For those interested in the phenomenon of “cord-cutting”—the rather dramatic term the tech press has given to the choice of simply eschewing cable TV (as though our relation to that medium were almost umbilical)—I highly recommend Wired’s recent series of articles on the practice. Mat Honan’s summary of the phenomenon is one of the most cogent and helpful I’ve come across, in the twisted, identity-bending, downright farcical world that is modern television.
I have a confession to make. I am a cord-cutter. It’s something I’ve been trying out since early June. I decided to forgo my access to cable TV, opting instead for an Internet-only package from my cable company. I’ll be saving hundreds this year as a result.
Is cord-cutting for you? It would take a fairly intricate flow chart to answer that question for everyone. But here are a few things you should consider before cutting the cord.
1. If you watch a lot of TV, cord-cutting may not be for you.
The strongest predictor, I would imagine, of whether cord-cutting makes sense for you is how much TV you happen to watch. I don’t have a lot of free time, so I don’t find myself watching huge amounts of television, much as I’d like to. I’m also pretty faithful to just a few shows; random channel surfing isn’t something that’s ever interested me. But if your TV-watching strategy is to pursue breadth over depth, you’re going to want the same wide spectrum of channels that I personally always found annoying.
2. If you’re a sports fan, it’s probably not for you.
The last team I followed was the 1996 Baltimore Orioles. (Ironically, I’m told the O’s are doing well this season, for the first time in decades. As a D.C. native, I’m supposed to be a Nationals fan at this point, but that’s neither here nor there.) I didn’t watch the Olympics. I don’t read the sports page. Honan rightly calls live sports one of the three strongholds of the cable companies, along with live news and new premium shows.
3. If you don’t have an Internet-connected TV, it’s also probably not for you.
One reason I’ve been able to painlessly cut the cord is that I happened to already own an Xbox 360 and a PS3, neither of which I had ever expected to become the “brains” of my television when I bought them in 2009. But that’s exactly what they’ve become. Most of my viewing is done through the Netflix and HBO Go apps on my Xbox 360 (or on my laptop or my brand new iPad).
4. If you don’t have someone to semi-legitimately share Internet TV log-ins with, it might not be for you.
You may have paused over my mention of HBO Go above—isn’t that only available to subscribers? Well, another confession to make: I’m an HBO mooch, and use my parents’ login information even though I don’t live with them. I’d feel bad about this, but for two reasons. First, I’m perfectly happy to directly pay HBO exclusively for HBO Go service—but that option is only available in Europe, not in the States. Second, it seems HBO is tacitly encouraging the practice among young people in the hopes of building the next generation of subscribers, per the Times (at least, its executives “did not dispute the notion,” which I’m taking as complete approval). If I had no back door into HBO content, the equation would be different, since I’m a Girls junkie.
5. If you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a la carte content, it’s obviously not for you.
This should go without saying, but if you find yourself rampantly downloading a la carte AMC episodes to avoid paying a cable bill, only to find yourself paying more than your cable bill would be, then you’re behaving irrationally. For me, I’m able to get by on a select few a la carte purchases. It feels frustrating each time I have to fork over money to Apple or Amazon to watch the latest misadventures of Walter White on Breaking Bad—but then I compare those $1.99 price tags to those $80-per-month bills I used to be getting.
Are you a cord-cutter? What snags have you run into?