We have never really liked our local cable company.
Over the years, many of us have wasted time waiting for the cable guy to show up to install or replace the box that doesn’t seem to work or been placed on eternal hold while customer service takes its sweet time. And to add insult to injury, every year our basic cable bill goes up while our cable company adds more channels into a bundle we did not ask for and don’t want to watch.
We end up feeling trapped by the cable ecosystem where we just pay the bill and get what they dish out. It would seem that there is no escape from the Comcasts or Time Warners of the world if we need to watch some TV.
Author Janko Roettgers tells us otherwise in his new e-book, “Cut The Cord: All You Need to Know to Drop Cable.” One of the first releases from a new e-book venture at the technology site GigaOm, Roettgers’ e-book explains how we can get TV without having to pay for cable.
“These days, almost anything you’d want to watch on TV is available online for free or at a low cost. You don’t want to watch TV on your computer? No problem. A new generation of devices makes it easier to bring TV shows and sports events to your big screen TV,” he writes.
Over the past 15 years, a new media ecosystem has been constructed and is beginning to challenge the legacy system of cable. Building on the distributed network of the Internet, it originally deployed video only to the desktop computer but can now provide TV to every screen you own, including the biggest screen in the house, the TV.
“Cut The Cord” is a highly readable and very informative guide to this new ecosystem. And given the jumble of screens, tools, services, and gadgets that populate this new ecosystem, a guide is sorely needed. (For more on cutting the cord, PBS MediaShift ran a popular week-long special back in February of this year.)
Roettgers conveniently breaks up his e-book into two main areas: “Where to Watch” and “How to Watch.” Plus, he gives us some anecdotal examples of how he and others navigate the many options available to viewers.
Where to Watch
A number of new services aggregate TV shows and movies in a variety of ways. Many of us have sampled a few, others none at all. Roettgers takes us through them, from Netflix, Hulu, Hulu Plus, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, to YouTube. He breaks down their pricing, their offerings, and the good and the bad of each service. He also lets you in on each service’s secrets and tells you which devices to use for each service.
He also breaks down the categories of News and Sports to reveal the ins and outs of how to follow your favorite sports or sports team and get your news online. As he admits, the sports part can be tricky but is still doable after you cut the cord.
Roettgers also provides a TV show cheat sheet that allows you to find out where to find some of your favorite TV shows online and what it will cost you to get them. This kind of comparison highlights both the promise and challenge of accessing TV exclusively online. Here we see that if we cut the cord, we replace a simple bundle (albeit expensive) that is relatively easy to access with a patchwork system within which we must create our own bundle. Cheaper, perhaps, but it is also more complicated. We plunge into a bigger thicket in the next section.
How To Watch
This is the geekiest section of the book and fortunately for most readers, Roettgers tries to keep it as geek-free as possible. He takes you through Roku, Apple TV, Boxee, Google TV, Xbox, PS3, Wii, Smart TVs, iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook, Android Tablets, and even shows you how your PC can be hooked up to your TV and used as a DVR.
Most of these alternatives will not apply to most readers. Thankfully Roettgers keeps it short and simple, so you can skip over the game console you don’t have and go to the one you do, or forget Apple if you are not an Apple user but dive in if you are. He emphasizes that your personal solution is what matters in this new universe, not a generic one-size-fits-all. (After all, if you become a cord cutter, that’s what you’re trying to leave behind.)
Roettgers’ analysis of the devices and tools is fair-minded. He does not push one solution over another and emphasizes the strengths and weaknesses each represents. So if you do not currently own an Internet-enabled TV or Roku box, he does not insist that you go out and buy one in order to catch up. Instead, he shows that many different approaches can give you a satisfying and hopefully less expensive alternative to cable TV.
Can You Find Your Own Way?
Roettgers re-emphasizes the customized approach when at the end of the e-book, he profiles three people who take very different approaches to cord cutting. Jim Romenesko, Peter Rojas, and Patrick Norton each discuss what they did to escape cable and how they did it. What they have in common, though, is a very sophisticated understanding of the technology world and all its related gadgets. So one comes away with the sense that cord cutting is still limited to people who possess greater technical knowledge than the average person.
Today, many people take what I call the middle approach. I would put myself in this category. I have a cable TV subscription, but I also have Apple TV, with which I access Netflix and iTunes on my TV. I also view Netflix and stream online TV content on my iPad. Think of it as putting a toe in the water. Am I ready to completely cut the cord? Not yet, but I am getting closer.
And I also know this to be true: The services and devices that show TV and movies online and deliver them to every screen imaginable will continue to rapidly improve. They will become simpler to install and use. As a result they will become an even more formidable foe against cable. Larger numbers of average people will cut the cord.
And Roettgers’ e-book will be a valuable guide to those who decide to take the plunge.
> Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV by Mark Glaser
> Cord-Cutters Manifesto by Mark Glaser
> 5 Theories on the Death of Cable TV — And Why They’re Wrong by Seth Shapiro
Chris Dorr is a digital media consultant. His clients include MTV Networks, Samsung Electronics of America and the Tribeca Film Festival. He can be followed on Twitter @chrisdorr. A version of this post also appears on Digital Dorr.