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 21, 2012 2:08PM
I have bunny ears and have had it for many years.  I don't miss the endless channel flipping only to find NOTHING on.  If I want to see an episode of Chopped, I sit with my kid on the couch with her cheap laptop and my $46 a month internet, which is actually needed for her schooling more than me ever using it at home, and we watch whatever episode is available on the Food Network.  Otherwise, I enjoy my standard channels.  We don't miss a thing.  Now if I could just get rid of our overly expensive cell phones and go back to a landline...that would be heaven :)  Being the money used to pay for phones could go to a small vehicle loan lol.  Peace!
Dec 21, 2012 2:07PM

We pulled the plug on our television years ago, and have not had television in our home for 28 years!!!! Television was terrible in 1985 with only a few notable programs. We could see the idiocy and poor programing becoming worse. Our children grew up without it and they thank us for this now that they are fully grown with their own children, who, incidentally, watch VERY little television.Today T.V. is a cesspool while our family is closer than ever.  Pull the plug and discover how much more there is to life than the BOOB TUBE you will thank me for it.....

Dec 21, 2012 2:04PM
I gave up cable for Lent over 3 years ago...and forgot to go back.  May the glorious suffering continue!
Dec 21, 2012 2:02PM
Has anybody been able to figure out a way to still get sporting events? 
Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, and other companies are great if you only watch sitcoms, reality TV, movies, and things of that nature, but it seems to me that nobody can find a way to crack sports.
I've heard a few guys say watch it at a bar or go to the event, but that's more expensive than paying for cable. Would love to hear any ideas people have so I dump cable as well.
Dec 21, 2012 2:02PM
I was around 2005 when we went on a camping vacation for around a week.  Within a few hours of returning home my daughter was watching Cartoon Network.  We noticed a difference in her attitude, compared to the week of camping with no TV, a big difference.  That was it.  My husband announced that the cable was going to be turned off.  My daughter was upset.  Even I could not imagine life without my cooking shows.  My husband was also a TV addict, but he still called the cable company and shut it off.  We have never gone back to it either.  Oh yeah, we have a TV, but we only watch movies on it.  Sometimes my husband will use the computer to bring up a program we really want to see, but we do not spend night after night watching "our favorite shows".  My daughter is an incredible student and loves to read, in part, the lack of TV ruling our lives made a contribution to this.  I don't think we will ever go back to TV.   

Dec 21, 2012 2:00PM
I haven't had tv (satellite, cable, or otherwise) for 3 years now.  Does not interest me any more.  The few things I want to see I sometimes find on the web.  I've taught myself to play guitar in that time and do not foresee ever having a tv again  It's nothing but garbage for the most part, IMHO.

kevin, also
(yep, we're out there in numbers!
Dec 21, 2012 1:59PM

We have gone 2 full football seasons without cable and haven't missed a game, and now we get our TV in HD by antenna for free.   If I have to pay for a show, it costs me far less than what cable cost and I waste far fewer Saturdays getting lost in a showing of "A Few Good Men" just cause I can't turn away from Tom Cruise in those dress blues. 

My weight is down, I sleep better and I do more things all because I no longer have cable. 

Dec 21, 2012 1:56PM

Wow it's so cool to see how many others cut cable. I've been cable free for a few years now and I don't miss it. Although when I tell people they look at me like I'm crazy. I agree with the "why pay for commercials?" comments.

With the internet becoming so robust and Netflix coming onto the scene, there really isn't any place for Pay-TV. My answer was an Antenna for local channels and a TV Tuner setup on my PC. It took a little work to setup Windows Media Center as a DVR but it's incredible. Add to that the Xbox 360 is an extender. It gives me TV in any room. Plus since all of the info is on the PC. Any Xbox 360 in the house can schedule or record shows.

I can't believe how much money I was spending on cable and how much I'm saving now. Plus cutting the cord lead to a great learning experience and a hobby for a while as far as setting up Cable's replacement. 

i havent had cable in 4 years i dont need it i have netflix Hulu plus amazon prime am very happy all on my ps3.
Dec 21, 2012 1:55PM
I've chosen to be without cable, satelite, netflix, ect. going on 22 months. It's easy, once you get use to not having all that crap to watch.
Dec 21, 2012 1:54PM
Haha. This article kind of just made my $hitty morning a little better. Could not agree more with every word he says. I do miss cable a little bit... but literally only for sports. However, I am more social now and that is a huge plus. I go out and watch sporting events with friends and have a few drinks and enjoy myself now. Instead of sitting at home watching it on the couch. My local cable company charges $62 per month for the basic channels. That is outrageous. That's 71 channels. Here's the breakdown: 71 channels- 5 of them are in another language so I can't even watch them- 2 of them are constantly infomercials 24/7- about 6 of them are kiddy channels (i have no kids)- around 4 are all cooking channels- 2 of them are only telling me what is on the other channels. So, that leaves 52 watchable channels. I am a mid 20's single guy so therefor I am not watching any talk shows and no lifetime type of channels which makes up another 5 or 6 channels. My whole point to this is that I am forced to pay for channels I don't want. I only watch sports and occasionally I watch a movie on TNT or something. Why can't I build my own package? I would love cable then. I could order maybe 7 channels and pay a small fee per month. I refuse to pay almost $70 a month when I only watch like 6 of those channels. $8 a month for Netflix and I have everything I want minus sports.
Dec 21, 2012 1:53PM
Gave up our cable approx 4 months ago. Best decision ever! Not only does it save us big bucks, but our family of 5 is finally interacting together! It's amazing! I never knew my children knew so many words! We did eventually download Netflix, but that only costs me $9/month and it's great when I need a flashback from my childhood as many kids shows on there are from that time. I admit that we sometimes miss live sports (though it gives us a reason to go out and watch them elsewhere) and news. But I've been pleased to not be bombarded during the election with all of that nonesense. If I want to see it bad enough I can log on. Maybe one day we will go back, but not for a while.
Dec 21, 2012 1:53PM
I have been cabel free since February 2012, and don't miss it one iota!  $8 a month for Netflix plus a $39 roof antenna bring me everything I need.  I found hulu to be user unfriendly and dropped it after 2 weeks.  The money I save is enough for a car payment - if I wanted to buy another car.  There's nothing on cable that I am desperate to see.  Downton Abbey is on PBS in 2 weeks and I get it free over the air.  Recpetion with my $39 antenna is stellar!
Dec 21, 2012 1:51PM
I am another person who dropped cable.  It's been two years now, and the only thing I miss is watching an occasional NFL football game, though I have come to realize that with decline of quality football games, they have become a big waste of 3-4 hours.  I have a Roku box and Hulu Plus, and DVDs that I watch.  I would put up an antenna, but we are in a remote small-market area where there are few over-the-air stations and they are far away.  I thought I would miss cable, but I really don't.  The cable company has tried to hook me into coming back, but I know that the cheap introductory offer would only last for awhile and then they would stick it to me again on the price.  RIP cable TV, and good riddance.
Dec 21, 2012 1:47PM
I have 4 daughters and we gave up cable 5 years ago. They struggle sometimes, and enjoy it when they are at their friends or families house, but I don't miss it at all. We have tons of movies and we have the internet and we have Netflix...that is enough for me. I don't see how sitting in front of a TV all day is healthy. We have a lot of family time together and that is what is most important.
Dec 21, 2012 1:46PM

I have not used cable in over a year.  I have two sons, 19 & 5.  My 19 yr old plays his HALO, etc and is online.  With all of the crap you see on tv, I did not want my 5 year watching any of it.  He has hundreds of movies and enjoys sitting with big bro or myself to snuggle up and just watch a good old fashions kids movie. This of coarse without half naked woman in commercials, foul language and gun toting bad guys.  If I never see another cable box, which I was paying $160 a month for, it will be too soon.

**And out of that $160, $115 was for fees and taxes.  Really!!!**




Cable Free in CT

Dec 21, 2012 1:45PM
Even with Hulu, Netflix and an antenna, I'm still paying waaaayy less than half of what I paid to have cable but I can still watch shows I want to watch pretty much on my own schedule.
I am saving money and still seeing what I want to see. Not much of a down side there.
Dec 21, 2012 1:36PM
I got rid of cable 2 yrs ago, they think you have no choice , i remember it was like 15 bucks a month when it first came around and we got all the local and some extra stations too. That was fine never missed a sports game had MTV  and we we're happy. Now they want a arm and leg and you can't buy a selection that fits your needs without buying a costly package.
Dec 21, 2012 1:35PM
I got rid of my Cable/internet 8 years ago and have not missed it one bit! I use a computer at work or the library a few times a week, but at home we read and spend time as a FAMILY.  We have a KIndle Fire and will on occasion download things to watch and we have many DVDs of shows and movies and we will have a movie night once a week - the only night the TV is even turned on.  But there isn't one of use that wishes we had cable.  Even the kids would rather go outside or play games with us (NOT video games either!) and they love to read. 
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

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