Do I really need a TV service?

A recent move across the Valley (San Fernando) to Burbank left us with a dilemma – having closed our Dish Satellite account (don’t ask, lousy customer service) we discover that DirectTV won’t work off our balcony, the only location the community will allow. Charter cable would be available, but for some odd reason they don’t offer a DVR in our area (even though they offer digital cable – go figure, it’s just a box requiring nothing on the service side.) So, since they won’t “sell” me what I want to buy, I don’t want to buy. (The fact they promise to respond to email queries within 24 hours and I’m waiting three days later is another negative.)

So, no supplier wants to sell me what I want to buy and I was under the very mistaken belief that the US was the “country of service”. Apparently only where a tip is involved. So, what’s the alternative? Don’t buy. But there are some programs I want to watch and my partner is addicted to “Project Runway” so absolutely no TV isn’t a desirable option either. Mmm.

Jump ahead a week and we’re cheerfully watching most of our regular shows and many of them look much better than they used to off the Dish Network receiver. We have our a la carte television – the brave new world.

Big downside is that I have to run cables from my laptop to the TV – VLC player puts the playback on my extended desktop on the extended desktop. VLC player plays a wider variety of file types and has no borders on three sides during playback so it gets lost into the overscan. (Tip, set the extended TV desktop to 800×600 so the pixels of the header on the player are relatively smaller.)

So how does the experiment go? It takes a few minutes a day to set up downloads of the shows I want to watch. But they’re mostly easy to find and quick to download. But so far I’m not missing “regular TV”. I can easily see how the whole oligopoly of networks and cable could fall apart with a little disintermediation. They are the reason I tried this experiment and it could really be a precursor to their demise. Networks and Cable systems/channels don’t add value any more. Once they did but now the technology is there to do without them. And, as much as the gatekeepers will fight it, when the technology is there for choice, choice will happen around the gatekeepers: they’re gatekeepers of a gate in a fence with holes in it.

One correspondent thought that I might miss the “serendipity” of finding new material, but because my viewing pattern was almost exclusively off the PVR in the Dish receiver, they tended to be only shows I knew anyway. New shows generally got picked up because someone I knew recommended them. In fact, while I write the blog I’m watching a documentary I found while searching for something else – the very definition of Serendipity.

If either DirectTV or Charter will offer me what I want to buy, I’ll buy it. If the cost of a disposable TV show, like, for example The Daily Show were under 50c I’d be happy to use the convenience of the ITMS to buy, but that sort of TV does not justify $1.99 an episode ($40 a month for the one show is not realistic or competitive). For shows that bear multiple viewings or are exclusive in some way, the $1.99 is not unreasonable.

All I really want now is a device like the Airport Express that lets me stream my video from this laptop across to a box near the TV to get rid of these unsightly cables!

Bottom line, the theory of disintermediation is not so much theory any more. Some of what I wrote about back in March last year is closer than even I thought. Not for my mom yet, but for some.

15 thoughts on “Do I really need a TV service?”

  1. What are you talking about Philip? 🙂

    You left something out. I got lost immediately after “jump ahead a week.” What happened? You got some kind of service on your computer that makes cable irrelevant, but you didn’t explain what it was. I’ve never heard of whatever it is that you replaced it with. Your story has an excellent beginning and a fascinating ending, but where was the middle? If your blog was on TiVo, I’d search back and review the part that I missed while I took a leak.

  2. Well, the middle of the story may possibly, be in a grey legal area :). Hypothetically, if I were to step outside the purely legal download area, say from the Apple store, I might go looking at bittorrent, and would, hypothetically, consider using something like TVrss.com to monitor when new episodes of shows came out. Hypothetically.

    Now with the new Democracy player I could, hypothetically, use something like this
    http://jnewland.com/articles/2006/02/22/how-to-subscribe-to-tv-shows-using-the-democracy-player-bittorrent-rss

    Hypothetically yours
    Philip

  3. Your post points out that not only are the content producers (people making the shows) losing because of this, the people who supply the content are losing too.

    I know there are people out there who have cancelled their cable and are now downloading what they want to watch. Who needs 6 shopping channels when all you really want is Comedy Central?

  4. And now Apple are offering “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” from Comedy Central for a monthly fee – $9.95 for 16 shows (about a month’s worth, depending on Jon Stewart’s Oscar commitments). That’s still $20 per month for just 2 programs, but is yet another step in the right direction.

  5. Still 60c a show but yes, a step in the right direction. When the price for all the TV shows I want to watch reaches roughly the same price as I would pay for cable or satellite, then they’re on a winner. Daily Show and Colbert Report would still run $20 a month and, considering Comedy Central gets around a $1 a subscriber from cable or satellite, I don’t see it being equal.

    But definitely a step in the right direction.

    Philip

  6. I recently looked at the numbers, the cost of basic cable would get you the Netflix 7 at-a-time Unlimited plan. That’s much better value & content. Then use IP to supplement shows you must watch before the DVD release.

  7. Spot on Chris.

    One of the things we’ve noticed is that our total viewing time has dropped quite significantly. Netflix doesn’t give me current programming (disposable TV) like Daily Show or Colbert Report but otherwise, it’d be great. In fact I’m thinking it may be a way to catch up with Lost and House – programs that I haven’t followed to date.

    philip

  8. Phil, your wish for an Airport Video Express seems to be coming soon with the codenamed Apple “iTV.” Any comments on this new development either here or in the Buzz podcast?

  9. Yep, I think the “iTV” is indeed my long desired Video Airport Express and I’m looking forward to it. iirc we commented more on the September 21 edition of the show in the BuZZ in Depth segment.

    Philip

  10. Thanks, Phillip.
    A very timely and informative article. I can see a near future without the need for broadcast television.
    But it does beg answers to a couple of questions: 1) If everyone were to stop getting broadcast tv then who would copy and distribute the stuff on the net? 2) How long before the cable and satellite providers get on the band wagon and knock the band off in the dirt, providing poorer service at an inflated price?

  11. Hi Buddy,
    1) If the digital delivery was made easy enough with priced right there would be reduced desire for “free” distribution on the INternet. Having been down this path for a bit over 6 months now, I would much prefer to pay for the convenience of reliable and consistent deliver, but not pay iTunes-level pricing.
    2) Since you won’t be locked into a cable or satellite service, just go to another provider of direct digital download or of Internet service. That’s the good thing about competition.

    Philip

  12. It’s a bit of an old topic, but it seems to be revived on occasion, so I have a few comments here and there.

    Philip, did you say that terrestrial broadcast is not an option? You mention Lost and House, both are available over the air in HD. You could hook up a $150 eyeTV hybrid and have it record the show every week at no extra cost per episode other than hard drive space, which can be recovered through pruning.

    I just bought this cute little unit a few weeks ago and it’s fetching shows off the air seemingly as if it were an RSS aggregator. Even if I forget about the show, it’s ready for me to watch the next day. The unit certainly isn’t without its flaws but I’m still loving it.

    I’m not watching satellite as often except for a few Comedy Central shows and the occasional Discovery show.

    I happen to have C-band satellite service so I can pay just for the channels that I want. That’s not an option for many people though.

    The shopping networks aren’t encrypted, so I’m skeptical when people claim that part of their bill pays for those channels. Those particular channels probably pay their own way.

  13. Terrestrial broadcast is not an option because we connected to Charter for cable Internet, disconnecting the feed to the apartment from the mast antenna for the community – private antenna’s not permitted externally and rabbit ears not permitted internally.

    Channel carriage is dependent on channel source (encrypted or not). Comedy Central certainly gets something from the cable networks; shopping channels and channels like CNN are free to any network that wants them in order to build the biggest audience for advertisers.

    Philip

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