Cutting the Cord: Digital Utopia?

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Cable television is in trouble. We are all pretty sure of that. It seems like every month, Cox Communications finds some way to hike up my internet bill — and I’m reasonably sure it is because I refuse to use their cable television or land line services.

I’m also sure that I’m not alone. Ahab must have his whale — and if they aren’t getting it through extreme cable television billing; they will get their pound of flesh elsewhere.

The average cost of paid programming is $76-$100 (we’ll use U.S. Dollars) for American families. For the purposes of this article, let’s say the average is $85.

Cord cutters believe that saving a grand a year makes good sense and have ventured off to friendlier waters; but how much money is actually being saved here? If cord cutting appeals to you because of cost savings — you should probably rethink your strategy.

Just because people cancel their cable television that doesn’t mean they stop watching TV. Most cable “convertees” seek asylum in the hands of digital content providers such as YouTube TV, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and “pay per channel” access like HBO Go or CBS All Access. This brings the illusion of on-demand shopping for content but that isn’t often the case.

These services sound great. After all, Netflix is only about $10 per month. Hulu is about the same if you don’t want commercials. Amazon services come free with the $100 a year you’re already paying to have Amazon Prime. youTube TV is still pretty cheap in comparison at only $35 a month. HBO is only $15 a month via HBO Now. Heck, we’re saving money hand over fist here.

Are you? Let’s do some math here. The above digital packages will cost you $940 per year as opposed to the American Average Home cost of $1020 per year. So we’re saving $80 a year.

That’s a start.

But if you need something like the CBS subscription to watch Star Trek: Discovery? That’s another $8 a month. Don’t forget — Disney (who owns more channels and content than you think) will be pulling all their content and forcing you to subscribe to their streaming services for another $5 (estimated at the time of writing) per month. No R-Rated stuff will be on there — wonder how you’re going to get to watch Logan?

Are you exhausted yet? I sure am. I just want to watch Banshee.

Consider all of the above — then realize you’re still missing content that cable television was providing for you. Don’t plan on watching cable TV’s #1 show; The Curse of Oak Island — the History Channel site requires cable subscription to watch its latest shows online and you won’t get History Channel with youTube TV either.

Oh wait … did you forget your data charges? All the above isn’t possible without paying your internet fees — both for home and your mobile devices. A lot of cord cutters forget about that in their “cost savings analysis”. As a bonus, you’ll probably have to go up a tier or two in order to ensure at least two or three streams can run concurrently in your house along with the gamers and youTubers sucking off the data pipe too.

But wait — aren’t there other advantages to cord cutting? You get tons of content that is NOT available on cable; like Netflix originals and “Only on Amazon” shows. That’s true — and the cable subscriber would have to pay extra to get those shows. This isn’t guaranteed value-add to the proposition, though. A lot of people love them some Daredevil and House of Cards — but you might not be one of them.

Digital content also has a notorious habit of shifting all the time. While you might think it is guaranteed that — by having all those services — whatever movie or show you want is going to be available. This isn’t even close to true.

Digital rights is a funny thing; the corporate lawyers giveth … and the corporate lawyers taketh away. Content is constantly being shuffled around on these services. Netflix drops content every month. Sure, they get some new stuff too — but that doesn’t help you if they just dumped all Disney content because Disney decided they aren’t getting enough of the pie. That doesn’t help you if you were jonsing to watch Groundhog Day this year and none of your services carried it (apparently your best bet was to watch in off an HDTV antenna this year).

There are some logistics to consider too. You’ll need devices to watch those streaming services. Internet availability, reliability and stability is just part of the equation. Oh and does any one device carry all those services? Or are you going to re-wire your living room to look like Darth Vader’s bathroom because Amazon doesn’t like Android TV or CBS decides to give Roku the “exclusive” to their app? Oh yes, these things happen all the time in the power struggle for your money. To be fair, this sort of things does happen on cable and satellite providers too — but it isn’t nearly as fluid.

Or maybe you’ll be resigned to watch television on your 14" laptop screen instead of your gorgeous 65" 4k UHD TV; since it is the only thing that works with the latest streaming service you must have just to watch the flavor of the month show? You could always watch a tutorial video on youTube showing you how to plug your laptop into a TV …

Then again, the Millenials and Gen Zers seem to love watching content on tiny screens anyway. God bless them for enjoying big screen blockbusters on an iPad.

In the end, consumers aren’t the primary beneficiary of cord cutting. The more popular it gets — the more content holders are going to pull their content from big services like Netflix and Hulu to snake their piece of the digital pie. The cable companies are going to blow up your internet bill, too. Or put you on quotas you simply cannot meet. This isn’t fantasy. This is reality — and it is being proven time and time again. Of course, I predicted this way back in 2012 and people said I was crazy. Digital utopia was possible, they said — and it was coming soon to a TV near you.

There is no utopia for cord cutters. The more we struggle, the more the content owners will tighten their fingers and stick those stiff fingers into our pockets until we might actually be begging for cable television again.

The Good News (TM; if we can call it that) is that the disposable nature of our social order is looking to make every art form throw-away; TV, movies, video games — content like what you’re reading right now. Suck it down, crush the can and throw it away. “Disposibility” ensures no Blu ray discs are required. That no DVRs or storage mediums are around to “steal” content. The content owners love this, by the way. The same way gaming companies love digital gaming lockers like Steam and UPlay.

The mass exodus of historical record begins with the death of physical media (which is happening right now and I am not a fan) and the proliferation of “digital only” content that rotates in and out like female celebrities on the original Charlie’s Angels TV show (sorry if that blew by some of you — sometimes I need to throw things in just for myself).

Historians are desperately trying to preserve old games and content that were widely available on physical media just 20 years ago— and if you think anyone is going out of their way to preserve Real Housewives of Beverly Hills so you can watch it again in 20 years? You may want to manage your expectations.

Start downloading and hoarding anything you love; because if youTube has taught us anything? Content and its availability are fleeting. What’s hot today may not be around tomorrow — not in physical format, not in digital format.

Shame that’s illegal. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this archiving legally? If companies would offer us a low cost one time fee to have “digital rights” to something like Game of Thrones? Just sell me the rights to have and watch it — let me worry about where and how to get it. When you stop streaming it because it isn’t vogue anymore? I’ll watch it on my Plex server.

Just a thought.

Are you a happy cord cutter? Do you still love cable television? Have you had to resort to piracy to enjoy digital content? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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