Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pulling the Plug on Cable TV

In the fall of 1981, just as I was beginning 6th grade, my father surprised us by hooking the house up for cable tv.  I think that we were only the second house on our block to get cable, and it was wonderful.  Suddenly we didn't have to get up and adjust the large, steerable antenna on the rooftop, and we had access to channels (does anyone remember PRISM?)
that showed Phillies games, professional wrestling and feature films--without commercials!  Then there were other channels, such as MTV (which had begun airing the previous August), which gave me access to music videos, concert films, and interviews with musicians.

It is definitely true that for me (and many of my friends), cable provided the same shared cultural references that were supplied to previous generations by literature, theatre or the Bible.  It isn't going to far to say that the person I became was highly influenced by the large amounts of television I watched on cable in the 1980's. And since then I have always had cable--in college dorms, in summer housing, in numerous rented apartments, through thick and thin I always paid for cable television. 

But over the past twelve months or more, I have begun to question my cable purchase.  Since we moved to our dream house two years ago, the Sassy Librarian and I have been customers of Comcast (we get high speed internet from them, as well as tv).  The picture has been good, but the price is rather high--to be able to get Comcast SportsNet in HD, we have to buy no less than three different tiers of service, paying over $85 just for the tv part of the bill.  Over the years our tv watching has become more refined, to the point where pretty much all that we ever have on is sports and professional wrestling.  Lately it has been harder and harder for me to justify paying so much money to watch Phillies games and Monday Night Raw.  So I tried an experiment.

After doing some research at, I became convinced that with an indoor tv antenna I could probably get some channels in HD (I can definitely do it with a roof antenna, but we aren't prepared to install one at this time).  I went to the local BuyMore, and picked up a reasonably priced amplified antenna, and was pleased to see that I can get about a dozen channels, with super reception (including ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW, WB, ION and 3 PBS channels)! And the major networks are all in beautiful High Definition!

So I called Comcast first thing Monday morning and cancelled the tv coverage. Initially I had a bad case of television withdrawal, but a few days later, I have to say that I feel pretty good!  A major reason is that it isn't as hard as I had feared to find the stuff I want to watch.  Within a day of the tv show, the WWE posts their Raw and Smackdown shows on YouTube in HD. I can watch those shows on my computer, or my iPad, or (by plugging an HDMI cable to the iPad) on my actual television set.  On the down side I have to wait for the clips to load, but on the upside there are no commercials and I don't have to watch matches that don't interest me.  I simply read the summary of RAW and Smackdown on the Lords of Pain website, and look at the sections that seem like they'll be compelling.

For watching Phillies games, I have a slight dilemma. Even though we live 130 miles from Philadelphia, we are still technically in their blackout zone (also the blackout zone for both New York teams and the Pittsburgh Pirates).  This means that even if we purchased MLB.TV, we couldn't watch live web telecasts of games for the Phillies, Pirates, Mets or Yankees.  This has been the gating factor keeping me from dropping cable for quite some time.

But lately I've begun to listen to the Phillies radio broadcast using MLB At Bat (we get terrible radio reception at the house), and I realize that I like listening to the games on the radio.    While former Phillie Gary "Sarge" Matthews provides excellent color coverage on tv, he's only on for the middle three innings.  Otherwise, the play by play duties are handled by the very bland and boring Tom McCarthy and color is done by Chris Wheeler. Wheeler has been with the Phils my whole life, and while he is a great fan and has a great memory for old players, his style on the mic is not felicitous.  On the other hand, the Phils radio duo of Scott Franzke and Larry Anderson is quite good--they have a wonderful rapport with each other, and they don't let their boring stories get in the way of the game, like McCarthy does.  Listening on the radio, I find that I can go an entire game without saying "God, what a bad announcer"--which hasn't happened since I moved away from Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy's Red Sox games in 2003.

This week I've listened to the Phils on the "radio" (actually my iPad), and it has been a fun experience.  Besides better announcing, I also found that it was easier to read while listening on the radio than watching on tv.  Also, instead of being chained to the television, I was able to consume the game in my office, on my porch watching the sunset, in bed, and on the treadmill doing a brisk two miles.  I even signed up for a one month trial of MLB.TV.  Last night we watched the "archived" version of yesterday's day game from Colorado (the games are available to watch 90 minutes after the final pitch).  It was pretty cool!

I'm sure that the adjustment will continue to take time, but this first week has been much easier than I expected.  A quick perusal of the NFL schedule shows me that the Iggles should be on a channel that I get in HD 15 of 16 games, so I shouldn't miss much there, though I did always like watching Comcast's post game show starring "V-Heb" (Vaughn Hebron), "R-Diddy" (Ray Didinger) and "The Gov" (Ed Rendell).

It seems that this concept of dropping cable tv is growing in popularity.  Maybe it's the terrible economy, or the "57 channels and nothing on" phenomenon, but I definitely feel good about having made this decision (and saving over $800 per year sounds pretty good right now).  At least so far, Comcast seems to be doing ok, so I guess you could call this one Win-Win-Win.


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  2. Thanks for sharing. How are you holding up? I have had Comcast Cable in Philadelphia, PA for the past 3 years and I am too scared to get rid of it now as I like my television shows way too much!

  3. Still doing fine. Hulu is a lot less than cable. But the new Phillies broadcast deal means I will never see my favorite baseball team again.