A Decade Without Cable Television

Ten years ago today, I cut the cord. (Not entirely true, I technically cut it a little over a month earlier, but this was the final slice.) At the time it seemed a little more daunting to my family, especially Alex, because she (and I) had grown up on cable TV habits: knowing a show was on at a particular time and scheduling your life around it, knowing that special events might not come back, if you didn’t see an episode the first time you had to wait for reruns and that wasn’t a guarantee, and the need to do bathroom runs during commercials. And then, of course, the constant bombardment of commercials and still remembering jingles all these years later.

I had a plan. It was … decent, although far from perfect. At the time, we were still reliant on some emerging technology and services that weren’t quite complete. Streaming was becoming the thing – Netflix had launched its service and it was … well, a bit lacking. It didn’t have the depth of catalog and the first Netflix-exclusive series (Lilyhammer) had only hit the ground two months earlier. So we tried to supplement with ripped movies from our DVDs (which wasn’t remotely as successful as I had planned, so we never really got to the library I envisioned). All of which was run through a second-hand Apple Mac Mini, which soon became overloaded with Mac OS X’s burden.

Though, on the bright side, using a Mac Mini did introduce our kids to using computers a bit earlier than some.

Evolution came. The ripped movies were watched less and less as Netflix’s catalog continued to grow. Apple’s iTunes content expanded as well, and movies became much more plentiful and easier to rent. (Though, caveat on the rentals, which is still an issue: Not all movies can be rented. I assume this is a studio problem, where they don’t want to rent movies because it lessens income. Which is utterly inane. </rant>)

And then came YouTube.

I remember the day that YouTube announced “channels”. More than merely a user’s account, they were meant to provide consistent content. But the analogy struck wrong with me (as I recall) because it tried to compare YouTube’s channels with television’s paradigm. It didn’t work. Not until 2013 when the “One” format came into place … and suddenly it made more sense. It wasn’t about a user per se, it was about a user’s content and how it was arranged and curated.

Today, if I look at our router’s bandwith usage, YouTube is usually in the top five apps in our household, and because our router does a piss-poor job of categorization, I’d say it could be top 3, along with Netflix and Disney+. I’m pretty sure 85% of Choo Choo’s watching habits are YouTube, and I’m fairly sure Monkey is up there, too, though she does spend a lot of time hiding in her room, headphones on, listening to whatever, texting friends.

YouTube was a surprise, even for me. I have a long list of channels I try to watch regularly, because they’re just fun. And frequently educational.

And yes, there’s Disney+. I signed up the day it was announced. I have two kids, after all, and like my generation and some of the generation before me, we were raised on Disney content. And Disney now has an immense amount of it. It’s because of Disney+ that Monkey is now an MCU nerd; Choo Choo, for her part, watched Encanto six times in less than two weeks after its release.

CBC released an app a couple of years ago called GEM, which provides a ridiculous amount of (mostly Canadian) content. It has every CBC show seemingly ever made (and that alone is a massive library), but also includes things like the Great British Bake Off (and it’s Canadian spin-off, which we also enjoy).

Our DVDs only perodically get pulled out, and that’s usually because a given movie isn’t on streaming (ie. A Christmas Story) or we’re going on a roadtrip and the girls watch movies. That’s about it. I still get tingles when I pass the DVD/Blu-Ray bargin bins, but almost always pass on because I know it’s future, wasted shelf space.

And now there’s Amazon Prime. Which we continue to waffle on. We’ve had it a couple of times (Amazon loves to offer 30 free days, which we love to accept), and I tend to use it to catch up on the three idiots. But only this year are we taking it more seriously, because of things like The Expanse and Yellowstone. And it seems to have a better capacity for rentals than Apple.

Speaking of Apple, the Mac Mini is long gone, replaced with a trio of Apple TVs: little black boxes that stream our content. Save for the downstairs entertainment centre (Dolby 5.1 surround), we only need the little Apple TV remote to do the things we want to do. (Well, the living room TV also has a DVD player, so we do periodically need the TV remote to change inputs.) These have been, in our experience, extremely reliable and are so easy to use that we don’t even think about them.

Apple’s not all perfect, however, as we still haven’t given into the Apple TV+ service, which falls fantastically short of competing services (all mentioned above) in terms of content. Frankly, I won’t be surprised if Apple either a) strikes a deal with the studios to allow better rentals, or b) buys Netflix (Apple could do it for cash). They’ve got to do something, though, as the service isn’t getting a lot of subscribers and is missing a huge potential.

All of which is to say: We will never subscribe to cable television again. There’s no need. And maybe it’s just me as I approach 50 years (it’s not, I’ve held this opinion for a very long time, now), but modern television seems far too full of “reality”, which is about an ironic description as one has ever been: putting people in absurd situations to invoke anger and outrage, and then editing to make it even worse. And people wonder why our society is dividing.

With the technologies that continue to evolve, such as 5G wireless (and yes, 6G is on the horizon), we’re at a point where I’m seriously starting to believe that the telecommunications industry is about to hit a major watershed: television will be fading quickly, and all we’ll really want is reliable, fast internet. Anyone who solves that problem for a low price will be king, very quickly.