Thursday, May 24, 2012

Life without cable TV, Day 4 AKA Get rid of your cable: A case in support

Well, the blog post title might be a little misleading, as we actually have not had cable TeeVee (specifically, Comcast) since 2008.  Instead, the HillcrestBlog family recently ended a four-year run of being tethered to satellite TeeVee (two years with Dish Network and then the last two years with Direct TV).  Now, we find ourselves on Day 4 of being off the subscription TeeVee grid, so-to-speak.  Instead, we have chosen to get our TeeVee over the airwaves, just like in the Olden Days before cable entered the picture in the early 1980's, which, along with the cost of $5.99 HD antennae, is free.  We plan on supplementing this with TV shows we buy and download from iTunes, movies and shows we stream from Netflix through our Roku player, and shows we stream directly from other internet sources.  Our intent with this plan is twofold: 1) to save money on entertainment costs, and, to a lesser degree 2) to free ourselves as much as possible from the corporate media, advertising, and marketing that seems to hit you nonstop through conventional TeeVee viewing.

I have not yet really put pen to paper regarding any (if any) monetary savings, so I'm going to use this blog post to do just that.  Also, I'll hopefully show you, dear reader, how this is not only monetarily advantageous, but also very "doable" in the sense that one really doesn't need cable or satellite TeeVee to still watch whatever shows you want to watch.

First things first, though.  You may ask if, after four days, I miss my satellite TeeVee.  Have I suffered any separation anxiety?  The answer is an emphatic no.  I have not missed it, not one bit.

OK, so, let's tackle dollars and cents first.  Here's what the following providers cost, from initial start up through two years of service.  I'll use each service's lowest, basic cable package, with no extras except for HBO (I mean, you gotta watch Game of Thrones somehow, right?), along with one DVR receiver.  Also, I will opt to not pay for HD service.

Direct TV - The current deal shows the first year's monthly cost at $52.00 per month.  However, in month thirteen it jacks up to $67.00 per month.  Therefore, over the course of two years, the subscription alone cost $1,428.00.  Taxes are relatively negligible at $2.40 per month (according to my last Direct TV statement), but that is still $57.60 over the course of twenty-four months.  So, let's say that the twenty-four month life of a Direct TV contract is $1,485.00.

Dish Network -  This current deal, with similar parameters to the one I entered for Direct TV, comes to $44.89 for the first twelve months and then $49.89 after that, for a twenty-four month total (including taxes) of $1,137.36.

Comcast - The basic Comcast deal starts at $61.93 per month for the first 12 months.  However, after  twelve months, that rates jacks up a whole $29.00 to around $90.00 per month.  So if you get Comcast service, you're looking at a 24-month nut of around $1,820.00.  Comcast really is a terrible, terrible company.

Now, for the HillcrestBlog Household setup.  I'll do my best to keep this as simple as possible, with explanations for what each service provides as well as respective costs.

One note:  It obviously does costs $$ for a laptop computer, which is a linchpin of this arrangement, but I am not including that costs on the bottom line since we already have a couple of laptops already and would have them regardless.  Same with our TeeVee set and wireless internet.  However, I am including the cost of a Roku player, even though I got mine as a gift this last Christmas, since it would not necessarily be a product an average house hold would have.

OK, so here we go:

1.  One HD antennae from Best Buy, $5.99.  This allows one to watch all network shows in HD, free of charge.  So, consider shows on NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and Fox, all available.  There also several other odd channels available for free over the airwaves, such as several religious channels, CoolTV (music videos), direct network news feeds, a channel that shows old movies and TeeVee shows, and some weather satellite and Doppler feeds. 

2.  One Netflix subscription that includes one-DVD-at-a-time and unlimited streaming of Netflix's Watch Instantly, $17.34 per month.  Netflix pretty much has seasons of every show worth watching available on DVD once they are released to the public, so as far as DVD's go, if you can turn them around quickly, the sky's the limit as to what shows you are able to watch.  Much more importantly, the Watch Instantly feature, when coupled with a Roku box, allows you to set up an Instant Queue and stream hundreds of shows (and movies) directly to your TV through a box that picks up a wi-fi signal and transmits it to your TeeVee through an HDMI input.  As an example, currently on my Instant Queue are any number of the following current shows (that update with new episodes when they become available):  Weeds, United States of Tara, Dr. Who, Raising Hope, Law and Order, Workaholics, etc.  Also, tons of older shows, of which the entire catalog is available, instantly.  Just as an example, I can watch any episode of Cheers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, Angel, Torchwood, Mad Men, Walking Dead, the Killing, Eureka, or Fraiser, with the click of a remote.  Not to mention thousands of other movies, TeeVee shows, documentaries, AND KID PROGRAMMING -- over 250 episodes of Sesame Street for example.  TONS of children's programs.  Blues Clues.  Electric Company.  Dora.  Curious George.  Yo Gabba Gabba.  If you have two children and get tired of watching the same stuff you've saved for months on the DVR, Roku is the answer to your prayers.  I could go on and on.  It really is amazing.  Basic Roku player, one-time cost of $59.99.

3.  Downloading seasons of specific shows through iTunes.  This is probably the costliest option, but one that is unavoidable if you don't want to wait for certain shows to become available through Netflix's Watch Instantly.  I'll use Mad Men as an example.  Currently, the first several seasons are available on Netflix but we really want to watch the new season now, so we have opted to go ahead and purchase and download the season through our iTunes account, even though if we were patient we could eventually watch it for free.  That being said, when it comes to certain shows, the HB Household is NOT a patient one, and we will undoubtedly download certain shows when the new season is out.  These are mostly shows that we watch on AMC (Mad Men, the Killing, Walking Dead), FX (Sunny in Philly, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, Breaking Bad), BBC (Dr. Who), and Showtime (Dexter, Weeds).  Each season of a show is around $23.00 each if you buy the cheaper SD version.  Let's be generous and say that we'll download twenty of these seasons over the course of two years.  That would come to around $460.00.

4.  OK, so I'm cheating a bit with this one.  I intend on watching HBO shows and sports by using a family member's online password.  To wit:  I've paid this family member a small fee to allow me to borrow his HBO Go passwords, which allow me to stream all HBO shows (GoT, True Blood, Girls) and movies and whatever is available on ESPN3 (football and soccer, for instance) through my computer onto my TeeVee.  Cost, let's say $10.00.

And that's it.  There are other services I might one day decide to use, such as Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime, but I don't think I will for the time being.  A such, I think it is safe to calculate my TeeVee costs to $952.14 over the course of two years (or, if I decided to be patient and not buy iTunes shows immediately and wait for them to release to Netflix, $492.14). That's $533 less than Direct TV, $185 less than Dish, and $868 less than Comcast. 

But what am I losing in the bargain?  Well, the big one is the use of DVR for network shows.  The second are daily news shows such as I'd watch on MSNBC or CNN.  Third, maybe some ESPN sports programming?  Really, though, that's about it.  And none of those things is worth the cost.  As for what I'd gain?  Well, HD programming for network shows for starters.  Freedom from many commercials (they'd still be on the networks).  Freedom from a two-year contractual obligation.  And, of course, anywhere from $8.00 to $36.00 per month.  Or more. 

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts about this as this development gets some time behind it.  When I do, I'll post them.  In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy not having to pay Direct Freaking TV any more money, ever :)

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