Giving up Pay TV for Web Video?

The topic of replacing pay television services (cable, satellite) with web video comes up much more frequently these days as online content proliferates and given the economic downturn – folks are looking for ways to conserve. Having sampled just about every web service and video box, I recently weighed in at MultiChannel News:

Dave Zatz, a blogger who writes about the TV industry and entertainment technologies, said Internet video is often of poorer quality and less reliable than cable or satellite services. “While there are many newer options, I’d say they still aren’t ideal in replicating the couch-based experience,” he said. “Yet.”

While I know several who have indeed gone down the web video path, we’re nowhere near mass market adoption. Dumping pay television may accelerate but, for most, online content remains a supplement not a replacement. There’s just too many compromises. Getting content to and accessing it on the television remains a challenge for the mainstream, selections are unpredictable, quality is often low resolution, and there’s a large segment of news and sports junkies who are largely left out in the cold. That’s not to say we aren’t moving in this direction, but we’re clearly not there yet. (And for the last few years I’ve found Netflix-ing television shows to be the most enjoyable way to watch TV – entire seasons in a few days or weeks, commercial free, and without worry of mid-season cancellation.)

Now, having said that, the ZNF readership is clearly more tech savvy than most. So share in the comments the ways in which you’re getting online video to the television and if it has or will lead you to dump pay TV.

16 thoughts on “Giving up Pay TV for Web Video?”

  1. I’m not super attached to pay TV myself, given those Netflix discs. Prior to cohabitation, I’ll only subscribed to cable during college football season. I believe Ben D did the same. If Hulu lands on my Netflix Roku box, things will get a bit more interesting. Though their selections are still unpredictable and incomplete… (Melissa’s a news junkie, so we’ll be keeping cable for some time I imagine.)

  2. Ive thought about it two but there are two main reasons I havent.

    1. No HD when at home.
    2. Working out of the USA for ~6 months a year = hulu,Fox,ABC,NBC saying your ip range is blocked. Whereas my slingbox doesnt care where I’am

  3. I have contemplated (very briefly) this transition myself recently. I was off my game at the beginning of the fall season and failed to set timers for a few shows I was interested in. I went online and caught up on everything.

    That being said, NFL and family will ensure I’m a paying subscriber for the foreseeable future.

  4. Too expensive. I sat down and wrote down all the season passes we care about on Tivo and it cost more over a year than it did to just pay for Cable. However, if HBO specials are ala-carte on say amazon, I’d totally do that.

  5. So much of what I watch is available elsewhere, that I could probably do just fine without pay TV. In addition, one of the things I like about TV on a TV is HD, and most of the shows I watch in HD are broadcast, and I get them on my antenna, so I just TiVo them and don’t pay a cent. And they look great.

    In some ways, if web video keeps improving, I see it eclipsing pay TV the same way that cell phones are finally good enough to enable people to cancel land lines.

  6. A lot of whether or not the transition will work for you depends on your standards for TV. As my wife and I only receive basic cable (i.e., networks and a few misc cable channels), the leap is not as great. Add to that the fact that we have not yet upgraded to an HD, and the lower quality doesn’t really affect us.

    Recently I bought a PS3. Now that it supports Hulu, I watch a decent portion of my TV through there – The Daily Show/Colbert Report, which I don’t get in my cable subscription, Chuck and Sarah Conner, which are on opposite of How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory (which we chose to record with our single tuner TiVo precisely because the CBS online site sucks), and the occasional episode of 30 Rock or The Office that we miss for some reason.

    For me, I really don’t care if Jon Stewart is in HD. For them, they actually come out ahead because if I’m TiVoing the show, I’m also skipping the commercials. The 15-30sec ads on Hulu are just unobtrusive enough for me to sit through without resentment.

    So yes, it’s not there *yet*. But it’s definitely coming…

  7. I just took a look at and, while that + SlingCatcher could be appealing, here are a few things that would greatly improve that service (along with Hulu & Co.) and increase adoption:

    (1) Have everything (or most everything) in one place — neither nor Hulu have all the shows from all the networks (not even the broadcast ones). I don’t want to remember that for Show A, I have to go to, for Show B to, and for Show C to

    (2) Have ALL episodes available — I guess, they are doing this to stop DVD cannibalization but even seasons not out on DVD don’t have full episodes. That was my beef with Hulu and browsing through confirmed they are in the same boat. At the very least, they need to come up with some rhyme & reason for not having certain shows, e.g. pull seasons when DVD set comes out and continue the black out for X days (like movie studios do with online rental 30-day wait period).

    (3) Give us HD — enough said; I want HD even if it’s a compressed 720p stream (like scene releases are).

    (4) Make web-video be easily accessible on TV — this is where, Boxee and others have to come in.

  8. We have a less than perfect system that seems to be
    working very well for us. We have a digital converter box/
    dvd player and Roku box in the family room. This lets us
    watch Netflix Instant Movies and catch up on favorite series
    (Heroes ,30 Rock, etc.) without commercials.

    We use our widescreen laptop to watch shows
    that are only available online (e.g. Daily Show).
    Netflix DVDs fill in any gaps for first run movies and
    once in a while we’ll purchase an occasional show
    from the Itunes store.

    Not quite as convenient as premium digital cable / DVR
    in each room, but it’s an easy way to save $1500+ a year
    while still being able to watch all our favorite shows.

    Disclaimer: I’m a little biased, I’ve been blogging
    about canceling cable for the past 6 months, but
    for us it was a great decision!

  9. I bought playon ( ) over the weekend for use on my 360. I love it, and so does the wife, but the content needs to be a little more robust. I like what the 360 is doing with netflix, making the software a plugin, instead of an overall system update. This should make it very easy for Microsoft to become a family room content provider, in one easy to use interface. Here’s hoping for a Hulu plugin.

  10. I think more people would be interested in downloaded content if it had the following:

    1) Availability of the shows you want
    2) Ability to watch from the couch – not just the computer
    3) Comparable picture quality
    4) Reasonable price

    As Dave said, the closest option is renting DVDs from Netflix. But that isn’t good enough if you’re looking for HD programming. And it doesn’t cover sports.

    I would gladly switch from cable or satellite to a download system if they provided 98% of the content we watch at home. But no system – iTunes, Hulu, et al – offers more than 10% of the programming we watch.

    And I agree with Om Malik, who says that part of the reason that Comcast et al are imposing bandwidth caps is that they don’t want to lose cable subscribers to downloaded content.

  11. I actually called Comcast this morning and asked them to disconnect my TV package because I had been on a 12 month special and it finally ran out. Once I got ahold of the cancellation department, they quickly extended my deal for another year, so I kept the service. I’m still having to pay about $25 a month for TV, but it’s a whole lot better then the $60 a month that they were planning on charging me.

  12. Was force to give up Direct TV years ago – could not stomach $100 a month for four hours of programming that just repeats over and over.

    On the bright side, I got my digital converter thingy yesterday. Wif coupon it was 9 bucks. Hooked it up to my rabbit ears antenna. OTA shows comes in pretty good. Lost a few channels, gained a few new ones.

    OTA + Amazon VOD + VLC player = FTW

  13. I’m thinking about splitting the baby. I have a tivo downstairs and the Comcast HD DVR upstairs. I’m going to keep the Cablecards for the tivo and get rid of the extra box and DVR fees. I’m really hoping that either the ZvBox shoots down in price or that something similar comes out soon.

  14. I so want this to be a viable option but it’s not there yet. I can get HD over broadcast but I’m limited to the major networks, I can stream from various web sites but the quality isn’t good enough, I can get limited sports through ESPN 360 but it’s limited and the quality is awful, I can pay for programs through iTunes or Amazon but the price adds up quickly, and I can access TV programs via Netflix but it’s not HD and I’m waiting months to see it. Right now, it’s a lot of effort to get a lesser experience and pay almost as much and my wife still wouldn’t get all her (crappy) VH1 and E! shows.

    With all that said, if ESPN would work out a deal where I could watch sports in HD for a nominal charge then I would be sorely tempted.

  15. Last summer, my husband and I dropped pay TV and bought a very basic media center PC to connect to our Plasma TV.

    Our setup is very simple and straightforward, and we are able to get loads of content for free. We have a basic 1 disc at a time Netflix membership, that allows us to stream movies and TV shows to our heart’s content. If we want a movie on demand Netflix doesn’t offer, we download it on iTunes and pay for it.

    My only worry about cutting the cord was missing Tour de France. With a little sleuthing, I was able to find a live streaming site, so we didn’t have to miss a day of it. There are so many TV viewing sites popping up these days, the selection is almost overwhelming. Almost anything is available if you look for it.

    We are happier now with our TV viewing situation because of the selection available. It is better than paying $60/month for cable TV only to watch endless CSI reruns.

  16. My setup is ideal, for now.

    DirecTV (SD), 300hr DirecTivo and a PopcornHour A-100 (300GB capacity).

    I have 56 season passes and I still pack the PH with enough “content gathered elsewhere” so much that it’s always full, usually with shows I’m just downloading to watch during “the bad months” – December & March. To illustrate, in the last couple months I’ve watched Season 2 of Dexter in 1 day, 2+ seasons of 30 Rock in 5 days, etc. It’s very handy.

    Cost: Well, eventually someday either through capping or legal action, they’ll figure out how to turn the faucets off – when that happens, I’ll watch the 100 or so DVDR’s I made in the first part of this decade.

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