The 2012 state of “cutting the cord”: is it feasible to cancel cable?

Shot of my DVR (from Time-Warner Cable) and Toshiba DVD recorderI last wrote about “cutting the cord,” a.k.a. canceling cable for alternate services (Netflix, DVDs, etc.) back in 2010. Thought I’d look at what would be involved for my viewing situation once more, here in mid-2012.

First, I listed the cable-only programs I watch on cable TV (and their respective cable channels). Over-the-air programs I could easily watch, well, over-the-air, so I’m not concerned with those. The list of shows I’ll usually sit down to watch specifically (versus watching something random that’s on):

  • The Looney Tunes Show (Cartoon Network)
  • Cartoon Planet (Cartoon Network)
  • Green Lantern: The Animated Series (Cartoon Network)
  • Ultimate Spider-Man (Disney XD)
  • Johnny Test (Cartoon Network)
  • Total Drama: Revenge of the Island (Cartoon Network)
  • The Garfield Show (Cartoon Network)
  • Classic Looney Tunes (Cartoon Network)
  • Hockey (NBC Sports Network)
  • Basketball (TNT, ESPN)
  • March Madness (college basketball playoffs) (TNT, TBS, TruTV)
  • The Olympics (NBC’s various cable networks)
  • Various holiday specials (various channels, but mostly Cartoon Network, ABC Family, and Nickelodeon)

As can be seen above, my cable viewing’s largely cartoons and sports. The website Clicker is a useful site that lists which shows are available through several online sources (Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, etc.).

Next, the alternatives and their pros/cons. Yes, the following is mostly specific to the United States, sorry. Also only considering legal options (so no Usenet/file-sharing stuff, either).

Cartoons

For the Cartoon Network shows, Cartoon Network’s own website offers some episodes for viewing. Unfortunately, one needs to already be a qualifying cable TV subscriber to watch (no doubt part of a cord-cutting resistance on Time-Warner’s part). And bizarrely, Time-Warner Cable (my cable company) isn’t one of the companies that qualify. “Ultimate Spider-Man” has only the first few episodes available on Marvel.com (though anybody may watch, cable or none). Thus, the legal alternatives are either: wait for the show to turn up on DVD; wait for the show to turn up on Netflix; or buy the episodes from Amazon.com’s “Instant Video” service. Unlike iTunes, Amazon’s service is actually Linux compatible (plus is available for devices like the Roku).

“Johnny Test” and “The Garfield Show”‘s previous seasons are all available on Netflix already (though not sure when the newest episodes will appear), and I own the DVD sets for the classic Looney Tunes shorts. “Cartoon Planet” consists of an anthology series of various 90s-era Cartoon Network cartoons, and thus can be ignored. That just leaves “Green Lantern,” “The Looney Tunes Show,” “Ultimate Spider-Man,” and “Total Drama.” “Total Drama” is only sold through iTunes, though the first season is available through Netflix.

Unfortunately, buying the episodes from Amazon as the season progresses (new episodes appear within days of airing) is rather steep: $2 for a standard-definition episode and $3 for a high-definition version. Thus, “Green Lantern”‘s 13-episode first season would run $26 for SD, while TLTS and “Ultimate Spider-Man” would run $52 apiece (for their 26-episode first seasons). Browsing Amazon’s offerings, waiting for shows to hit DVD (or for the full seasons to air) apparently sees a price drop, albeit to what a “standard retail price” for a DVD box set would run (buying the actual DVD of many shows from Amazon would be cheaper, in some cases vastly cheaper… which makes no sense, I know…). The “season pass” option for Instant Video isn’t much of a discount, either (only a dime or so per episode less than the regular price).

While I’m sure Amazon’s service would be fine to watch an episode or two through, using it to stay current with a show’s airings doesn’t seem cost-effective. Waiting for the season to end and buying then would be somewhat better, but one would be better off just buying the DVD in some cases.

Sports

Sports, of course, is the sticking point for cutting cable as a whole. While plenty’s been written about this, what I’ve found for the ones of particular interest to me (hockey and basketball):

Hockey

The NHL offers “Gamecenter Live,” a streaming package of live out-of-market games for about $170/season. Home games are blacked out, as are any games carried on a national broadcast (NHL Network or NBC Sports Network in the US). Since the Chicago Blackhawks are deemed outside my “market,” unless I move to Chicago I’d be able to watch most of their games. The blacked-out games, playoffs (heavily reliant on cable) and two games of the Stanley Cup (on NBCSN) would require either a trip to a sports bar (and hope the game’s being played on one of their TVs, given Milwaukee isn’t a hockey town) or just listening to them on the radio. I’ve listened to some Blackhawks games through WGN radio online, so that wouldn’t be too bad for regular-season games. The Cup itself would require the sports-bar trip, however (and maybe some playoff games). Note to the NHL: why are you airing two of your championship’s games on cable?! The other three big sports leagues’ championships are all on over-the-air TV…

Basketball

Basketball seems reasonably well covered online, again as long as you’re watching out-of-market teams. (My interest in the Milwaukee Bucks is minimal, so the radio or ignoring them would be fine…). ESPN3 (a streaming service of ESPN) offers live coverage of ESPN/ESPN2 college and pro basketball games; TNT does the same for its weekday games. ABC, of course, airs plenty of the playoff games, as well as the entire championship. ESPN3 is only available to those whose ISP pays ESPN for the privilege of accessing their site (which my ISP ponied up for).

“March Madness” is apparently only covered for free online if one already has cable TV service, though for those without, the NCAA this year offered access to the whole thing for $4.

The Olympics

The Olympics is clearly the worst of the sports situation in the US, as years of complaints by everyone (including myself) about NBC’s utterly awful coverage attests. NBC’s started to offer streaming (and in Flash instead of Silverlight) of the Olympics in recent years, and this year’s games will offer live streaming of all events (albeit using the generic global Olympic broadcast feed, which the article I read treats like it’s actually a bad thing… I doubt viewers will agree…). However, the 2012 Summer Olympics will require a cable subscription if you want to watch streaming coverage of events.

My only suggestions are either go to a friend’s house (with cable), go to a sports bar, or just ignore the games (outside of NBC-proper’s coverage). That, or try to get access to some other country’s streaming service (like Canada’s CTV or the UK’s BBC) via a proxy, as such access (per the Olympic committee’s doings) is blocked from outside their native countries. Of course, this last suggestion may be too geeky for most people.

Total costs

My current Time-Warner Cable cable bill (generic digital cable package, plus DVR service) currently runs $94/month (or $1,128/year).

Replacing it with the services above (averaged out over the course of a year) by my calculations would run around $33/month ($130 for SD versions of a season of the TV shows; $4 for the “March Madness” package; $170 for a season of NHL Gamecenter; and $96 for a year of Netflix; for a grand total of $400/year). Of course, if I don’t mind waiting until a season’s finished, buying the DVD versions of the TV shows and/or borrowing them from the public library would reduce the costs further. I also didn’t factor in what going out to a sports bar would run, though I suppose the infrequency of such shouldn’t increase the costs too much.

Conclusion

I’m not sure about myself dropping cable, but even despite the issues above (the cost of going to a sports bar or waiting for the DVD release/paying an inflated price for Amazon Instant Video), it might be a lot cheaper than what a monthly cable bill runs, especially if one’s not a sports fan. Still, it’s obvious the media companies have a long way to go, and I doubt a lot of their online services as currently offered (with the cable subscription requirements, etc.) will in the long run slow down those that want to cancel cable (let alone their concerns over piracy).

2 comments

  1. The no live sports are a deal breaker for me, which I’m sure of. I need my fix of all kinds of sports in addition to baseball and hockey. Personally I’ve tried Netflix for streaming but I’ve noticed that it’s mostly stuff I’ve seen before, with no new releases and TV shows are from yesterday… So once I started to work for Dish I noticed that the packages were surprisingly affordable, there’s even the option to add the Blockbuster@Home for additional streaming and DVD’s by mail. When you cut cords, you also limit yourself to the content that’s available (no live sports).

    1. Though I didn’t mention it in the article, besides the public library, there’s also renting DVDs from a RedBox kiosk (for the most popular mainstream movies), though I haven’t used RedBox before.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *