As a child, pre-cable, we had four flavors of television — ABC, NBC, CBS and some crazy channel on UHF 45 (ultra high frequency) called WBFF TV which later became Fox. Watching TV was a privilege, Saturday morning cartoons or an hour or two after homework during the week. And then on Sunday, some shared TV. The family would gather for Baltimore Colts games, 60 Minutes, some big Disney or Mutual of Omaha Special .
It all seemed very planned, almost curated. And it was free.
Then it got ridiculous.
Fast-forward many, many years. At one point,we had 3 HD cable boxes, HBO, Showtime and about 650 other channels. Our cable bill with high speed internet at one point exceeded $165 per month. We were paying $30 a month for the 3 HD boxes alone, In my informal surveys among some friends, when you add in premium channels, high-speed Internet, some of their bills exceed this. Enough was enough.
About those cable boxes. Don’t forget about the energy all this equipment uses. This article in Popular Science quoted a study pointing out that cable boxes are the biggest energy suckers in many homes, using more power than refrigerators! So, including electric bills, we were looking at a monthly expense of about $175 per month. If you were to invest that money, compounded at 7%, you would have approximately $30,275 after 10 years. Formula explained here. It was time to cut our dependence on cable TV.
Define how much TV you really need.
The first step in cutting your cable bill is defining how much TV really need. Turns out SuperK and I were watching maybe an hour and a half of TV per day. We’ve since decided to cut this back to about an hour per day. As our kids get older, they watch even less TV, but man do they suck down some serious bandwidth with phones, laptops and iPads. More on this project later.
Now it’s getting better – TV becomes entertainment through curation
So let’s say you really can get by with just an hour or two per day of TV. If you’re going to spend less time in front of the TV then start by making it quality time. Most news today is dominated by pointless fear mongering to chase ratings. Politicians spend most of their time crafting 15 second sound bites for CNN or the evening news versus actually doing their jobs. Trust me, this is an easy one to cut first. Then you can get rid of any paid subscription channels outside of what’s included with basic cable. When you subscribe to HBO and Showtime you’re paying for a lot of content you don’t actually watch, specially after you pare back viewing significantly. (PS, you’ll still be able to watch any of these premium shows on your schedule. I’ll show you how.)
Stop renting cable boxes
If you read this blog, you know that I hate monthly subscriptions. Paying $5 or $10 a month to rent standard or HD cable boxes seems like an especially ridiculous subscription. I was even offered a DVR rental by my cable company for $15 a month. The HD boxes and DVRs had access to HD movie rentals, so I’d be paying the cable company for the privilege of spending more money with them. What a scam.
I got rid of all the cable boxes. The first one was easy. I added a cablecard to our TIVO box. The second cable box, we replaced with my son’s Xbox, It has access to Netflix, FIOS and a bunch of other options we really don’t use that much. This basement TV is all gaming. For the third TV, which is very rarely used, we just plugged in a $49.00 Roku Box. The Roku box is a great solution because between a basic Netflix streaming account and an Amazon prime account that includes free streaming video, you have access to more TV than you could ever watch.
How to curate your content
Okay, let’s say you’ve gotten rid of your cable boxes, cut all premium programming and reduced your cable package to the bare-bones minimum. At this point you’ll be about $50-$70 lighter per month. You have a clean slate to to build your ultimate entertainment set-up on.
The three most powerful tools in a basic or no cable TV package household are.
If you use Amazon, I recommend upgrading to Amazon Prime as you get access to over 41,000 movies and TV episodes included, all via the Roku box. If you supplement this with Netflix,(also on the ROKU box) you have access to just about every premium TV show available, on your schedule.
With this setup, or something similar, you can begin to search for the highest rated content, using Netflix and Amazon, or just asking some friends. Using a free website like Flixter, I can search for movies rated in the top 25% and filter the ones available on my streaming services. In my case, Netflix and Amazon Prime.
The one drawback that most people point out in scaling back cable is the loss of original content on HBO, Showtime and other pay channels. Back in the heyday of The Wire or The Sopranos, this would’ve been a problem. Now, with networks like AMC producing shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Walking Dead, as well as new original content from Netflix and Amazon, you’ll have more than enough to fill your curated TV time.
The great news is all of those HBO and premium channel shows usually become available via Netflix or Amazon one season after the launch of the new season. Sure, there’s a few shows that you’ll be a season behind on, but you’ll more than make up for it by the fact that you won’t waste any time on shows that don’t have rave reviews after their first season.
Cutting the cable completely
Believe me when I say I’ve looked into this, testing various HD antennas etc. This is still a long-term goal. However, now that I’ve gone to the most basic cable package, and I subtract the cost of high-speed Internet (alone) from my total monthly $99.00 Verizon FIOS bill, the discounted cable TV portion adds up to only $39/ month which is about what it’s worth.
Cutting your dependence on the cable company takes a good amount of upfront work but if you do the math and include what you save long-term, you’re really giving up very little, for some significant savings.
Old cable package versus new Verizon Fios.
Premium bundle HBO Showtime others
3 HD Boxes
taxes surcharges fees
Savings less Netflix fees $600 per year. Amazon Prime Instant Video
is included with my prime membership.