Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Day I Killed the TV

A lot happened over the weekend. A couple of kids in England got married (awwww), the White House Correspondents' Association dinner turned into a Donald Trump roast (hehheh), and Osama bin Laden finally got what was coming to him. (yeeehaw!) And after much debate, I finally cut the cord on my cable television yesterday. This isn't the first time I've tried. I never got a converter box when all the TV signals when to digital, so I always kept the limited basic Comcast package when I downgraded from their regular basic cable. When I decided to stop getting cable television completely, I found out that it was actually cheaper to keep the limited basic cable than it was to only pay for the Comcast internet service, because of bundling discounts. This is no longer the case. I'll only be saving about five bucks a month by booting my cable service, but that's two weeks of Netflix right there. Or a sixth of a tank of gas (grumble).

No cable and no converter box means I've pretty much cut all ties with live television. The only thing I feel I'm really giving up is programming from CBS, which is the last major network that doesn't offer its content online free in some format. Sure, FOX makes you wait two weeks for a new episode of "House" on Hulu, but it's there. I do still watch a significant amount of CBS programming, including "The Big Bang Theory," "Criminal Minds," "60 Minutes," and David Letterman and Craig Ferguson on late night. Are they worth an extra $5 a month to keep? Not really, especially when you weigh them against all the online content that's available, that technically I'm already paying for. I need to finish "The IT Crowd" before the American version lands, and I've got a ton of "Frontline" to catch up on, and I've been meaning to check out the Slash Film podcast. See what I mean?

My viewing habits have already changed so much, that the once deeply ingrained urge to watch live television has starting going away. I was watching "60 Minutes" on Sunday night when the news broke about Osama bin Laden, or rather the news about the impending presidential announcement about Osama bin Laden broke. For a moment there was a surge of the old excitement I felt whenever anything big and important had happened in the past, and I flipped around the dial (remember TVs with physical dials?) to peek in on the various networks' news coverage. Finding nothing but stonewalling from news anchors who were not allowed to say anything substantive yet, I gave up and hit the internet for more coherent information while waiting for the president to appear. The same thing happened on Friday morning with the royal wedding. I didn't see it live, but did get up earlier than usual so I could watch clips of the festivities before going to work. After about twenty minutes of network morning show prattle, I fired up my laptop and hit Youtube to get to the good stuff.

There have been other signs. Recently, I realized that after so many months of instant gratification from Netflix, I can't stand watching movies on broadcast television with all the commercial breaks and time edits anymore. Regular television shows are designed to have breaks, so the interruptions don't seem as jarring, but watching movies on television in pan-and-scan format, chopped up into six-minute chunks just feels wrong now. Even Hulu's relatively limited commercials during feature films get on my nerves. The thing is, weekend afternoon broadcasts of older library titles used to be my primary means of watching movies as a kid. I only went to see movies in theaters about once or twice a year, and my family didn't get into the habit of renting films until I was nearly in high school. Now I don't think I could sit through a whole broadcast of some of my old favorites without wanting to check Twitter during the ad breaks.

In general, streaming video on the internet is so much more convenient. I can watch a program whenever I want, I can instantly rewind or skip ahead, there's never any question about what I'm watching or where it came from. What channel a program is airing on doesn't affect its playback quality - yes, even with cable some stations attracted more static than others. Moreover, no more lousy station idents, no more giant pop-up ads covering the bottom third of the screen, no more delays due to basketball or football games running long, and no more floundering over sudden timeslot changes. I watch "Community" on Sunday nights at 8PM, because I feel like it, and I'm never going back!

I don't think that I'll go without live television permanently. I'll probably replace my trusty Magnavox CRT with a new flatscreen at some point, which will be able to handle digital broadcasts from the local stations. There are still some events like the Oscars and the Olympics that I think it would be better to see live. But for now, during the summer months, there's nothing but reruns on the air, and it's the perfect time to take a break from the tube and save a few bucks.

Now I just have to pry myself away from the Internet.

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