Why Are You Still Subscribing To Pay TV?

Boxee. Google TV. Apple's iTV. BitTorrent. All this stuff is supposed to be killing pay television, but according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, 88 per cent of respondents are still paying for pay TV. Fess up! What's keeping you cablin'?

Here are my suspicions, based on my own content consumption.

Certain shows can't be watched elsewhere, at least not live. I've given over to my passion for HBO's True Blood, despite that it wasn't the serious look at vampirism that I was first expecting from Alan Ball - and despite that every time Tara comes on screen everyone in my house looks at each other and starts flapping our lower lips around whimpering Suuuhhhkie, faux-emote ourselves into near cataplexy.

But you can't watch True Blood on Sunday night as it is broadcast without cable. You can download it the next day from legal and less-than outlets online, but you won't get to talk about it over the apocryphal water cooler until Tuesday.

Channel surfing is actually sort of fun Part of the reason I don't keep cable television in my house is because I am too inclined to plop down on the couch when I'm bored and mindlessly flip through channels. Since television consumption just continues to go up and up, I suspect that for many the steady drip of mediocre content that allows one to turn off the brain for a while is actually worth the hundred bucks or so that cable television costs each month. No judgement from me - I certainly can't argue that the hours and - spend each day on the web reading pointless tech news is any more fundamentally gratifying to my soul—but I've got enough addictions in my own life to succumb to the lure of a thousand channels.

Sports The only time I've been a cable subscriber in the last couple of years was during World Cup. If I were more into other sports, I would almost certainly have to be a subscriber. Fortunately the only other sport I really like to watch on television is football and I really like to do that in a bar with other fans.

Watching streaming content is often a pain in the arse I watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report nearly every evening. Jon Stewart is my Johnny Carson. But I can't tell you how many times over the years I've sat down on the couch, opened up a browser, and then had to fiddle with something to try and get the stream from TheDailyShow.com (or previously, Hulu) to actually start. Flash might crash. The quality of the stream might be degraded. The show might cut to commercial, then puke out when trying to load back.

And I have a Mac Mini hooked up to my television, which is a lot more robust than the experiences I've had with devices like Apple TVs or other XBMC-based media centres like Boxee. When it works it's great, but it's not exactly optimal, especially when much of the content I want is on different web sites. Services like Hulu were supposed to ease the pain by putting all the content in one place, but then some content providers started getting cold feet and keeping their shows on their own sites. Search and subscription methods from within media players can help, but it's still not as fire-and-forget as using a DVR from a cable provider.

Along those same lines, it's also possible that using a mouse and a keyboard on the couch still feels weird for people. It's fine for me, but I'm a dork.

Enough about my own pet theories, though. What's holding you back from cancelling cable entirely? And can you see yourself ever dumping it for another pay service like iTunes or Amazon? What would it take for your family to go all internet for your television?

WATCH MORE: Entertainment News


    I live in Canada, and since we don't have Hulu available here, our only options are the less-than legal ones.

    So, anything not on those sources, we can't watch without cable.

    I am experimenting with getting rid of my $100 a month foxtel subscription right now. I have a subscription with Ex-pat Networks (http://www.my-expat-network.co.uk/?gclid=CKHo-vfW0KMCFYEDHAodgTG8uw) for a UK VPN and a US VPN giving me access to BBC iPlayer, Channel4 on-demand, ITV and the other UK networks plus Hulu etc. I have this coming into Boxee via the relevant apps (first party and third party) plus trusty old bit torrent. It works really well except for having to disconnect and reconnect the VPN's based on what content I want to watch. But $15 a month instead of $100 is a fair price to pay. Even my 7 year old has figured out how to use it...

      IIRC, last time I used boxee, which mind you was a while ago, had created an app that would let you set vpns to change depending on what other app you were using.

      On a related note, how much bandwidth are you using watching videos via the vpn?

    While I don't have cable, it's been nearly 3 weeks since I actually watch a program on free to air (we just had an election remember), opting to watch stuff off my media center instead.

    Time - the amount of time it takes to "cache" a program
    Quality - Finding quality recordings can sometimes been painful. My wife and I tend not to watch main stream stuff, so it is usually hard to find what we are looking for at a reasonable quality level for HD playback
    Download limits - sucks.

    With a little bit of planning and lots of stuff on the back burner it is possible to work, but you have to take the time to plan and be prepared to hunt for what you want to watch.

    Preview - I don't want to waste a lot of time caching shows that I might decide later not to bother watching (as it's a waste of download quota that could be used on something else), so standard TV tends to provide a simple previewing mechanism.

    Encoding - Every device seems to want it's content encoded differently, while many provide the ability to playback a list of codecs, there's always that one or two that they seem to miss, making it more difficult to simple cache and watch. Once you can satisfy yourself with a simple codecs as a baseline, it is normally easy enough just to run the recordings through and encoder and be done with it.

    Management - Finding, caching and managing recordings isn't always as easy as it sounds, been picky about where my stuck goes (I'm looking at you itunes >( ), finding a decent interface into the media can be time consuming and stressful. XBMC does a great job and with some tweaking, even my wife has come to like using it. This also falls into customisation. With the ATV you are pretty much stuff with what ever Apple deems is the best means for accessing your media (still looking at you itunes >( ), while I'm sure a lot of people won't really care, I prefer to have the ability to change the look and feel to suit me, even if I don't use it, I like having the ability.

    While I'm sure there are plenty more reasons, these are my top gripes.

    Down here in Australia, streaming tv chews up bandwidth that we pay massively through the nose for, and there is a distinct lack of suppliers of legit stream tv here, at least, any with content anybody would watch.

    Well, duh. Lack of bandwidth would be a big one!

    If I had a *reliable* 100Mb/s Internet connection with consistent latency (i.e. very little jitter), I would dump Foxtel in a heartbeat.

    But guess what? Most of us are stuck on crap Internet connections. Mine is 8 megabit, but the jitter is so crap that even VoIP is hit and miss.

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