Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Can You Avoid Subscribing to Cable TV?

Can You Avoid Subscribing to Cable TV?

By Dennis D. McDonald

Betsy Schiffman’s Americans Can’t Live Without Their Cable TV describes how unlikely it is that Americans, despite dire economic circumstances, won’t be giving up Cable TV subscriptions any time soon.

Probably not soon, but I think it’s inevitable. There are just too many alternatives out there for audiovisual entertainment. Problem is, finding a substitute for current cable TV services isn’t easy. And the vendors, apparently, don’t make it easy.

I’m a Comcast cable TV subscriber in Alexandria Virginia. I pay over $100 each month for an “enhanced digital” package that includes one step up from basic, many documentary oriented channels, but no “premium” channels like HBO. We have three digital boxes in the house. We get plenty of uncut movies, there are a couple of “on demand” channels that come in handy now and then, and there are also a slew of music channels that I don’t use much anymore.

Fact is, though, we never use most of the channels we currently get. But there’s no way as the service is currently configured to pay only for the things we want. For example, there is no one living in the house right now that speaks Spanish, so we don’t use those channels. Shopping channels are useless. So too are the kid-oriented channels — no little kids here. I’d say that easily 90% of what’s available we never touch.

Talking with Comcast about this is useless. And since we live at the end of a cul-de-sac, we won’t be getting FIOS anytime soon.

How about satellite?

I have been thinking about that option. I get spammed constantly by sleazy email ads for satellite services all the time, plus we get at least one robo-call per day from someone selling satellite services. This has given me a very negative view of satellite TV since the marketing method suggests a potentially very bad approach to customer service as well. But just to check, I went online to see what DirectTV has to offer.

First I had to figure out how to contact DirecTV. There are many “affiliated” sales sites out there so I took a few minutes and found the main DirecTV site. I started looking through the different offers and saw right away how difficult it is to figure out how much it really costs on a month to month basis, given the promotions, special packages, etc.

All I really wanted was to be able to type in my zip code and be given a list of all the stations I could get. I figure I could then go down the list, check off the ones I wanted, and get a quote for the package that’s closest to what I want, right? It should be just as easy as using TitanTV to create a local TV listing, right?

Nope. I called the 800 number and was told I had to give the sales person a list of channels to see what the offer would look like. No iterative process was available. I’d have to take the time to speak back and forth, figure out the cost, weigh different options over the phone. Too cumbersome.

Not the way I wanted to approach this problem. So when I hung up, I logged onto Amazon, ordered a DVD, and within two days, it was delivered by mail. 

I’ll probably just cut back somehow on the cable bill and rent more movies — and use the public library more. If it were up to me, I’d cancel all but basic cable but I’m not the only person living in this household. I get most of my news from the web, radio, podcasts, and from the printed edition of the Washington Post, so I could do without the TV news, but others here have different ideas.

Basically, I’m spoiled by the web. Interacting with the cable and satellite companies reminds me of the 1990’s. I just want to order and get what I want. That’s the direction the web is moving in with various digital options offered by companies like NetFlix and TiVo, after all. How long can the cable companies hold out?

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald


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