Jim Mullen: Cutting the cord
Like many people, I was fed up with paying a monthly cable bill for 200 channels that I will never watch. If I made a list of all the hit shows I have never seen — all the cage-fighting tournaments I have never watched, all the shopping channels I’ve clicked through on my way to find something ever-so-slightly more entertaining — it would be as thick as a phone book.
Whoops! Showing my age. My editor just asked me, “What’s a phone book?”
So I canceled my huge cable contract and subscribed to a streaming service for less than half the price. It gives me the major local networks plus a slew of basic “cable” channels, and it records shows and movies for free. Best of all, it doesn’t charge me box rental fees, box rental taxes, fees for sending me a paper bill, executive sexual harassment settlement fees, Washington lobbyist fees or any of the other bogus charges cable TV is famous for. The ones that turn your “only $60 a month!” into a $99 bill. And, oh yeah: I can cancel anytime, no contract. It was like going from an old landline phone to a smartphone overnight.
Still, it doesn’t have everything. I couldn’t see all the new movies — the ones that show up on Netflix and HBO about two months after they flop at the movie theater. Why rush out to go see a movie on the big screen, when you can just wait a few weeks and see it on your own big screen at home? And at home, you don’t even have to turn off your cellphone, or miss anything when you need to make a nature call. Just put it on pause. Plus, you’re saving the price of movie tickets, popcorn and gas.
So I added Netflix and HBO. But even those don’t have everything, so I subscribed to another service. And after a few weeks, yet another one. Why not? After all, the subscriptions were still much less than my old cable bill.
For some reason, no one seems to carry PBS, so add another $10 a month. But I’m still saving money. If I subscribed to the top seven streaming services, it would cost me about $80 a month, which would still be less than my monthly cable bill.
But now I’m back to paying for a lot of shows I will never watch. Every day, I seem to spend more time searching for shows to watch than I spend watching shows. Am I that picky? I don’t think so — after all, I just wasted an hour watching videos of a cute Japanese cat who runs and hides in boxes on YouTube. If that doesn’t prove I will watch almost anything, I don’t know what does.
There is a school of thought that having more choices is almost worse than having too few. Were we happier when there were only three channels on television? Were we happier when the only news on TV was the half-hour nightly broadcast? Were we happier before video recording, when you had to be at home at a certain time to watch your favorite show? Were we happier when there was only one TV in the whole house — a huge console that sat in the living room? Were we better off when the family had to vote on which show we would all watch together?
It’s as if for every new thing, every new technology, we give up something old, whether it was valuable or not.
And the bad news is that I’m not really saving any money with all my changes. I had to upgrade my internet connection to be able to stream all these additional services. And many of the new movies I want to see are available, but only for a price over and above the monthly fee.
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that soon, anything you really, really want to watch — the Olympics, the playoffs for your favorite sport, a special awards show or event — will cost you extra. In fact, it’s already started.
Contact Jim Mullen at email@example.com.
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