Generation Y

Cutting the cord

I recently took a bold step into the future: I’ve “cut the cord”—that is, I no longer have cable TV service.

I did this in part to save money and in part due to pressure from various magazine articles about how “millennials” are increasingly “cutting the cord,” relying on Internet streaming to fulfill their entertainment needs. I didn’t want to be the last twenty-something who still paid a cable bill.

Actually, I tried to disconnect my cable TV last year, but at the time my Internet and television services were bundled together, and when I called my cable company to request that they remove my TV package—expecting to pay a lower price thereafter—the telephone representative told me that, if I went Internet-only, my cable bill would actually increase, because I would no longer qualify for all the promotional discounts that I was receiving because I subscribed to both Internet and TV.

I thought about disconnecting my TV service anyway, just out of spite, but the guy on the phone could tell I was annoyed and offered me an “additional” $5 monthly discount if I admitted defeat and kept everything the same. Being a coward, I gave in.

At the time, I was paying $65 a month for “high-speed”—though unreliable—Internet service and a super-basic TV package consisting of nothing more than the channels I could have gotten for free with an antenna, if I hadn’t been an idiot. The new discount reduced my monthly rate to $60, but after a few months it jumped back to $65—one of many unexplained price hikes I experienced as a cable customer. If you call to complain, cable companies can always explain these increases by stating simply that “a promotion expired,” although they don’t mention during your signup that your initially low rate is merely a fragile patchwork of “promotions” of varying duration.

The personal obnoxiousness of cable companies is as strong a reason as the financial one for “cutting the cord.” I finally escaped from them because I moved to a new apartment, where my landlord provides complimentary wifi (and water!). The idea of no longer having to interact with a cable company for any reason was incredibly appealing, and I made the easy decision to beef up my Internet subscription services instead of entering into another TV contract.

I was already paying for Netflix ($7.99 per month for streaming) and Amazon Prime ($99 per year, which comes to $8.25 per month). Before moving, I put my Netflix DVD membership ($4.99 monthly) on hold and considered doing away with it altogether—watching movies on disc is even more unfashionable these days than having a cable subscription. And of course it’s true that you don’t need DVDs anymore—Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime offer more content than you could consume in a lifetime; however, if you’re a cinephile who absolutely must have access to certain movies that are not freely streamable (which many aren’t), Netflix’s DVDs remain the best option.

The price of Netflix’s two-discs-per-month service is less than it would cost to rent two movies from Amazon’s non-Prime library, and although the advent of streaming has put a lot of DVDs out of print (ironically reducing the total percentage of movies available to the general public in any format from its peak a few years ago, when almost everything was on disc—now a lot of titles are stuck in limbo, no longer on DVD but not yet streaming), you can still find some titles on disc that simply don’t exist as legally downloadable or streamable files anywhere on the Internet. Ultimately I re-subscribed.

So I had movies covered. For TV viewing, I bought an AmazonBasics Ultra-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna ($25) and stuck it on my wall above my television. Depending on where you live, this product may not work for you, but for me it picks up—over free, public airwaves—the Big Four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX), as well as several other channels, in better quality than my cable provider allowed.

I’m also lucky enough to have access to my parents’ HBO GO account. Pretty much all the “good” TV shows are on HBO, but sometimes you want to watch less-good TV as well, so I’ve decided to subscribe (for now) to Hulu Plus ($7.99 monthly) as a sort of DVR replacement for non-live viewing of shows from broadcast television and basic cable. Hulu’s TV content is less comprehensive than I’d hoped—no AMC, no TBS, no Spike, and even those networks that upload content to Hulu often do so in a limited manner: HGTV offers just 12 low-definition (!) episodes of “House Hunters” at a time. Hulu’s original content seems useless, but its movie selection is very good—more in terms of quality than in quantity: most (though not all) of the Criterion Collection is on there. Still, I’m not sure yet whether I’ll keep it.

For me, the total monthly cost of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus is $29.22. If I had to pay for HBO as well, the total cost be $44.21, cheaper than Comcast’s least expensive TV package with almost infinitely more content. But streaming isn’t totally reliable, and it’s still kind of expensive: all I really want is free, instantaneous access to every piece of media ever created—every movie, song, book, TV show, newspaper, magazine, and website.

Most young people believe in this ideal, which is incoherent yet somehow feels plausible, and many already attempt to enact it, relying entirely on illegal downloads and spending absolutely nothing on entertainment or information—the truly savvy contemporary lifestyle, which includes plenty of TV viewing but no actual television set, just a laptop. I’m old-fashioned with my Vizio and Roku. This is one reason why movies, though perhaps still artistically superior to television shows, have become less acclaimed: the more visual medium requires a bigger, better screen than a laptop or phone—film doesn’t fit into today’s high-tech minimalism.

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