Saturday, November 26, 2011

How good is TV without a cable subscription?

With lowered disposable income, many Americans are looking at ways of cutting their monthly expenses. Examples include:
1. Substituting Skype for long distance costs.
2. Cancelling land lines and using a cell phone as the only carrier based service.
3. Substituting WiFi whenever possible for 3G services to minimize the use of data plans.
4. Using fixed cost services such as Netflix rather than variable cost rental of movies.
But one important area, as measured by the amount of time, people spend watching TV is the cable bill.
So, over the past two months I have been experimenting with alternative approaches to cable. The big message is that I have been surprised at how little I miss cable TV and how many alternative ways of accessing programming exist.
The most useful services and web sites that I have found are as follows:
1. upgrading to Hulu Plus gives you access to more TV, but the free service is till invaluable.
2. at around $8 a month for streaming, it's an absolute bargain. While it does not have everything, it remain a superb value.
3. Over the past year, the major network sites have also become a useful source of free programming:,,, to list just the major sites. While they are a bit erratic in what they make available on-line and their user interface can be sometimes a little confusing, most recent shows can be viewed on demand.
4. Specialty channels:  these vary more widely in their offering, but typically recent shows can be found on sites like (e.g. Masterpiece Mystery), and other specialty channels such as
5. Sports is a more difficult area and perhaps the one area that holds back many sports-crazy viewers from cutting the cord. But even here there is hope: ESPN3 provides sports, often delayed relatively to the event by 24 hours.
6. Amazon Prime is probably justifiable if you order goods from Amazon, and so the access to thousands of movies and TV shows is a relative bargain as a result. However, Amazon does tend to duplicate what is available from Netflix and Hulu Plus so the increase in choice is not large.
7. Rentable streamable TV shows from e.g. Amazon or iTunes. I have not found it necessary to pay for shows as the availability from subscription or free resources is so rich.
8. Proxy servers: there are a number of proxy servers that allow you to access shows in other countries, e.g. the UK. These are typically free or low cost services. But typically you have to have a severe addiction to a show you cannot obtain easily in North America. M15, Dr. Who and Torchwood seem to be shows that have inspired their fans to expand their sourcing.
9. A Roku box is a relatively painless way of using WiFi to hook up most Internet delivered shows to your TV, but the most reliable way, better than Roku, tablets, WiFi enabled DVD players remains a general purpose computer hooked up to your TV.
10. I have not tested the usefulness of game players such as Xbox or the Sony Playstation for streaming video yet.
So, the conclusion is that having no cable is no impediment to watching most TV. But you still may have to have a physical DVD rental service on Netflix or at the shrinking number of movie rental stores to see premium programming from HBO. And you will have to wait a season.
Perhaps the biggest challenges is that it is more complex to figure out where and when a show is available, given the leads and lags, and changing policies of networks. For that a service such as becomes useful.

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