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Consider These Cable TV Alternatives

Updated on May 7, 2015

A Child of Television

There's no such thing as cheap cable TV. Cable TV costs too much. Period. Many customers feel helpless to do anything about it. Companies used to raise the price at will while helpless customers like me had no choice but to pay up. When the outcry grew louder and louder, the companies started bundling cable with internet and phone service, so we have no idea what cable is really costing. Instead of a cable bill going up randomly, now we have introductory offers expiring and going up the same way the old cable bill used to. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Fortunately there are cable TV alternatives.

Step One: Cancel Your Cable Subscription

Last year, I did the unthinkable and got rid of my cable. And no, I do not have a satellite dish. I cancelled my cable subscription altogether. I gave up my 100+ channels which seemed to be 90% commercials. This is my story.

I grew up on TV and I would not trade the memories for anything. Some of the shows were pure magic. I'm old enough to remember the voice of Walt Disney himself on the screen telling us what we were about to see as if we were his own children. And that was just the beginning. TV evolved over the years and the quality could be as breathtaking (think Olympics) as it was ridiculous (think My Mother the Car??).

This isn't another article about the decline of television. The medium has evolved and grown to become more breathtaking than ever and of course more ridiculous than ever. The three networks are still there but now they compete with hundreds of other outlets and specialized channels. Nothing wrong about that. There are some amazing things to see, and learn and enjoy.

What Am I Missing?

I should say right away that I still watch some of the dramas that are produced for television. I would be a hypocrite not to admit how much I love some of these shows. Burn Notice was one of my all time favorites. In fact, it was the only reason I hesitated to cancel my cable subscription. But I pulled the trigger and cancelled it last year. I watched the final season of Burn Notice a few episodes at a time on discs delivered to my mailbox from Netflix. So far, I only use the mail version vs. the streaming online variety.

No longer do I turn on the TV to "see what's on." When I turn it on now it is to watch a series I ordered from Netflix, or a movie from Redbox on the VCR. No commercials and no flipping channels looking for something to watch.

I am not recommending this for everyone. Getting rid of TV was a personal choice, but I have not missed it. In particular, I do not miss the way certain stories are picked up and hyped and analyzed to death until a new story comes along. I knew that a plane was lost recently and that was enough for me to know. I have heard a certain cable network has been featuring the hunt for the plane non-stop since it disappeared. I also heard the ratings have never been higher at that network. Clearly there is an audience for this kind of coverage. And there is an audience for high-profile trials, and shows about housewives and on and on.

There is nothing wrong about people enjoying whatever show they enjoy. If it gives people pleasure to watch some of these things, or follow the plight of families desperate for news about family members on a plane that disappears, I'm not saying it is wrong. I made a choice for myself to focus other things and watch TV differently.

Becoming a More Selective Viewer

I suppose I am no different than anyone else. We all have things we like to watch and shows we enjoy. The difference is that I read about them first and try to decide if I would enjoy it, then I order it and when it's time to relax and sit in front of the TV, it's something I am interested to watch; no commercials; pause anytime; rewind at my leisure. I remember the first scene in the first episode of Scandal. I thought I made a mistake. This is not going to be for me. But I kept watching and it got better and better until I could not wait for the next episode. And I didn't have to wait. I watched four episodes at a time, until I got tired of watching a president who could focus on nothing but his mistress. Don't get me wrong, it was a great show - very entertaining and fun..

When I lost my appetite for Scandal, I simply started looking for something else. I never got tired of Alias and watched every episode of every season. Ditto West Wing.

Obviously, I have nothing against TV entertainment, but there are other ways to enjoy it. I don't sit through any commercials. I never flip through channels looking for something to watch.I am looking at something called Hulu - a website that delivers TV programming free over the internet. These options are going to be expanding rapidly. Before I heard about Hulu, I was already watching some news shows online for free.

I can check the news anytime online. I can read about something rather than watch people argue about it on the TV screen. I do not miss my cable or the constant offers that tease you into signing up and then start going up and up. I don't miss the price increases or hidden fees that turn a $99 a month offer into $120 a month in a heartbeat..

Am I Saving Money?

I learned very quickly that I was not going to save much money by getting rid of cable. One reason is called "football." I love watching football, so the first time there was a game I wanted to watch, I went out to watch it at Chili's. I suppose I could sit at the bar and drink water, but you kind of feel obligated to order. I quickly discovered that one restaurant bill could pay for 2-4 weeks of cable. Not only that, but try asking your cable company what your bill would be for internet and phone only without cable. I was quoted a price that was higher than the price of all three. I had to shop for internet and phone service separately - no home phone - just the cell.

So, it's not really a matter of saving money. I like to think that my mind is less cluttered since I got rid of TV. But, no one who knows me is likely to agree with that analysis. For me, it is a matter of experimenting. I think the experiment is a success. I love the shows I order from Netflix. I just finished watching two seasons of a show called, The Boss (not to be confused with "Who's the Boss?) The Boss is about a mayor of Chicago played by Kelsey Grammer. It was a miracle the way he discarded the character of Frasier from his TV show. He gives a brilliant performance. I loved that there was no trace of his TV character in this mayor. I guess it is called "acting."

What's Next?

Netflix and Hulu and online television news are not perfect cable TV alternatives. But you can view an awful lot of shows for less than $10 a month. The current alternatives represent a transition to newer technologies. The world has entered this transition phase in home entertainment - a kind of limbo between the old and the new. I'm just kind of waiting for the rest of the chips to fall. It won't be long before one giant screen brings us internet and television, as they grow together into one big stream of information and entertainment. In the meantime, I wait for the next drama to arrive from Netflix or I surf Hulu for free shows. I spend more time writing articles and no time at all wondering if there's anything good on TV tonight.

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      Open 2 years ago

      I was a netflix user for two years. Like most poplee I had great service at first, but eventually the rate at which I was getting movies slowed to a crawl. I was, perhaps, getting 3 movies a month. So I called them and complained. The first person I spoke to was extremely rude and defensive from the start. She demanded I provide proof that the service was actually slow. I explained I couldn't provide proof other then the fact that I wasn't getting movies soon enough ( I mean seriously . . . 3 a month?). She then lists all the movies I received and made excuses for each. By the end of this conversation I was even more pissed off then before I called. So I call again and demand to speak to a supervisor. Eventually I speak to someone else. Like Steve first they said the post office was the problem. I get first class mail all the time from my father (he sends letters the old way believe it or not). His letters travel from two states away and often I'll get two or three letters before I ever see a new group of netflix movies. I pointed this out to them and this supervisor made some excuse about machines the post office uses being broken, that I should complain about this to the post office, and in order for netflix to look into the matter I'll need to fill out some report and fax it to netflix. I told them I wasn't going to do any such thing. I pay them money for a service which I don't feel is worth the money. I'm complaining and they are asking me to fix it? The guy responds, We are looking for partners to fix this problem. I thought this whole thing was stupid, so I did nothing. The next day . . . the very next day . . . a new group of movies show up in the mail which I had been waiting 2 weeks for. I was given a month free . . . and guess how long it took for them to receive and send the next group?It seems to me netflix is a business built on a model which can't work considering the current economic conditions facing poplee. As long as netflix could work in the background of a person's life, when a person isn't paying attention to it, poplee thought the service was fine. $15 for movies through the mail? Why not. I mean even the ads on tv played up this in the background quality. Oh look netflix came in the mail! Like it's some kind of gift you are not actually paying for. However as money got tight poplee started paying attention to the service more and look at what is happening? People who have spent years with this company are suddenly leaving. The customer service system they have in place is overwhelmed. They even offer cheap alternatives. Watching streaming video? Look if ABC can stream video without requiring me to download some program which I don't want on my computer then way can't netflix? Why would I want to sit in front of my computer to watch a movie anyway when I could sit in comfort in my living room? Netflix has done serious damage to themselves, or at least in my area. I don't see many poplee using the service here anymore. A lot of poplee I meet who used the service now either buy cheap older films and/or watch on-demand video through their cable provider. Some poplee I know continue their service with netflix just to damage the disks and make everything more expensive for the company. Think about that . . . some poplee are so pissed off instead of ending the service they would rather destroy the service.

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      Darya 2 years ago

      Steve, there is absolutely no rasoen a customer should not be able to reach their service provider NONE. There was more than sufficient cause on my part and more than sufficient time on their part to make the smallest of gestures. Like say an email, phone call, letter, fax, a credit on the bill even though it was never requested etc..I am tickled pink that your personal service experience has gone great. So was mine for years, but it is evident in Netflix is pissing off their customers. Since I have started paying more attention to what is going on I realize others have also cancelled membership within a similar time frame. If Netflix wants to publish their up to date customer records we can lay this useless relatavistic argument to rest. Until then I will continue to point out the painful truth. Netflix has little to know customer service and cleary could care less. If I were you I would apply to be the company spin doctor for Netflix. Of course that assumes you do not already have it. Blockbuster is #1 captalizing on the strengths of Netflix while avoiding the weekness.

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