Adventures in Online TV
At the end of November after several long discussions, my wife and I decided to cut off our cable subscription with AT&T’s Uverse service. This is not new in today’s world of cord cutters but I do not know too many who have been successful in doing it personally (IRL) so this felt like a big jump. While it has been a bit of a challenge finding programing occasionally, we have both found that the AppleTV covers our whole house’s entertainment needs. I wanted to cover what we did to cover the “gaps” and our lessons-learned up to this point and highlight what I’m looking forward to in the future for this new way to consume live and serial content.
Our first step in making this decision was to review the shows we watched regularly and looked at the online subscription services we were already subscribed to, Netflix and Hulu Plus. Both were apps we used for consuming content pre-cut but we often underutilized the content available there when we had a cable subscription. We would instead find ourselves vegging out on the couch, hooked to a home improvement show or random re-runs. Next, for the shows we couldn’t find on those two services, we reviewed the way to consume the other content out there. Since we are heavy Apple users we found the rest of the shows we were watching were mostly available on iTunes and available to stream the day after they aired without commercials! Rather than the traditional cable or online subscription, iTunes lets you purchase show’s one at a time or subscribe to each show, per season. So you end up paying around $45 or less depending on the show which when we totaled up all the shows we were following, was still significantly under what our cable subscription from AT&T was costing us. Now a note here – we do not watch a lot of TV shows that were not available on Hulu Plus. We only followed The Walking Dead and Orphan Black through iTunes so far so your mileage may vary. But for us it has worked very well.
For those events we wanted to catch live and locally I purchased a over the air antenna on Amazon and hung it on the wall for local TV access. We were pleasantly surprised the number of channels we were able to pick up despite being a good distance away from the local TV stations. Since we live in prime tornado country, local weather information was also paramount in driving this decision as was the essential need to catch any coverage of SEC college football games! Which brings us to the most difficult part of cutting the cord, live sports and more specifically, college sports. ESPN is unquestionably the leader here for anything outside of what is available over the air. So there were a lot of big games they covered that the only way to watch them was to make arrangements. I found two solutions to this, one low tech and one online. First was the most obvious, we left the house and went to a bar to catch a game! Amazingly simple in the concept but for us with two kids, it can be tough to get a babysitter. So I found a little loophole that allowed us to watch the rest of the games online legally. Our internet still goes through AT&T’s Uverse service and buried in your terms of service is the fact that you can still access ESPN3 through the AppleTV and iOS apps. The selection available here is generally 3rd tier events but interestingly they broadcast the spidercam view of some of the major games of the day. This is akin to watching the game from a drone flying around the field tracking the ball. It may not be for everyone but it was a bit like being at the game as you had a score overlay and the sound of the crowd. No announcers or yellow line but you don’t have to leave home and spend on a ticket or cable costs and all while staying legal.
In addition to the content available from those major providers there are a slew of other options for sports content. MLB has an amazing streaming service and there are paid options for WWE, NHL, soccer, as well as free options from Red Bull and the new 120Sports available. And while you look through the content there, notice all those other apps that have deep or rotating catalogues of free and varied content from PBS (and PBS Kids!), Yahoo Screens (I can’t wait for Community season 6!), and YouTube. I’ve found I spend a lot more time on these other content sources when I want to kill some time with minimal interaction and just scroll through random content easily. None of these directly replicate what TV had but I have found my behavior has changed along with my families watching patterns.
My wife has similar patterns to me in watching content. We both use our iPads a lot more to consume content now. I’ve increased how many Podcasts I listen to rather than watch TV programing (I’ll detail my love of Podcasts in another post), and we generally find we watch less TV overall now. It has drastically limited the kids access to TV. In the past, we had been lazy in letting the little guy watch too much TV. But now with access limited to Netflix and generally consumed when he has permission from us on the TV proper or on an iOS device handed to him, he instead opts to play with IRL puzzles, arts, and toys (every parents dream!).
So far we’ve found a post-cable world has worked out rather well. I know this may not work well for everyone but I think it’s becoming more and more tempting to pull the plug on a cable subscription. Services are coming out from several companies that provide ESPN and other programing look tempting and I’m excited to see how that will work on an AppleTV as that’s been central to our consumption. There are some things that we gave up with cutting out Uverse. My wife lost access to a couple Showtime shows that she was following and there is nothing that replicates that tendency that allows you to take a completely passive viewing mode that we are all accustomed to with traditional TV. But by engaging directly with the content you watch, you make a consious choice to watch a show and that affects the amount and quality of what you watch increases drastically. But if the quality of the current crop of Netflix shows continues then there will be plenty of options to continue to look forward to in the future!