Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Are we forced to buy cable?

I recently told my parents that when I live on my own I won't pay for cable. I made this decision several years ago, and in the past few years I find this option easier and easier to do. Cable television packages are pretty expensive, and since I watch much less television than I ever have in my life, coupled with the fact that most of "my shows" are still on the broadcast stations, I don't see the need to spend money I'd otherwise save on something I won't use often. Another selling point for me is that so many television shows are availible online--clips on YouTube, Hulu, South Park Studios, even network web sites carry the episode a few days later. All I need is an internet connection and a DVD player to rent the shows that I want to watch later, and I'm set.

My parents told me that this is impossible to do, that I can't just have the basic stations that I had as a child, before my mom caved and agreed to buy cable. Since I can't pick the stations I want (HBO, Showtime, Trio; ditching Spike, Animal Planet, and Speed), I'd rather not pay for 50 channels I never watch just to get my MTV and Vh1 (or the Viacom empire). Besides, I can catch all the music videos they don't play online anyway. So are my parents right?

Connected with this is the news that Cablevision, which covers my area, is now allowed to offer a DVR service through a user's existing cable box. It's on a remote server instead of an individual DVR that the customer buys separately. The Appeals court ruled, after two years, that this system does not violate copyright law. What's amazing is that in two years, DVR usage has grown from 1 in 14 homes to 1 in 4, which has got to be one of the fastest adoption rates for an emerging technology.

For consumers, this is great. I am one of what seems to be the last remaining household of my class and income bracket that does not have a DVR, and if I can access one, even with limited storage, my options for watching increase, especially as I only watch things online as a last resort.

While of course advertisers are all abuzz about how to get their message out there now that people are skipping commercials left and right, there is potential for new tactics:

Network DVRs also prop open the door to new methods of advertising. Cablevision could insert ads dynamically, customizing and updating commercial pods for different consumers and at different times.

“It allows advertisers to do things they can’t do on a physical DVR,” Mr. Rutledge [Cablevision's CEO] said. “Let’s say you record an episode of ‘Lost.’ Three months later you want to play it back. The advertising that was on ‘Lost’ is stale and no longer applies, but the capability to refresh the advertising exists if the content owner wants to do that with the cable operator."

That's actually pretty cool, from the advertiser's perspective. But then you can't rewatch old commercials and laugh.


petpluto said...

Hey, I don't have a DVR either! Though my parents and I will be forced to get one as soon as the new television season starts, as an inordinate amount of our shows conflict. Seriously, I swear the networks know what my family likes to watch and decides to pit all of these shows against each other, gladiator style. It began early, what with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, and Sports Night all being on Tuesdays at 8, and that has continued.

In other news, I'm also not going to pay for cable either when I live on my own. As sad as it is, the only reason we have the cable package we do is because of our obsession with women's college basketball, and ESPN 2 isn't a part of the normal sports package.

I can exist quite happily with my minimal amount of cable channels and my DVDs. I spend more time now surfing the gazillion or so stations we have searching for something to veg out to than I do actually just watching something, and with less channels, the surfing time will be minimized with essentially the same result (nothing on, go read a book).

John said...

Would you really be saving that much money? Many cable providers offer a substantial discount on services if you purchase voice, cable and internet together, sometimes to the point of being less expensive than paying for two of those services separately. I suppose you won't have a land telephone line either, though. You and your progressive ways.

Sometimes cable can surprise you, though. I recently discovered a show on ABC Family called The Middleman, which is on at an inconvenient time and I can only watch by the grace of my DVR.
You might actually enjoy it, since they compared its style to that of Pushing Daisies, "with its colorful sets and rapid-fire screwball dialogue."

Wow, this comment post has inadvertently included two separate commercial endorsements. Apparently I'm a sleeper viral marketing agent. Brought to you by Carl's Junor: "F*** you, I'm eating!"

MediaMaven said...

John, as usual you brought up something I wanted to address. I know that a lot of people now have these exorbitant cable packages because it includes telephone and internet service, but I hate the idea of these deals forcing me to purchase cable and spend more than I want to for things I don't need. I probably will have a home phone number, because I don't leave my cell phone on 24/7 and wouldn't want bill collectors and other people to contact me on that line.

I never heard of Middleman, so I'll have to check it out.

Emily said...

Those "deals" where you get three services for a low price only last so long- two years at best. After that, the price gets jacked up god knows what.

I myself would give up cable just for the fact that I feel the companies will screw you anyway they can, and I don't want to give them my money. But then, what would I do Not to Wear and Jon and Kate Plus 8? Sigh. I'd survive, I suppose.