Geek Vs Geek: Cut Cable, Watch the Internet?by Geek Vs GeekUpdated October 17, 2017
Stick a fork in Comcast; cable television is done. Thanks to the Internet, there’s no reason to waste money on old-style television anymore. At least, that’s what Rick thinks. Dave has a slightly different opinion.
Once a month, eHow Tech editor Dave Johnson faces off against Rick Broida, who writes about technology for CNET, PC World, and Wired. Follow along as they tackle this question from opposing corners.
Rick: Bruce Springsteen got it wrong. Fifty-seven channels and nothing on? Try five hundred and fifty-seven! And yet cable continues to make me pay for content I don’t watch and don’t want, raising rates on a seemingly monthly basis without providing any added value to speak of. Am I looking to cut the cord? You’re darn right I am. And thanks to services like Amazon, Hulu Plus, and Netflix, I don’t have to sacrifice much in the process. Break out the scissors!
Dave: That’s a nice platitude, I suppose. We’d all love to save money while simultaneously sticking it to The Man. But, as usual, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Despite what you might think, it’s simply not true that cable rates go up on a “seemingly monthly basis,” unless you’re using Kirk and Spock’s secret code where months are more like years. And your local neighborhood cable company, if it’s anything like mine, actually offers a pretty decent value for the money. The Internet has a long way to go to catch up.
Rick: Decent value for the money? When you go to the grocery store, do you let them fill your shopping cart with a huge assortment of food, then charge you for all of it–even though you wanted only bread and milk? That’s what cable companies do, so you’ll excuse me if I don’t share your sense of value. For around $16 per month ($7.99 for Hulu Plus, $7.99 for Netflix), I can watch pretty much every TV show I want, to say nothing of a few gazillion movies. All on-demand, all on my schedule. Cable runs something like $50/month for just the most basic service, and those rates can double if you tack on pay channels like HBO and Showtime.
Dave: Sorry, but you’re over-reaching right out of the gate. For one price to my cable provider, I get every — and I do mean every — TV show I want to watch. Without cable, though, I’m left to try to piece together my television viewing by subscribing to multiple services like some sort of digital jigsaw puzzle. Netflix alone won’t give me all the shows I want to see; Hulu on its own won’t do it either. So I’d end up subscribing to all of them, and then guess what? It costs nearly as much as cable. And you have to switch between services to find all your stuff. Ugh. If you enjoy being annoyed, it’s probably great though.
Rick: Ever clip a coupon? Or mail in a rebate? Sometimes saving money requires a little effort. And in what universe does $16 “cost nearly as much as” $50? Oh, right, the same one in which you wake up handsome. Look, I’m not saying cord-cutting is without its hassles, maybe even its shortcomings, but there’s a reason millions of Americans have ditched cable: it’s too expensive. People are sick of paying $50, $80, even $120 per month for TV. As long as you keep your high-speed Internet, you’ve got alternatives.
Dave: A little hassle I can handle. But having to plan my evening’s entertainment with the procedural acumen of a space shuttle landing stretches my patience. After all, you make it sound seamless, but tell me, Rick, where’s the sports? Where is it? Like that game they play with a bat… what’s it called… batball? The point is: I don’t follow sports. The other point is that if I did, it wouldn’t matter, because there’s no sports coverage in any of the services you mentioned. Netflix? Nope. Hulu? They have a larger selection of video game trailers. Amazon? All they’ve got to offer are books about sports. And that’s just scratching the surface of what the Internet can’t deliver. Good luck, for example, watching live TV. And ask me about using Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime on a TiVo. Go ahead, I dare you. Ask me.
Rick: Er, Hulu Plus works just fine on my TiVo, thank you. And a $50 Roku box affords every streaming service known to man. As for sports, you’re right, that’s one area where cord-cutting comes up short. Of course, you can always subscribe to streaming sports channels like MLB.tv and NHL.tv, which bring you even more games than cable. As for live TV (which includes plenty of local sports, natch), an inexpensive antenna and your TV’s built-in tuner will bring you that. Need a DVR? Retrofit your current or old PC with a TV tuner and you’re all set. Game. Set. Match. (That’s a tennis metaphor, nerd.)
Dave: Since you asked, Amazon Prime doesn’t work at all with TiVo. So if you pony up $79 a year for Amazon Prime, you can’t watch any of the free streaming content that comes with that subscription if you happen to have a TiVo. All you get is the standard Amazon video service, in which you pay separately for each show you watch. And as for Hulu Plus, licensing agreements force Hulu to make some content that you can watch for free on your PC unavailable on a device like a TiVo — which means if you’re also paying for the Plus service, you’re paying for less of some content, but more of other content. Like a sucker. See what I mean when I say that Internet TV makes everything more complicated? That’s why today, right now, cable makes more sense. Pay once, get everything. Done.
Rick: You’re like a guy in a tinfoil hat, ranting about crazy Hulu/TiVo/government conspiracies. Look, forget TiVo — get a $50 Roku box and be done with it. Now the only question is what service(s) you should subscribe to. Remember, too, that you can always catch up on popular TV series by checking out DVDs from the library (which is free). And you can record the latest network shows over-the-air with my aforementioned PC-DVR setup–also free. Bottom line: with a little patience and know-how, you can give cable the boot and save yourself hundreds of dollars every year. Sounds like you have neither.
Dave: Don’t get me wrong, Rick. I love the idea of cutting cable and getting all my entertainment from the Internet. But today. it’s still a hodgepodge patchwork of shows and movies that require way too much effort to piece together into a relaxing evening of TV. I think some of these services make nice additions to cable — Netflix in particular — but we’re still years away from them being convenient and comprehensive replacements for Comcast or Time Warner. Even in your closing argument, you want me to switch from my TiVo to a Roku box just to make stuff work better. Not only does that mean spending yet more money, but you ignore the fact that I might otherwise prefer TiVo to Roku. And I still can’t watch live TV on the Internet without even more frustration — set up a PC-DVR? Please! I thought we were trying to make things easier. Bottom line? Internet TV is still in its infancy, like self-driving cars and tofu burgers. I wouldn’t foist any of those things on people until they’ve had more time to mature.
Who won? We’d love to hear from you. Weigh in with your opinion in the comments, or tweet @davejoh.
And what other tech topics would you like to see Dave and Rick discuss? Send your ideas to Dave via Twitter @davejoh.