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Life Without Cable TV: Week One

This article was written by in Consumer. 19 comments.


(No, I don’t plan on writing about this on a regular basis, just when an interesting milestone occurs.)

It’s been a full week since my family turned off the TV service and to summarize: we’re doing fine. As expected, I’m discovering some of the “known unknowns” of being a person without cable but who still cares about TV shows. Let’s start with the big one.

How much money am I really saving?

In my previous article, I estimated we’d be saving about $100 a month. For some people, that doesn’t seem like a lot. It may even seem like regular TV service is worth that much. But I was finding it increasingly hard to live happily knowing that I was paying for something I wasn’t using.

I put together a spreadsheet of the shows we had “Season Passes” for, which added up to 44 different shows that happen roughly once a year. Not all of them were “OMG I have to watch this!” In fact while collaborating on the spreadsheet with my wife I learned that we like a few things less than I thought we did.

  • For each show, I looked to see if it was on Hulu and found that 18, or 40%, of them are.
  • If it wasn’t on Hulu, I looked to see if it was on Netflix (we have the Xbox streaming service), and 2 of them were. This is important because those two were from Showtime, meaning we’d otherwise have to pay for them on iTunes.
  • Of the remaining 24, I looked to see how many were available over-the-air (we got a tuner for the Mac Mini that’s plugged into the projector) and saw that 9 of them are. We can use the Mac as a free DVR for those and still skip the commercials
  • That leaves only 15 of the original 44 that we can’t get for free. If we bought them all, it would cost $364 a year, saving us $70 / month instead of $100 / month.

To put some of that in perspective, we used to pay $29 a month for HBO, Showtime and a bunch of movie channels that were never playing anything good. But we really only wanted to watch Dexter, True Blood and The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Buying those from iTunes will cost $92 a year instead of $348 from cable.

Plus, this way I get to feel the righteousness of only paying for the things I want to watch, which is how it should have always been done in the first place.

The other money thing that’s still unknown is how much money we’re saving on the electric bill by not having the DVR plugged in. I’m not kidding, when I unplugged it, the room got significantly quieter. If only I had one of those Smart Power Meters.

The Spoiler Problem

I follow about 200 people on Twitter, and I read the news from many different sources most weekdays. I even check Facebook sometimes. Some of these people want to talk about the amazing, exciting, “holy crap!” moment on a particular TV show the night before. So I’ve been thrust into the argument: should there be a grace period for talking about a new episode on Twitter, or should people just keep their eyes shut if they haven’t seen it yet? I’ve argued for both sides of the argument, but I’m currently in the “reader beware” camp. It’s just unreasonable to ask people to silence themselves because I’m enjoying a different lifestyle.

So if I don’t want to be spoiled—and I don’t—then I have to know which shows are on which nights, again. In this respect, I’m being transported back to the last century, because with a DVR and cable, it told me what was coming up, and I only had to wait at most twenty minutes to watch the latest enthralling installment. If it means saving $70 a month, I’m willing to risk being spoiled on occasion.

Getting on Verizon’s Radar

Just a few days after Verizon turned off the TV service, I got an e-mail from them like I had never seen before. The subject was “Notice of Claim of Copyright Infringement” and I’ll paste some of the relevant bits here for future Web searchers, and for your amusement:

We are contacting you because our records indicate that the Internet protocol (IP) address provided to us by the copyright owner was assigned to your service on the date and time identified by the copyright owner. While this activity may have occurred without your permission or knowledge by an unauthorized user, or perhaps by a minor who may not fully understand the copyright laws, as the primary account holder, you are legally responsible for all activity originating from your account.

Then it showed me some details of an episode of “30 Rock” I had gotten through a torrent feed. The weird thing is that it wasn’t even a new episode. Here’s the rest of the e-mail:

Copyright infringement is a serious matter that violates U.S. copyright law and subjects infringers to criminal and civil liability. It also violates our Acceptable Use Policy (http://www2.verizon.net/policies/acceptable_use.asp) and Terms of Service (http://www2.verizon.net/policies/tos.asp). If you, or someone using your Internet connection, are engaged in the conduct alleged by the copyright owner, we urge you to stop (and ensure that anyone else who might have access to your Internet connection also stops).

Protecting Your Privacy: The copyright owner has not asked Verizon to identify you, and Verizon will NOT provide your identity without a lawful subpoena or other lawful process. However, if the copyright owner does issue a lawful subpoena or other lawful process that seeks information about your identity or account, Verizon will be legally required to provide the requested information to the copyright owner.

So after verifying this wasn’t a phishing e-mail, I quickly turned off the torrent feeds for shows that were also on Hulu. I created most of these just for backup purposes, in case the TV service got interrupted by weather reports, which is still a potential problem for those shows we’re planning on getting over-the-air.

After Googling a particular phrase, I found a page on Verizon.com that included a link that said something like “read more about our copyright policy”. When I clicked that link, it asked me to log in first. No, thanks.

Did I get put on Verizon’s radar because we turned off the TV? Was it just 30 Rock that they noticed, or are they searching for all NBC shows? Are some popular torrent feeds actually operated by the copyright holder in order to find thieves? We may never know the answer to these questions.

But I can say that I am now doing everything that is both a) legal and b) sensible in order to enjoy the same TV shows we enjoyed two weeks ago. It’s going well so far.

Published or updated December 18, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Meg

My husband and I cancelled cable about a year ago and definitely haven’t regretted it.

While we could have kept one or both of our televisions to watch over the air stuff, some of the best benefits came from getting rid of them altogether. It’s nice to be able to rearrange the furniture without having to worry about seeing the t.v. We have things arranged now so that we can better talk with guests. Also, there’s no more big t.v. tables, no more cable clutter, fewer remotes, fewer blinking lights, fewer clocks to program, fewer screens to dust, etc.

Also, we’re DEFINITELY saving on our electric bill! It used to be in the hundreds and this last month it was barely over $40. It’s not all from the televisions, I’m sure — not like we had a plasma t.v. — but it was a big step in the right direction.

Keep in mind that it does get easier, too. I don’t think we watched nearly as many shows as you did, but it did take a little adjustment for us, too. We talked about doing NetFlix or iTunes for some shows but decided to try to just watch free material for a while and see how that went. Soon we had more shows than time and didn’t miss the few shows that we couldn’t find for free legally online. I think we’ve paid for just one movie so far, and that was one we downloaded from Blockbuster after we decided to wait instead of seeing it in the theater.

I think the hardest part was just getting used to the silence since I used to have shows on in the background all the time. I could still do that, I guess, or turn on some music, but once I got used to the silence it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I found that I was able to read a lot better and just function better mentally. I always thought I did better with sound on in the background but that was only because that was what I was used to. Turns out, I just needed to get through “withdrawal”.

Also, don’t forget to check your local library for free DVD “rentals”! Ours has a very good selection and a great website that lets us put them on hold. They even have some downloadable video for users, too.

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avatar Jonathan@Friends&Money

Cable is over rated in my opinion. I think that whilst it is important to stay in touch with world events, i can do this through a newspaper or online news sites like CNN etc. All the other stuff I can do without if i’m really honest and beside in my experience I find that you spend more time socialising or with family, than glued to the screen.

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avatar Rick

Three years ago I canceled the satellite TV and no-one in the family missed it. A $1 Redbox movie each week is all we spend now. When you blog there isn’t much time for TV anyway.

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avatar Steve

The only time I have ever paid for cable was back in college when my roommates wanted it. Nowadays I get movies from the library and occasionally redbox, watch a handful of shows at the house of close some friends that have cable and multiple DVRs, and occasionally buy a DVD of a show I missed. It’s hard to say if I am missing anything.

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avatar Chris G.

If only I could get my live sports (Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics) online. MLB.TV or similar services do not work for me since they blackout for local games.

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avatar John DeFlumeri Jr

I am impressed that you have tried this, and if it saves money permanently, it’ll be great.

John deFlumeri Jr

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avatar MoneyProgress

Thanks for the post!

I have to admit though, the first thing I thought when I read this was… WOW, that is a ton of shows! 44! I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say they “happen roughly once a year.” Does this mean like specials, or 44 episodes total you are interested in, or a mix of series and other things?

Watching that many things isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but at the point of setting up a spreadsheet and spending all this time on finding alternatives and ways to watch them, it seems like you need to be careful or the money you are saving might just be translated into more time spent trying to watch everything when previously it was very easy with the DVR!

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avatar Kristin

I read last weeks blog and was intrigued. Glad to see it is going well. I want to “ditto” what Meg said. I’m a librarian and the abundance of TV on DVD that we purchase for patrons is amazing. A lot of cable shows. Dexter, True Blood, are just too examples. Sometimes there’s a wait but at least you’re not paying for it. Just in case your readers are skimming the comments:

CHECK THE LIBRARY!

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avatar Anca

I use FastPassTV.com for any shows I can’t get on Hulu. No torrents needed. And no need to wait a week for ‘House’ to get posted on Hulu.

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avatar jim

Good job so far. I wish I could get our sports shows via PPV online or somewhere other than cable.

Just my opinion but I’m quite sure that your canceling TV service has nothing at all to do with the copyright infringement notice that Verizon sent you. Verizon doesn’t even offer TV in many (if not most) areas. I doubt it would make any sense for them whatsoever to send legal notices for copyrights they don’t even own just to people who recently cancelled their TV services. Verizon is sending the notices to play nice with the owners of the copyright material in question.

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avatar laura

What torrent feed was it? If it was Limewire, it’s the feed, not the cancellation of service.

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avatar Noname

Peer Guardian for torrents.

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avatar EkingOut

My fiance and I have gone without cable for 3.5 years. We also use Hulu, Netflix, and iTunes to mitigate that fact. The biggest issue I’ve experienced is that you’re not privy to 3/4 of the topics of conversation out there in circulation. I feel like a pariah sometimes, especially when I explain that we don’t have cable, and that’s why I didn’t know Sookie got punched in the face.

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avatar Christopher.FM

Though I’m not much of a TV watcher myself but in the living space that I share, my roommate loves to DVR certain shows. We have a setup where we can stream movies over the wireless to a modded Xbox in the living room. Could you point to any good tutorials on how to set up the Mac Mini as a DVR? and can it stream movies in a similar way?

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avatar MBAbriefs

Congrats on making it through week 1. I find so much stuff on Hulu and Netflix I rarely watch cable TV anymore, just can’t talk the family out of having cable. At the end of the year you should have an extra $1,000 in your pocket.

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avatar Ryan @ Plantingdollars

I grew up without cable and have never had it. Like you mentioned hulu has a lot of shows if you really want a TV fix, but there are so many outdoor and community activities to do that TV almost always takes a back burner, at least in my own life.

Congrats on making it a week!

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avatar Mike Wise

I gave up cable in May and haven’t looked back. I have an antenna hooked up to my iMac using an Elgato EyeTV 250 to record HD programs for free over-the-air. I encode those programs and store them on an AppleTV attached to my main TV set. Anything I can’t get for free over-the-air I buy from iTunes. The mere fact that I have to make a conscious decision to record, stream or buy TV now means I’ve cut back dramatically in what I watch. I save money on cable, and have more time to do other things around the house.

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avatar Bryan Williams

I use to have DirecTV, but the $40.00/month service I started out with in 2000 had climbed to $70.00… I’ve been without satellite or cable service for over a year now and can’t say that I really feel like I’m missing anything. I set-up a MythTV DVR for recording over-the-air TV; with Netflix, and streaming sites, I have plenty of interesting stuff to watch.

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avatar Glendon Cameron

I have gone through this event “no cable” more than three times and each time when I do resume watching TV it is less versus more.

Good move and enjoy saving money and watching what you truly enjoy. I am currently without cable and none the worse for it!

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