TV à la carte

Battlestar Galactica (season 3)

Image via Wikipedia

I cancelled my cable TV subscription in 2009, and I haven’t looked back since.  I credit all of this to Battlestar Galactica. I made my decision to cancel my cable subscription once the science fiction series ended it’s run on TV.

I’d been following the show faithfully since the original TV pilot (not to mention the original 1970’s series) and I was determined to series through to the end. However, as the series reached its inevitable conclusion, I realized I was spending a lot of money each month just to watch it. It occurred to me, that if I could just buy my favourite shows à la carte, I’d be able to save a lot of money and spare time.

To watch Battlestar Galactica, Rogers Cable required me to subscribe to an extended cable package that included Space (the Canadian specialty channel carrying the show). With a newborn daughter, and my wife and I keeping hectic schedules, we realized that BSG was the only program we watched, not only on that channel, but on all of the channels in that part of our cable lineup.

I began to audit just what I was watching each week on TV. Since I work in local news, I watched my local Toronto channels. They carried the majority of my Thursday night sitcoms, Sunday night animated comedies, and assorted other dramas sprinkled throughout the dial.

With the exception of BSG and a couple of all news channels, I realized most of my viewing took place in the basic cable package. I was spending an extra $35 a month to watch four episodes a month. I quickly realized it was cheaper to either rent them on DVD, or buy then on iTunes (I realize there are other options that involve piracy, but since I pay my mortgage by creating TV content, I kind of like to make sure other content providers are compensated for what I consume).

I then realized that by adding an TV antenna to my computer, I could turn it into an HDTV personal video recorder. In Toronto, I quickly learned that an outdoor antenna has access to more than a dozen crystal-clear high-definition TV channels from southern-Ontario and eastern New York State. This sealed the deal. I had a Rogers technician come over to block my cable service (I still kept the high-speed modem). I set up a system where my computer recorded the live TV shows I wanted to watch, then encoded them and synced them to the AppleTV that was already hooked up to the television set in my basement. Any show that I couldn’t get by antenna, I would buy on iTunes for $2-$2.50 an episode.

This set-up completely changed how I viewed television. Anyone with a PVR knows how it changes your viewing habits. I no longer had to plan my week around watching Rick Mercer at 8:00 on Tuesday: he’d be waiting for me on Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday. What my set-up did was completely remove the option of watching TV live unless we sat in front of the computer (which was fine for newscasts, but not as enjoyable for a TV drama). I no longer had to deal with the overload of choices presented by cable TV. There was no more grazing thought hundreds of channels, realizing there was nothing on. My TV viewing required discipline: I had to pre-plan what I wanted to watch by going through the TV schedule in advance, selecting the shows I would record, and then waiting for the computer to encode them. Since I was investing time in selecting what we’d watch (or money in what we’d download), I became much more selective. It was easier to give up on this season of Heroes (which I’d been threatening to do since the second season), after I found I was creating a back-log of episodes on my hard-drive. Since my wife and I no longer had A&E, we couldn’t watch this season’s drama surrounding Jon & Kate plus eight (actually we could have purchased the episodes off iTunes, but the thought of spending actual money on that show made me realize it held no value to my life).

I still watch TV. That surprises people when they learn I’ve cut cable. I enjoy Community, The Office, Being Erica, and of course The Simpsons, all of which I watch for free over-the-air. Last summer, my wife and I watched all 5 seasons of The Wire, after we either borrowed DVD’s from friends or the library, or bought entire seasons from iTunes.

When Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica prequel came out, I bought it one episode at a time. It didn’t hold my interest the same way BSG did. But I never thought I’d wasted my money on the episodes. Better to find out I wasn’t into a series after spending just $4, instead of paying $80 a month for a full cable package.

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3 comments

  1. […] I’ve written about my experience cutting cable, both to save money, but also to cut down on on all those unnecessary distractions the 500-channel universe was sending my way each month. I find getting my TV signals over-the-air to be a great bargain. Depending on how I place my antenna, I can gain access to about 23 channels from Toronto and Buffalo (that includes all the major Canadian and US broadcast TV networks). […]

  2. […] am in that 20% not covered in the study. I do use Netflix to replace regular television. I cancelled my cable TV service several years ago, and get most of my local TV programs from free over-the-air digital signals. My […]

  3. […] couple of years ago I realized I no longer saw the value in subscribing to a full cable or satellite package each month. However, I did look into what it would cost to reconnect in order to watch Mad Men. In Toronto, to […]

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