(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.