Reflections on a year without cable

Having cut the cord 12 months ago, a long-time subscriber answers the question: Is it possible to survive on Netflix and Hulu alone?

By MSN Money Partner Dec 18, 2012 1:57PM

NetflixBy Kevin Sintumuang, The Wall Street Journal Wall Street Journal on MSN Money


Dear Cable:

How are you? Can you believe it's been a year since we last saw each other? I remember handing the cable guy my set-top box like it was yesterday.

So much has happened since then. The last of the remaining cool characters on "Boardwalk Empire" got offed. Zombies have officially overtaken vampires as the monster du jour thanks to "The Walking Dead." And Carrie on "Homeland" has consumed about 10 gallons of Pinot Grigio.

You see, Cable, breaking up with you didn't mean the end of my entertainment universe. I wanted to let you know that I'm happy. Me and Internet TV? We're getting along great. I spent 36 hours with her last weekend watching three seasons of "Damages," and she didn't mind that I never changed out of my sweatpants.

When I pressed "Off" on that 64-button remote of yours for the last time, I was relieved. No more $175 monthly bills! No more Honey Boo Boo! No more Guy Fieri!

But I was scared, too. Would I be OK with most of the American public watching "Bob's Burgers" a day before I could see it on Hulu? Would paying $35 for a season of "Mad Men" in HD sting as much as a cable bill? Would I be too ashamed to ask my parents for access to their HBO Go account?

I survived. But I'd be lying if I said I don't think about you every once in a while.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm glad we went our separate ways. You still act like such a jerk. When are you going to learn that it's wrong to force people to buy hundreds of channels they don't watch when they really only want a dozen or so? I know, I know -- that's just how the business works; it's how you've made money for decades. But have you ever thought about how that makes the people you're supposed to care about, i.e., your subscribers, feel?

Sometimes I think you're missing a sensitivity chip. You should watch more Oprah and fewer house-flipping programs.

Internet TV? It respects me. It's progressive. It lets me choose what I want to watch, when I want to watch, whether a show I buy through my Apple TV or some foreign movie I stream on Hulu Plus that makes me feel like an artsy college student again.

I can even watch live sports on Aereo. It'll never force me to subscribe to a channel with a show about pawnshop owners making customized bikes for ghost-hunting housewives.

No one's perfect, though. The "New Releases" section of Netflix (NFLX) seems to have the same selections week after week. The latest season of "The Walking Dead" in HD costs $43 on iTunes -- add subscriptions to a few more shows and I might as well be paying for cable. And whenever I'm interrupted halfway through a show by a buffering circle, I think about how quick and reliable you were.

That's the thing, Cable: You were boring to a fault, but you worked the way you were supposed to most of the time. At one point, you were a necessity, like water and electricity. But these days, I see you as a luxury product.

You do what you do exceedingly well -- but you charge way too much for the privilege.

I've seen you grow over the past year: Letting folks watch on their iPads. Giving access to primo content from HBO and ESPN on pretty much everything -- tablets, smartphones, laptops, an Xbox 360. This "TV everywhere" approach is a step in the right direction. It almost makes up for the fact that you're so expensive. Almost.

So where does that leave us? I've thought about you a lot. You don't make it easy to let go. Every few weeks I get something in the mail from you -- Triple Play! Double Play! It's sweet, but I find it hard to forget how awful you could be -- jacking up your rates out of the blue, charging me a monthly fee for a DVR that only worked half of the time.

When I quit you last year, I told you, "It's not you. It's me." Well, I lied. It was mostly you.

I'm learning to forgive you. But you have to change. It's easy, really: Let me pay for just the channels I want -- say, $100 a month for my choice of 20 instead of $175 for hundreds. If you do that, you can move your set-top box back to where my Apple TV now sits.

Do I miss you? Sometimes. Will we ever be together again? Perhaps. But not today. And not tomorrow. For now, let's just be friends. I'll still see you at my parents' place over the holidays, OK?

Your pal,


More from The Wall Street Journal 

Dec 18, 2012 11:05PM
What was missing was a comment about [not missing] the 5 or 6 minutes of commercials. The commercials I pay to watch. Why am I paying to watch 10 minutes of commercials every 30 minutes? When I was growing up, commercials were what paid for the program to be on TV, not me paying to watch a commercial.
I have decided back a few months ago to cut cable loose. I am sick and tired of stupid "reality" TV, honey boo boo, stupid hillbillies, and TLC, which you do not learn anything from. Heck, even cartoons stink these days.

Good bye cable... Good bye commercials.
Dec 18, 2012 11:58PM
$100/mo for cable? Yeah, that is still too much. Get an antenna and get dozens of free channels over the air. Hulu, Netflix, Redbox, etc. There are so many low cost options.

Cable sucks. 
Dec 19, 2012 8:55AM

I gave up Cable TV in November 2000, and I still don't miss it.


Dec 21, 2012 1:31AM

I have been married for over 25 years and my spouse and I have never paid for television: No cable, no satellite, and yes, we have a television with a D/A converter box.

In addition, neither of us have cell phone plans.

We pay for our daughters college [will for a second daughter too], own our home, and drive 2 fairly new vehicles paid for. We have retirement accounts that will allow us to retire around our 55-56th birthdays; and by no means are we rich.


"Waste of money. Period."

Dec 19, 2012 10:23AM
Cut my cord in 2005. What a wonderful time it has been since!
Never will come back...

Dec 19, 2012 8:39AM
I got rid of cable years ago. When broadcast TV went digital, I lost most of those channels too. Fortunately, our local college has an extensive film collection so I am able to see the best in domestic and foreign films within a year of their release. On the rare occasions I do see cable, I wonder how anyone can put up with the constant commercial interruptions.

Goodbye commercials, goodbye groupthink.
Dec 19, 2012 10:43AM

netflix streaming at $8 a month 24-7, verses cable for a minimum of $45 with stations i never watch, and excessive commercials and 20 year old reruns. 


hmmmm.....such a hard choice.....

Dec 20, 2012 2:03PM
During the last five years we have not to have cable TV.  With the savings we purchased a 54" LED screen, computers and other technology. With three children we watch movies from local library for free. We watch YouTube, Hulu and PBS among others. I read five to ten newspapers on line daily. We do not pay for extra content like Netflixs or Hulu plus. As a family we use the internet as the worlds greatest research library that it is. We also keep contact with people all over the world.  Our primary cost has been for high speed internet. We watch what we want when we want. There is not enough time for us to watch all of the programs we want to watch.  Perhaps we miss a few sporting events or need to wait a week to watch a current program. We can control the violence and negative programing our children might otherwise view. Our children read  constantly and are at the top of their classes. We spend time together as a family.

Dec 19, 2012 1:48PM
Remember when Cable was first introduced? $10 monthly and NO commercials; that was the whole idea. Then when 'Pay For Commercials' started in the 1980's, we pulled the plug for good.
We don't watch more than the occasional broadcast PBS special and the weather now, probably 4 hours total a week. Modern programs have no morals to the stories, just mindless busybody/gossip drivel, violence and murder, mass rejection, or cop shows. Total waste of time.
Dec 19, 2012 11:16AM
Since the digital conversion, I can get a few more channels and that is plenty for me. I also have a Roku box and love it. Cable tv isn't worth it!!!
Dec 19, 2012 1:29PM

My rate mysteriously jumped from 124 to 167 and I have spent 3 days on hold for more than 1/2 until i give up.  They know what they are doing and couldn't care less how any of us feel.  I was standing in line at the bank and heard a young woman say to the teller.  "They all lie, lieing is how they operate".

Dec 21, 2012 1:31PM

People look at me like I have a horn on my head when I tell them that we gave up on cable since 2004.  We don't miss it!  Internet TV, DVD, Netflix compensates plenty.  Not to mention that my brother has more DVDs than Blockerbuster we never miss anything!

I recently flipped channels through my sister's TV since they have cable and surprisingly there was nothing on but reruns that I can catch on syndication!  Not missing much!

Dec 19, 2012 4:51AM
I cut the cord almost three years ago and love it, and the savings.  I have to cheat though during the four months of college football season.  Being a sports fan is the hardest thing about cutting the cord. Even with the 25+ antenna channels I get I'm still basically stuck with only the local games for the most part.  Oh and forget about baseball. 
Dec 19, 2012 1:50PM
I've never had cable TV. I have a roof antenna that gets excellent reception and all of the channels I desire. I watch little TV to begin with, so why spend $75-$100 per month for a mostly useless service. I'd rather spend the money on good wine and whiskey. :)
Dec 19, 2012 12:42PM
I've never had cable. I don't want cable. Why pay for a bunch of channels I will never watch, let alone allow in my home? Netflix is just fine thank you. I choose what I want and discard the rest.
Dec 19, 2012 5:32PM
cutting cable tv? big deal, I stopped watching tv for 6 years now, easy as .....
Dec 21, 2012 1:35PM

Yah, what's the big deal? It's not a big deal to go a year without television! And you only went without cable, and you used your parents HBO Go. PUH-LEEZE! Pathetic is what your story is. We don't use television. Granted, if something we like is on youtube, we will hook the cord up to the TV, but I don't miss it at all! Was at a hotel & thought it would be cool to "flip channels" but hey, we decided reading with the children was, is, and always will be a much better way to spend our time.


Perhaps if parents spent TIME with their children, instead of letting them veg out infront of a screen for hours a day, we would have a much better society in whole. We can teach our children to cook, sew, craft, wood work, machanical workings. If we're not teaching our children necessary skills to be productive adults, what are they learning besides the BS they see on TV?


~Network TV Free Since 2006

Dec 21, 2012 1:28PM
I cut the cable 2 years ago when a team mom at league football suggested the ROKU player to me. It is a little box you plug up to your tv with a hdmi cable and stream channels via wifi. So i get netflix and hulu for a total of 7.99 for each channel monthly and i get to see all my favorite channels.I also have fb/and a bunch of free movie channels. My box came with the game angry brids pre loaded as well. It was 100.00 and i was finally free from the ever changing cable fees. You can get it at best buy or online...check itout if you want to save money every month.
Dec 19, 2012 2:55PM
I've been toying with the idea of getting rid of cable but it's all I know and I'm not good with change.  For those that's been able to get away from the massive bill, what do you do about football season (if you like football, of course)? 
Dec 19, 2012 2:02PM

The Internet gives me Craig Ferguson and all the news and financial ticker I can eat, no charge. HD over-the-air gets me all the HD sports I'm interested in, PBS Newshour, and such.  I pay attention to the hot series that are on premium cable and there's always one or more of them winding up. In the ensuing year I buy the DVD series collection for a song. (If anything is any good, it's worth watching multiple times, and attending the commentary tracks at some point.) 


No one has more than 24 hours in the day. Cable needs it all. Sorry, A-V entertainment as I've recounted, above, is already plenty out of hand!

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