This blog contains some simple tips and advice from two regular guys. We're not accountants, financial advisors, or brokers, so follow, ignore, or discuss our ideas as you see fit.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bye bye, cable TV!

Posted by Matt

I think I can finally safely report on the outcome of yet another decision we had to make when we moved into our new house (this won't be the last): namely, the decision of what to do with our cable television service.

In our old house, we subscribed to Comcast's "Expanded Basic" plan, meaning the networks and a few cable channels, but no pay channels or on-demand service. For that, we paid around $45 or $50 per month (after a discount for also subscribing to their Internet service). We have also subscribed to a 4-disc-at-a-time Netflix plan for $24 per month for over two years now and have been very happy with it. I got to the point where I couldn't stand to watch regular TV because the commercials were so intrusive.

So, I was making all of those exciting phone calls to transfer our services to the new house and I thought, why even bother with cable? The only show I was even still watching on TV was "The Office" and I was downloading them afterward anyway. My wife and I both zoned out occasionally to HGTV, but I knew I wouldn't miss that. So, I started exploring alternatives. Comcast was the only cable provider, but there was also the satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network. The prices were roughly similar with only slight variations in the channel lineup and I dismissed them pretty quickly.

Next, I went out and actually bought an antenna. Yes, the old rabbit ears. I did a bit of research and found that our neighborhood was supposed to have pretty good reception. I talked to a sales rep at Best Buy who told me that the best models in the current generation of antennae have an internal signal amplifier, so I picked one up for about $30 (on-sale, of course). I was very excited when I first hooked it up; we picked up about 20 different HDTV channels and the reception and picture were amazing! Except for when they weren't. Every once in a while, we'd see large swatches of pixels wash across the screen, especially if anyone was walking around the house. One day, we inexplicably lost over half of the channels. We sadly decided to return the antenna. I think that if I were really into network television, I'd probably explore installing a roof antenna, although I suspect our HOA probably wouldn't allow it. No real loss.

The last televison service option I explored is still relatively new: FiOS TV. We decided to use Verizon for our Internet service in the new house to take advantage of their fast new fiber-optic network and learned that our TV could hook up to the same connection. Like the satellite providers, it was still pretty expensive and didn't really have anything that compelling.

So, where did that leave us? We rely totally on Netflix these days for all our television watching. We decided to take some of the money that we were spending on cable previously and bump ourselves up to the 6-disc plan for $35.99 per month. I'm not sure if we'll stay there, but we found that we would occasionally run out of things to watch on the 4 disc plan, mostly due to the weekend postal lag. This is less of a problem now that we are ordering more television shows, as they usually have more content per disc and last longer. Even if we stay with the 6 disc plan, it is still cheaper than cable, and I always feel like we have a lot of choices of things that we actually WANT to watch at home.

The only drawback so far is that our friends with cable aren't able to discuss the current season of shows with us, but that isn't a problem this year.

Just the disc service is adequate for me, but there are two more important features of Netflix I think are worth mentioning. The first is the "Watch Instantly" feature that lets us bypass the USPS and stream some titles directly to our computer screens. I use this for TV shows, because sitting in a chair in front of a computer for 2 hours to watch a movie can get tiresome (especially since I sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day at work) and it doesn't really work well for more than one person. That does bring me to the second important feature, however: Netflix has announced that they are partnering with hardware manufacturers to bring the download service directly to our televisions.

The cable and satellite companies have resisted user-driven programming for far too long and Netflix is finally helping us achieve the ability to watch what we want, when we want. If you haven't yet, check them out.


Kacie said...

Lol, I'm doing the opposite of you. I am canceling my Netflix and I added Comcast. I am spending $20 per month with Comcast, and I got their bare-bones basic plan for $12, and then "Digital Classic" for an extra $7. It includes OnDemand, and so far, we love it.

I think it's great that you returned your antenna. It will only be good for this year, as the over-the-airwaves TV is going from analog to digital in Feb. 2009. You'd have to buy a converter box then anyway.

gaycheckml said...

All these are my free access online:

Hulu has numerous programming
BBC iplayer (which I watch with a UK VPN)
Youtube (only if I am desperate)
ABC (Full Episodes)
CBC (Full Episodes)
LOGO (Full Episodes)
Discovery (Full Episodes)

And I have a netflix account (3 out) and with Netflix going to unlimited online viewing (except the $4.59 cheapy).

All for the simple price of $20.00 a month using Minneapolis city wide internet access.

Matt said...

Kacie -

That's a great tip! I didn't know you could get a digital box and on-demand service from comcast if you only had "basic" cable. I was under the impression that you had to have the expanded basic for that. Do you have to pay for each on-demand program, and how good is the content?

Matt said...

And, I forgot to mention that the antenna we bought was a hi-def antenna, so it would have lasted, we just couldn't deal with the intermittent reception problems.

Kacie said...

Hey Matt-

Yeah, Comcast is ammmmazing! I've only had them for one week, and I'm already thrilled.

You might have to ask for it over the phone and see if you can bargain a little, since the package I have doesn't seem to be superly advertised. It's not making them the most money, after all.

The $7/month portion of my bill includes the "OnDemand" stuff. They have a ton of movies that I can watch at no additional charge. I saw a press release stating that they plan to add even more movies to that library soon (there's like 200+ now). There's no limit to how many you can watch.

My $7/month includes five channels of HBO. That itself is awesome, but what's more--I get to watch all of the movies/shows in the HBO On Demand library for no additional charge. This list includes tons of more current movies, and most of what's playing on HBO at the time.

Also, there are a bunch of TV shows I can watch on demand. Some shows are on channels I don't have (TLC) but I can watch the available shows anyway.

The available TV shows seem to be constantly changing (though like I said, I've only had it a week). You won't have access to an entire season of a show, but you'll have enough to keep you entertained.

If I want to watch a really current release, I can order an On Demand movie for $3.99. The paid menu is separate and it shows how much it costs, so I won't accidentally order a movie.

It sounds like a lot to frugal-minded folk, but that's how much I paid when I used to go to a brick & mortar store.

Sorry for such a dang long comment. E-mail me if you have more questions. Good luck!

Kacie said...

Maybe Comcast just makes offers/discounts regionally.

If you had the expanded basic but that still didn't include the on demand setup, then maybe that's just not available in your area.

You could still call and see if they could offer you a good package at less than you were paying, perhaps.

I've hijacked these comments enough. I think I'll write about this on my own blog now. :)