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Consider These Cable TV Alternatives
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."
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.