I Cut the Cord on Cable One Year Ago - Here's What I've Learned

It's been a year since my wife and I made the terrifying decision to get rid of our cable package. As kids of the 80's and 90's, we had grown up with traditional cable TV, from rabbit ears to the evolution of premium channels and the expansion of channel lists. However, our cable bill always seemed to be increasing, and after ballooning to over $200 per month we had had enough. 

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The Setup

We finally decided to invest the time and energy to research our options. Our main goal was to minimize our cable bill without losing too many of our favorite channels or programming. Although we expected to compriomise on some content, I wanted to avoid losing live local sports and news, my wife wanted to keep features like DVR, and we wanted to make sure we still had ample options for our kids. To achieve this, we landed on the following setup:

  1. Roku Express - One-time purchase of $30 per device (1 for each TV) - We started with the Roku after exploring AppleTV (restrictive technology and cost-prohibitive), Chromecast (poor UI/UX), and Amazon Firestick (restrictive technology and access). Roku was easy to setup and the UX was intuitive, as we were easily able to install and access any streaming services we planned on trying. 
  2. Digital Antennas - $30 per device per TV - these devices allow us to get free local television networks.
  3. Playstation Vue Service - $55/mo for most channnels + HBO/Movies - We tested both SlingTV and Playstation Vue. Sling had a better UI at the time, but we chose PS Vue because it offered both local sports channels (NBC Sports Boston and NESN) as well as some other preferred channels. Overall many of the channel options were the same and the cost was similar as well.
  4. WiFi Modem - $100 one-time - We purchased our modem to avoid renting from the internet service provider.
  5. WiFi Signal Booster - $200 one-time fee - We purchased the WiFi booster since we were relying much more heavily on the in-home internet and wanted to make sure we were maximizing speed and service.
  6. 25 MBPS Internet at home - We are paying $30 per month for this service and it provides enough speed to stream with little issue.
  7. Netflix, Amazon Video - We had these services beforehand and have been increasingly dependent on them for our content. 

Ulltimately, we paid ~$400 upfront for devices, and our monthly bill shrunk to under $100 for premium streaming cable, DVR, local digital TV networks (free) and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. 

What I've Learned

After the initial learning curve of getting used to a new interface and resetting expectations around offerings and content, I'm extremely satisfied with my decision to cut the cord. Here are the main things I've come to realize one year in.

  1. We're saving a ton of money. After all was said and done, we were saving more than $130 per month on cable, without losing many channels.
  2. We don't miss much. The only channels we ever think about that we don't get at this point are Comedy Central and MTV (but, not really), otherwise our viewing habits have barrely changed. Ultimately, even if there were other channels we frequented before making the switch, behavior is easily changed once you find other content and adapt to new options.
  3. Live TV isn't an issue - mostly. One of our biggest concerns in making the switch was potentially losing out on live, local television. These fears were all but quelled once we bought the digital antennas, which provide live access to local networks, and the PS Vue which offers live sports channels. We also still have access to all ESPN channels as well as some interesting regional channels like NBC sports (regional), live eSports, NFL Redzone (necessary), and Fox Sports channels. There are a few small issues which have come up, including the inability to record some live network programming, the DVR experience for delayed viewing, the process of switching to digital antenna vs. streaming service can be a bit annoying, and some limited mobile phone access (some programs are device-limited). For the most part, however, our live viewing experiences haven't changed much.
  4. User Interfaces are Still Evolving. The user interfaces used by streaming services still leave a bit to be desired. They don't match the ease of navigation or speed of cable companies, and I find PS Vue to be glitchy which can be annoying. Is it annoying enough to pay another $130 per month? No way. I expect that the UI will improve over time with more use and feedback, and once you get the hang of where to go and how to use it, it's fine. 
  5. It's all about your internet. If I were to potentially change one element of our setup, it would be to find a faster, more reliable internet service. With such a heavy reliance on home WiFi, it becomes much more apparent when service is slow or down, and with more devices in our home connected to the source, we sometimes run into issues when everthing is connected and in use at once. 
  6. Cable is no longer the star. It had already been shifting this direction by the time we made the switch, but became more obvious after transitioning over, that cable channels are just one option in the great content pool. With Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and even standalone apps like ESPN Watch, not to mention online services like YouTube and Facebook, the cable services have much more to compete with to gain our attention. 

After a year of streaming cable, I'm not planning on going back to traditional cable anytime soon. With more users making the switch, I'd expect cable companies to shift more toward the streaming offerings since they clearly have found a way to match - or even exceed - cable television services. 

Looking Ahead in 2017 - Immersive Video is Just Video

We've come a long way since virtual reality first became part of the public lexicon in the 1980's and 1990's. As always with technology, removing the barriers to creation and distribution was the spark which has ignited the growth of Immersive Video,  including 360-degree and VR. How did we get here and where do we go now? 

We know that immersive video formats offer a unique viewing experience that standard video cannot; the ability to become part of the narrative, versus watching as a third-party outsider. This means that, although there's still plenty of room for flat video, depending on the content, a user may prefer the full experience of VR compared to standard video.

There are two main reasons why immersive content is poised to take over the video marketplace.

  • The production of high quality 360-degree and VR video content has proliferated to the point that any Joe Schmoe now has the capability to produce stunning professional quality VR videos from his/her own home. Now that the barriers to production have been removed, and since VR offers such a unique immersive viewing experience, it only makes sense that the trajectory of VR/360 video is taking off. 
  • Most importantly, the platforms for distribution and tools for engagement with immersive video are already available to nearly everyone. Facebook and Youtube, two of the largest video platforms in the world, now offer 360-degree and VR video as part of their regular streaming. Without much fanfare, they've removed the mental barriers users may have had distinguishing VR/360 from traditional video. In other words, by making it simply part of their existing video offering, they've normalized VR/360 so that users aren't surprised when they are all of a sudden able to interact with the videos as full environments. Add to that the fact that cardboard headsets like Google Cardboard have become available to the public, and we are at the point where VR is ready to take off.

In 2017 we will see more exciting productions happening in immersive formats, including movies, games and yes, advertising. While we saw advertisers dabble in VR/360 in 2016, the proliferation of video production technology as well as the ability to promote videos on Facebook and Youtube will have made it nearly impossible to neglect. The most interesting element of this will not be whether this type of video is available, but how immersive video changes the narratives of the videos themselves. Immersive video is no longer a surprise, it is an expectation. How will you meet it?

Never Stop Learning

Like most of us, I've received a number of pieces of advice from various co-workers, friends and family members over my career. Some are bad, many are forgettable, and a select few, for whatever reason, truly resonate. Those tidbits are the ones I collect in the back of my mind. Often they show themselves when I need them most, and sometimes when I don't even expect it. 

One of my favorites was shared with me early, while I was still an intern at an advertising agency in Connecticut.  I was offered a choice between two positions: Account Services where I had interned for three months (without pay), and the Digital Department, where I was offered a position as Project Coordinator despite my lack of any technical web knowledge or project management skills. When debating which position to take, I was intrigued by Digital, even though I had no idea what I'd be doing. I liked the newness of it, and the challenge it presented. I was curious about the opportunities and possibilities it held - to create something, to be on the forefront, to innovate. 

That's when a co-worker serendipitously cast these words. He said "Did you know that a shark has to constantly keep moving or else it will die? You should be like that. If you ever stop moving, learning or growing, it's time to move on." (Note: It turns out this is partially true. But I like it, and partially true is good enough for me on this one.)

That piece of advice convinced me to take the Digital role, where I was sure that I'd learn more than ever before, and have the opportunity to keep learning.

Each time I feel myself slowing down I think about the shark, "keep moving". What can I do to learn something new today? What can I create to keep myself and my work fresh? How can I continue to challenge myself?

I was naive at the time, and in too many ways, I still am. Never stop learning - or else.