were paying about $175 a month for three services, two boxes, one DVR, digital/HD, and the Disney on Demand channel. We also were already Netflix streaming customers at another $8 a month.

There are some alternatives out there. The biggest players include AppleTV, GoogleTV, Roku, and Boxee. All offer TV over IP, or internet-streamed video. It is all on-demand. They key differences come in the subscriber services and hardware offered. Honestly, none lives up to the hype, but I am hopeful that the number of streaming services improves. We chose Roku based on the number of subscription services offered and price. We were able to buy a box about the size of a deck of playing cards for $79. It has two cords: power and HDMI. It sits inconspicuously behind my TV and gives a great HD picture. It’s important to note that this is just for one TV, though.

Now we have to consider getting an antenna for broadcast channels. This could cost between $40 and $100. On the high end, that would mean our capital outlay for this venture is between about $120 and $200 with taxes. After all of the adjustments to our TimeWarner bill shake out – prorated television services and early termination fee – we will need to take account of how long it takes us to recover our equipment costs. We also have to be careful what subscription streaming services we subscribe to. We don’t want to sign up for too many $8 and $10 monthly services to add up to the cost of cable in the first place.

Ultimately, it comes down to preference. We decided we were tired of paying for a television service that did not fit our household. We could enjoy using our television in a new way, deliberately instead of passively. Who knows, maybe we will return to cable. But we are off for now.