Why We Gave Up Cable {and why I won't go back}

appletv_heroFirst off, I'm not, nor have I ever been, an anti-television person. I like watching TV as much as the next person, I have my favorite shows (some embarrassing to admit to watching like Teen Mom, others less so), and I love watching movies. Although I always try to include time to read in my "free time" (ha!), more often than not part of that free time includes watching something on TV, even if it's just in the background while I work. My biggest problem, however, was how much cable cost. It seemed ridiculously expensive, and was only getting more expensive, and I hated the feeling that I would just pay whatever they asked no matter what because I needed cable. Not to mention, our cable provider, Time Warner, did a less than stellar job at customer service, and there were NUMEROUS times when I would have to have them come out to service the cable box or I would have to return my cable box for a new one because it simply stopped working. This is what would happen, I would drive down to the Time Warner Cable office in Saratoga, wait in line holding the cable box, I would then put it in front of them at which point they would grab another one from behind them and hand it to me. I would then cross my fingers that this one would actually work, especially since it seemed like they weren't even really that confident in that outcome themselves. And most of the time, I didn't really care for most of what was on TV in the first place. In between the shows I actually wanted to watch was just a lot of garbage that I usually just had on as background noise.

I found myself just mindlessly watching stuff. Like morning "news" shows. I was addicted. I would put one on and have it on in the background while we went about our daily routine, the only problem was, they weren't exactly kid friendly. Now, don't get me wrong, I fully realize these are shows for grown ups, not kids, and they often have news stories on that are not suitable for younger viewers, but my point is that I would just put it on and not even pay attention to it unless one of the kids alerted me to the fact that they were now talking about a murder case or a plane crash. The mix of the cheery morning show type stuff like what to make in your crockpot that night or what the new fashion trends for toddlers were that season clashed with the coverage of school shootings or kidnappings.

Another thing I didn't like was the commercials, especially for the kids. At one point Levy would just watch the commercials during My Little Pony and for each one she would say "Put that on my list". Just from watching the one commercial. She just knew she wanted it, and each time the same commercial would come on she would point it out again, that it was on her list, that she wanted this item. If she didn't see that commercial chances are she would have zero idea that toy even existed and would not be asking for it, there would be no want for that particular toy. But now, because of the targeted marketing campaign, she wanted it. I would wonder about what would get put on her wish list if she saw no commercials. Sure she would be influenced from friends at school, stuff she would see in stores, but it would be a more genuine list of things SHE actually wanted, not what a company wanted her to want.

So, right before Jack was born two years ago, we decided to say goodbye to cable. We bought an Apple TV and a Roku, and didn't look back. At first, it was so great. You get into that sweet spot with Netflix where there is SO MUCH to watch and you can't believe you ever needed cable in the first place. You fill up your queue with documentaries and TV series and movies, reveling in the sheer amount of new stuff to watch. And with Hulu (available on both Apple TV and Roku) you can watch television shows the day after they air on network TV. Not everything, mind you, but a lot of the shows. Stuff like Modern Family and The Mindy Project, Saturday Night Live and Shark Tank. You get Comedy Central shows and MTV.

But, you do get into that spot where you have watched what feels like every single thing you want to watch on Netflix. And even though they add "new" stuff (some is recently added "older" stuff and some is newly released stuff) it isn't always appealing. This happens, for sure. And at first that really bothered me, because I felt stuck. Sometimes I just wanted to be able to hop into bed and find something to watch without searching through Netflix. But this actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to watch stuff I wouldn't normally find "interesting". Documentaries I would usually have skipped past, new TV series I would never have watched normally (Dexter comes to mind, which I wound up loving), and movies I forgot about. It has also given me the kick in the pants to just turn the actual television off, pick up a book, do something else.

Over the two years since we made the switch though Roku and Apple TV have both gotten better, and we have found our own little routine with them. There are a ton of options now of what to watch. With Apple TV if you don't want to wait for it to come out "for free" on Netflix you can pay the $4.99 or whatever it winds up being to rent it for 24 hours. You can also buy entire seasons of TV shows, which we have done before (Real Housewives is my weakness). With Apple TV, since I have a MacBook, you can also stream stuff from your laptop onto your television, so you can find free episodes online (like with Bravo, or the entire series four of Downton Abbey) and watch it on TV instead of on your laptop. I also now get Amazon Prime on Roku which comes with an Amazon Prime membership, where you can watch TV and movies for free, plus you can also rent new releases (and choose from a huge library of older movies) for a small fee.

What we don't get? Some sports. But that isn't a huge issue since we don't watch football in this house (I know, I know, that seems crazy to a lot of people). When Sean wants to watch something (usually golf) he can either find it streaming online or go out and watch it somewhere like our golf club or a sports bar or with friends. And I do that too, if there is something I really want to see live and I can't find a way around it online I will go to a friend's house or my mom's house to see it, which actually makes it a lot more fun, it's like a little social event. Usually there are ways around the sports I want to see, I watched a lot of tennis online or using apps designed just for that event (like the Olympics), and there are some tips for how you can watch sports online here.

What I love about it is the lack of commercials. With Hulu you get commercials, but they are usually the same exact one (lately it's a Geico commercial) and it's WAY less than with regular TV. The problem you run into is literally seeing the same commercial over and over again, which usually gets stuck in your head. I love finding my own news sources, both for local news and national and world news. On Netflix there is a specific Kids section which is grouped together into age ranges, and the overwhelming majority of it is good stuff. I love that they have a lot of nature programs on there, some classic kids movies and the standard stuff you get on PBS Kids. Hulu also has PBS Kids on there too, so the kids get Sesame Street and all those good educational programs.

The best part of the whole thing though is that we watch WAY less television. It wasn't my goal in the beginning but it has turned out to be the best benefit. With Apple TV and Hulu, when you turn it on there isn't something already on waiting for you to watch it. You must go LOOK for it, so it doesn't have the same ability to suck you into mindless TV watching. You have to search for what you want, and sometimes that just isn't appealing. It is also easier to monitor and keep track of just how much the kids are watching. I usually put a limit on how many episodes or movies they can watch, and the "recently watched" feature makes it easy to keep track. The kids know they only have a certain amount to watch so they'll usually save it up for a movie or a few episodes in a series they like, and when the movie or episode is over, there isn't another one just rolling on next to keep their attention. Instead of watching more TV we've been listening to audio books from iTunes, which they listen to while they play, and we've also been listening to way more music. The kids spend more time reading, or coloring. I doubt the transition to watching less TV would have been as easy for all of us if we had cable.

The other unexpected bonus has been how excited we all get at the novelty of something new, be it a new series or a new movie to watch. Since we don't have that feeling of unlimited TV options, when there is a new one to watch it's like a mini occasion, it's something special, a little treat.

Now over two years in, we will never go back to cable. Between Netflix and Hulu Plus we pay less than $20 a month for each. The Amazon Prime account I would have anyway so that cost isn't a factor, but winds up being less than $6 a month. I also feel pretty good about not having the feeling of getting ripped off for television, and being at the mercy of whatever prices Time Warner Cable decides to set. Because of the area we live in, we had no other choice as far as cable or satellite television, and that didn't sit with me too well either. We still have to use Time Warner for internet service, but our bill is a fraction of what it used to be.

So, even though giving up cable sounds like taking a plunge, it really isn't that far off from regular TV at this point and is WAY less expensive. Feel free to facebook me or comment with any questions you might have, I consider myself a bit of a "no cable" expert now and am happy to give you some pointers on "cutting the cord"! xoxo