Tag Archive for cutting the cord

The Cord, Severed & Burned

The new Netflix pay rates and plans to spin off their DVD delivery service haven’t made a lick of difference in how I watch TV, and I plan on having Netflix on my nifty little Roku box for the foreseeable future.

First off, streaming-only at $7.99 rocks, with or without Starz playing the high-dollar whore. I no longer waste my time watching random bullshit, and I still have about a hundred flicks in my Instant Queue. Several of those are actually for the Wife, and my kids have no trouble finding shows they want to watch, either. (Tonight they were digging on Deadliest Warrior, which is fine with me because they’re learning at least a little bit of history while they’re watching the blood fly.)

Are there flicks I want to see that haven’t made it to Netflix Instant? Sure. But even if I pay to rent them on Amazon, I come out well ahead of the $70 I was paying DirecTV every month. Amazon VOD is how I get my Sons of Anarchy fix:

Still in high-def, and I haven’t even had to upgrade our crummy cable Internet connection.

We dumped the DVD delivery when the plans changed. We had several DVDs queued up, but the problem is they’d show up and sit on a shelf for weeks before we made the time to watch them. We watched two on a good month, three if we slipped in a DVD for the kids to watch. Once again, I come out ahead in the long run by sticking to Amazon VOD.

Which is why I’m surprised at all the anger over the price hike and the instant/DVD split. The Oatmeal has a funny, if harsh, take on it, and Wired breaks it down in more detail. If you absolutely have to have the latest movies, then no, the new plan’s not going to do you any good.

But shit, son, man up and wait or shut your mouth and pay the rental price. And if you’re watching so much television that you would spend more on rentals and Amazon VOD fees than on a DirecTV sub, then again, Netflix is not for you. Deal with it.

Netflix is caught in that unenviable position between demanding customers and tight-fisted studios. While the digital consumers are chanting “Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!” for all media, the big business studios/labels/publishers are all trying to figure out how to maintain their old business models and rake in the bucks.

Netflix isn’t screwing you, people; the movie distributors are. What the distributors realize is with things like Netflix, the studios may not have to rely on them any more. The studios could drop the flicks right to Netflix and cut out the middle man themselves. Everybody wins.

I also think Netflix is taking a hint from Steve Jobs and Apple. They see the day that physical media is going to disappear. It won’t be tomorrow, or next year, but the day is coming. Apple removed floppies from their machines, and they’re starting to remove optical drives. Apple never even bothered with Blu-ray, which people bitched about, and now even that is almost irrelevant. And the decline of the DVD is only going to move that much faster when the FCC and the government get their heads out of their asses and get real broadband opportunities to remote areas.

With or without DVD service, Netflix is only going to be increasing its offerings. There are tons of indie, cult, foreign, and classic flicks you’ll never find on Redbox, and you would even have a hard time finding them in Blockbuster stores. Just as the e-book is bringing long out-of-print books back to the virtual shelves, there’s no reason studios couldn’t start mining their backlists and getting their whole catalog onto Netflix. After all, what makes the studio more money: letting the old Mission: Impossible tapes rot on a shelf, or getting the show digitized and into viewers’ eyeballs?

Voilá: new interest in an old show. Not just incomprehensible Tom Cruise remakes but maybe a new TV series. Worst case, it’s something else to sell to Netflix and earn some moolah off of.

I talked about cutting the cord in our home way back in January, and we haven’t looked back since. As of June, I cancelled our DirecTV subscription completely. Sure, they threw several special offers and huge deals at me, but the Wife and I stuck to our guns and dropped the service. As outlined in the previous post, all of our TV/movie viewing is via Netflix, Amazon VOD, and ESPN3 on XBox Live.

This month, we made the same cut of our Sirius service. They, too, begged us to stay, but those sons of bitches never followed through on their promises to provide an a la carte pricing structure. Even though I didn’t have to deal with static or commercials, I still heard the same songs over and over, too. Pandora on our Roku gives us a much better mix and more control at home, and in the car we’re better off with our iPods.

In other words, we’ve become on-demand digital consumers. This is where most people want to be. This is what most people will be happy to pay for. If the success of DVR showed us anything, it showed we want our entertainment on our terms (and the industry will recover, and will find a way to make a buck off it). If my generation doesn’t get full, on-demand entertainment, I’m certain the next generation will demand it.

Viva la revolución.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Cord Has Been Cut

Earlier this month, I received an email from DirecTV thanking me for my 11 years as a customer.

Today, I called DirecTV and suspended my account.

I first talked about cutting the cord back in November, but I’ve dragged my feet since then. Some of my favorite shows were just winding down, the kids still watched a lot of television, and I was generally uncertain of how going solely online would work.

Then a friend sent me a Roku box for Xmas. After a little bit of experimenting, I finally disconnected the DirecTV receiver and replaced it with the Roku box to see if we missed having DirecTV at all.

So far it’s not been a problem. I started to turn on the local news before remembering it was gone, so I instead visited the websites for the local TV and newspapers and got the same information (and even some of the news video). My wife wanted to watch Castle and another network show, but she just went upstairs and watched them on our iMac. Even the kids haven’t been bothered by it at all, as they’re enjoying seeking out new movies and replaying their old favorites on Netflix.

Here’s another bonus: the kids love the Roku box. The remote is so simple our four-year-old daughter who can’t even read can navigate to Netflix and find the Scooby-Doo and Bugs Bunny covers in the Recently Watched section and watch them when she feels like it. The rest of the time her older brothers help her read other covers that catch her eye.

The first real snag came with tennis for the Wife. She doesn’t watch all the time, but she does like to catch the major tournaments. The Australian Open started this week and she worried she’d have to miss out. Then I learned ESPN3 carries streaming video from the tournament and is available on the Xbox 360. A few minutes of installing later, I had the first matches playing for her. Problem solved.

The Roku is now the key component of our entertainment center, streaming video from Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand. I’ve only used the latter once to check out the free pilot of FX’s Lights Out, but it worked well enough I intend to use it to catch my must-see shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy. We used DirecTV’s streaming music from time to time, but have now replaced that with a Pandora channel on the Roku. We like Pandora even better for its customization options, and the Roku’s optical audio output still allows us to pipe the music straight to our stereo.

We’ve started to experiment with other channels, too. I can play a slideshow from my Flickr photostream, we get instant weather from a dedicated Weather Underground channel, and I discovered a UFC channel for purchasing live events. I’ve dipped into Crunchy Roll to browse Japanese television shows (Samurai dramas? Hells yes!), and CHOW taught us how to avoid looking like idiots at the sushi bar. There are sports channels, foreign channels, a chop-socky channel I’ll need to find, and a lot more.

I see two slight changes in our future: an over-the-air antenna and an upgrade to our broadband setup. The OTA antenna would be for the convenience of locals and network shows, but it isn’t a priority. My broadband connection is cable, though, and I’ve reduced the speed to save some money. It works fine for the most part, but getting some of that speed back may let us stream HD more consistently. I’m going to start by replacing my ancient wireless router with a newer, high-speed box to make sure it isn’t our bottleneck, but even if I both buy a router and bump up the speed of my package, I come out well ahead by dumping DirecTV.

Our viewing habits have changed already, too. Instead of surfing the same dozen channels over and over again and settling on whatever looked the least painful to watch, we’re finding movies and documentaries that we missed out on when they first aired or first hit theaters.

What? Programming that we actually want to watch instead of just settling for? Who’d have thunk it!

I’ve got six months to go back to DirecTV and get my original plan back, as well as continue with my free DVR service. Right now, though, I don’t see it happening.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Closer to Cutting the Cord

More and more Americans are dumping their cable services, and I’m getting close myself.

I pay DirecTV about $70 per month, and I don’t watch a whole lot of television. I don’t have any of the premium channels, and I don’t pay for DVR service thanks to a lifetime TiVo purchase about ten years ago. The Wife will watch some shows on the educational channels to kill time, but most of the TV time is for the kids. $70 a month just for TV? Kind of a rip.

So once again I’ve found myself evaluating the online options. I have a few ground rules, though. First, I don’t want to mess with torrents and piracy. If a show like Sons of Anarchy can show their viewers are shifting to online services and not just abandoning the show, then they’re going to be able to keep up production. If viewership drops because people are downloading freebies, then the studio cancels the show. Second, I want it to just work. I don’t want to be messing with a lot of messy conversions, or troubleshooting for the Wife or the Rugrats when they want to watch something. Ideally, they’ll be able to turn on a device, click a few buttons on a remote, and watch their shows.

For a while, there weren’t a lot of options. Now, there are several services worth looking at.

First and foremost, Netflix is awesome. We easily stream enough movies to make up for the $8 package, and we have no problem waiting for movies that are DVD-only. To us, this replaces both premium cable channels and rentals, and it beats watching older flicks with commercials on networks like FX or TNT.

Hulu Plus is very interesting. They’ve just announced an $8 plan for streaming television shows, which is the cost of a month’s worth of a single television show’s episodes purchased off of Amazon Video on Demand (more on that in a moment). It can be streamed directly to devices, which solves the “make it easy” requirement. I’d just have to do some research to see which of our shows make it to the service.

For the shows that don’t make the Hulu cut, both Amazon Video on Demand and iTunes offer episode downloads or even season purchases at a discount. I’d pretty much need an Apple TV for iTunes shows, but I’ve learned Amazon Video on Demand is available on a Roku box. Amazon appears to be about a dollar cheaper per episode (at least for shows like Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead), so it has that advantage over Apple. Plus, they’re showing up on more devices, even if they’re not on my PS3 which is already set for Netflix and Hulu.

Those services solve about 95% of our television viewing. The final hurdle? Local news and sporting events. An investment in an over-the-air antenna may be in order, assuming we don’t just decide to go without for a while. Of course, I have to imagine the major sports leagues see the writing on the wall and will be inking deals with Hulu and other services to stream games not just to web browsers but through the Internet to televisions.

My original intent for this post was to get feedback from other people who have already made these decisions, but now I’m thinking I may have just convinced myself to do it. The winter cable season is winding down, so SoA, The Walking DeadTerriers, and The Ultimate Fighter will all be done in just a few weeks. I’m fairly certain my two-year obligation to DirecTV for my move and HD upgrade are over, but if not, I’ll just drop back to a bare minimum package and still save money.

Even though an Apple TV is small and gives me some flexibility in bringing video, photos, and other content down from my computer, the Roku may be my best option because of the extent of its services. I thought TiVo might be a better idea so I can still record local programming and sports from the antenna, as well as the online services, but the only problem is they have a $20/month subscription fee. I keep that up, I’ll be right back up where I started with DirecTV before I know it.

To sum it up: $78/month for DirecTV and Netflix, or $16/month for Netflix and Hulu Plus, with some wiggle room for purchasing shows that don’t make it to Hulu. Yeah, I’d say that’s a no brainer. The Roku purchase would pay for itself within just a few months.

I’ll follow up once I get it all rolling.

UPDATE 1: I activated a one-week trial of Hulu Plus today (Monday, 11/22) and the Wife and I took it for a test drive on our PS3. The streaming worked like a champ, so maybe time of day was a factor (as in, my neighbors weren’t home to hose up my cable Internet connection). However, we only found one show that we actively watch, and were completely unimpressed with its offerings, particularly the lack of Disney or Nickelodeon for our youngest and the kids we babysit. We’ll probably dump Hulu Plus at the end of the week.

Also, Netflix today announced a streaming-only plan, and the other plans’ pricing would be increased by a dollar. You know, I’m completely cool with that. I’m happy to spend $9.99 and keep one DVD out at a time.

UPDATE 2: Closer examination shows Amazon Video on Demand and iTunes charge the same for streaming episodes. The confusion came because iTunes pushes HD, and you have to click separately to get standard def. So, for Sons of Anarchy, for example, standard-definition shows are $1.99 and high-def shows are $2.99 in both services. iTunes may have a slight advantage for season purchases, as they want $21.99 for the full SoA season and Amazon’s total comes to $24.57. However, Amazon has a cancel option so you can bail on a TV show if it jumps the shark mid-season. I’m not seeing that option in iTunes.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.