Are you really ready to cut the cable?

Apr 08, 2009 By Troy Wolverton

Lots of TV shows and movies can now be found online, and the amount is increasing fast.

But if you're considering canceling your cable TV service in favor of delivered over the Internet, you should think long and hard before you do.

Relying on the Internet for your video entertainment leaves a lot to be desired. The show or movie you want to watch may not be available when you want it. And it's often difficult to get a wide range of Internet-delivered video onto your TV.

If you're debating whether or not to cancel you cable service, you're probably not ready to live without it, said Josh Martin, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, a technology industry research firm. "Unless you know where you'll be able to find everything and are sure that it's adequate to meet your needs, it's not going to be," he said.

But some consumers already have cut their cable cords. Caroline Bailey, an assistant professor of social work at California State University-Fullerton, canceled her cable service in 2004 because she thought it was overpriced.

Now she gets most of her news online or via National Public Radio. She tunes in TV shows in various ways. She watches them on her computer by going to a network Web site, rents an entire season of a show on DVD from her neighborhood Blockbuster, or times her workout to catch a show at her gym while she's exercising.

"There's no reason for me to have cable," Bailey said. Not having it "really makes you be motivated to access the shows you want to watch."

While not many customers have yet abandoned cable, many have begun to consider it as a way to save money in a period of widespread economic insecurity.

Some 22 percent of broadband households say they may cut back on their cable-TV service in the next six months, according to the Diffusion Group, a market research firm. Meanwhile, some 25 percent of consumers surveyed by research firm In-Stat expressed interest in replacing their service with Internet-delivered video.

The attraction of Internet video is obvious. A growing amount of it is free, either through network sites such as ABC.com or aggregator sites such as Hulu. It's generally on-demand, meaning you can watch it on your schedule rather than when networks choose to broadcast it. And you never have to worry about making a programming mistake or whether you have enough room to record the video, as is the case when you use a VCR or DVR.

The video available online is increasing. Last week, for instance, Disney announced a deal with Google's YouTube that will bring videos from Disney networks such as ABC and ESPN to the video-sharing site. Meanwhile, Disney reportedly is planning a partnership with Hulu that will add programming from its networks to that video site.

Still, a lot of video is not online. If you're a Netflix subscriber, you can use the company's streaming video service to access 12,000 videos on your PC or TV, but that is a fraction of the more than 100,000 DVDs the company has available.

While most movies aren't legally available online, a good portion of current TV shows are. But whether a show is available, when it's available and in what format it's available can vary from network to network and show to show.

You can buy the first two seasons of HBO's "Big Love," for example, on iTunes. But you won't find shows from the latest season there -- or on any other legal online site. Likewise, you can find "The Office" on Hulu the day after it airs, but you may have to wait eight days to watch "House."

And you can generally forget about finding live broadcasts online of professional sports games.

Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne, an online media measurement firm, recently decided to cancel his pay-TV service, largely to cut down on the amount of TV his family watched. Garland has several devices that allow him to get online video on his television, but he was amazed at how much access he lost after he cut off his cable service. Many shows on basic cable channels such as Discovery aren't yet available online.

"In my house, that was the biggest deal," Garland said.

Analysts such as Garland point to a number of reasons for the limited availability of Internet video.

Rights issues can be complicated, requiring agreement from studios, networks and other parties. And with the market still maturing and no one certain that they've discovered the ideal business model for online video, many video providers are still experimenting. Also, many are reluctant to undermine the cable providers because they still make more money from having their videos on cable than on the Internet.

The online video experience will most likely continue to improve, but many experts don't expect it to reach the quality of cable service anytime soon.

"The idea that this makes sense for the mass market consumer, we're clearly not there," said Greg Ireland, an analyst with IDC, a technology research firm.

___

BEFORE YOU CUT THE CABLE

Internet video experts advise consumers to first take a close look at what they watch and what's available online. Among the things to consider:

The TV connection: Devices that deliver video from the Internet to your big-screen television can be expensive and difficult to configure -- and usually offer only a fraction of what you can get on your computer, much less your cable box.

High definition, low availability: You can find thousands of movies and TV shows in some fashion online, but only a small percentage is in high definition. Lower resolution video may look OK on your laptop"s screen but may not look great on your living room TV -- assuming you can get it there.

Limited selection: The selection of Hollywood-produced videos available online is a hodgepodge of current television shows, recent movies and library titles. Whether a title is available varies from network to network and show to show. In some cases, you"ll find an entire run of a current television show. In other cases, you won"t be able to find any episodes at all.

Timing issues: In some cases, you can find a television show online the day after it's broadcast, or a movie the same day the DVD is released. In other cases, you may have to wait weeks or months to find the title online. How long those titles are available can vary as well. Sites such as Hulu limit the number of episodes of a TV show that are available to only the most recent.

Cost: A growing number of shows and movies are available through ad-supported sites such as Hulu. But many videos are available only through services such as iTunes that require you to buy or rent them a la carte. Depending on how many videos you watch, your total bill for such services can approach that of what you pay Comcast.

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(c) 2009, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).
Visit Mercury Center, the World Wide Web site of the Mercury News, at www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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User comments : 4

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nick7201969
not rated yet Apr 08, 2009
Another aspect:
Each byte that you stream(download), be very aware that Cable Companies like Comcast are counting it. You get a limit of 250gb per month(in SF,CA). If you go over that limit, you get a letter from Comcast and a penalty. What's worse is that there is nothing stopping the 800lb monopoly gorilla from reducing their quota limits and increasing their upgrade fees. The household I live in has 7 people in it and reaches that threshold easily without monitoring it. So, how are we going to continue with the multiple streaming options that are coming to the internet without the cable bully.
thinkresults
not rated yet Apr 09, 2009
We've been without cable since 1992. From our perspective, it has only meant an ever-increasing level of internet media options since then that have made it likely to the point of nil of us ever going back.
gishpupp
5 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2009
The part about getting video off the internet and onto the TV screen is true, it's very difficult. However, I haven't had a TV in 3 years, and my only radio is part of my alarm clock.

Keep in mind I'm a 30 something SWM with a BA.

Let's start with the important stuff; The Daily Show, South Park, and The Rachel Maddow Show are all on the net within an hour of broadcast. Quality is less than the analog signal, but except for Rachel it doesn't matter. OK, that's the erotica. Now for socialization, Lost and Smallville are in 720p at 1.09gb, are very popular and come down the pipe very quickly. For therapy, Dr Who is on hours before I wake, in the UK, so the time it takes to download is immaterial. 30 Rock and The Office are small, easy downloads that are fun to watch anytime (anywhere).

For education we have the documentaries from the BBC, Discovery, National Geographic, etc. The past three days the following releases became available;
*BBC Natures Great Events 2of6 The Great Salmon Run
*BBC What Darwin Didn't Know 2009
*BBC The Darwin Debate
*The History Channel Evolve 2of11 Sex
*BBC Natures Great Events 1of6 The Great Melt
*BBC Horizon 2009 Why Cant We Predict Earthquakes
*BBC Horizon 2009 Whats the Problem with Nudity
*National Geographic Darwin's Secret Notebooks
*Charles Darwin, The Story Of
*NatureTech 2of3 The Material World
*Time Warp Blades and Volts
*MythBusters Demolition Derby Special
*BBC Natures Great Events 3of6 The Great Migration
*The History Channel Evolve 3of11 Size
*Discovery Channel American Chopper On The Road
*Discovery Channel Dirty Jobs Veterinarian.

That's a lot of documentaries to me.

The "Are you really ready to cut the cable?" question is the same as the "Are you really ready to cut the telephone line?" question. It's inevitable, wonderfully convenient, and good in emergencies. The videos, not the cell phone. Now there is no need to buy the NYT at the airport when your flight's late. Loosen the belt buckle and laugh at Colbert for 20 minutes.

It's easy for me to download and view, I've been doing this for over 5 years, four of them exclusively. What I don't have access to are the 300 channels of (fill in the blank) to flip through. (Though I do see BBC productions before my mother sees them on PBS.) It's like being on a 'Do not call' list. The 'Do not show me what I don't want to see' list, I guess.

Unlike Gov. Mark Warner, I wasn't 'around' when the cell phone got started so all the rationalizations for them may not work for video. But they do for me.

In conclusion, for a country that 'loves' Capitalism, why do we have GM, RIAA and the MPAA? How is it possible that GM has made cars no one likes for over 30 years? How is it possible that music companies will not sell you music (Apple started and owns itunes)? Why would the MPAA sue every viewer instead of selling (leasing, really) their products? This is the reality show I can't watch.

It's so easy, the kids are doing it.
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Apr 09, 2009
Cut the tether to mainstream media entertainment! You are your 'entertainment'; however you will parse that.