Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Life Without TV

I've been fascinated by the demise of what we call TV. By that, I mean entertainment being delivered to us over the air or more typically over a cable or satellite to our home by major networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC with a schedule that they determine.

While I grew up knowing that my favorite shows were going to be on TV on a specific night on a specific channel at a specific time and that if I didn't see it when it was broadcast, I probably wouldn't see it for months until it was on again as a rerun.

Those days are long gone.

Starting with home VCR, people started being able to "time shift." That meant that they could set up their VCR to record a show when it was broadcast and then watch it when they wanted to. This meant handling lots of videotapes, but it worked remarkably well.

The advent of DVRs, such as cable boxes and most notably TiVo boxes, made it much easier to manage larger quantities of shows. The devices themselves even know the broadcast schedule and you can easily program the devices to record the shows you want.

But the biggest change I've seen is the emergence of sites that deliver entertainment across the Internet. These sites have such names as YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and more. Many of the major networks also deliver their content (mainly the "prime time" content) over the internet at their own sites, such as, and, albeit usually 24 or more hours after the original broadcast.

In addition, there is now hardware that supports these and other services, including Roku, AppleTV, Sony's PlayStation and more.

What's interesting is that none of these services use the traditional broadcast methods for delivering content. It's all done over the Internet.

Which leads me — and many others — to ask: Why do we need cable TV?

Virtually every show that is broadcast is available from an alternate source. The usual difference is that it's not available on the Internet until about 24 hours after it's broadcast.

But if I rarely sit down to watch a TV show when it's broadcast, do I care? The answer for many people is no.

With people paying typically $40 or more per month for cable TV service, it's an attractive thought to drop the cable TV service in favor of going with one or more of the Internet-based services.

The question is, is this going to save anyone any money? I don't think it will. Here's why.

Most of the services have a fee. Netflix starts at $7.99/month, Hulu Plus costs $7.99/month, Apple TV typically charges 99 cents per episode.

It's quite possible that by adding up a few services, plus some pay-per-view fees, you'll end up paying more than you do on a monthly basis for cable TV. Obviously, this depends on your viewing habits and for some people they could save some good money and for others this may cost them quite a bit more.

What you won't be dropping is the Internet service to your home. If anything, people will be upgrading to higher speeds that cost more money.

So, while I hear that some people are dropping their cable TV service in favor of all-Internet TV, I can't say that our household is ready to make that move — yet.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 26 January 2011.
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