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Adventures in cord cutting

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

A few weeks ago the reception on my satellite TV service mysteriously went kaput. I put in a service request and the company said the earliest anyone could get out was in a week. This gave us some time to live without any traditional broadcast television, and after a few days we were getting along without it pretty well. (I would think cable companies would prioritize service a little more in order to prevent customers from making that discovery, but apparently that’s a rare issue.)



The provider had previously made noises about trees interfering with the signal, and I was kind of expecting to hear that again. I’m not going to cut down trees for better reception, so I anticipated being told the solution was something I wasn’t interested in. At which point the question became: why not just ditch it entirely?

Which is what we did. We had a good old fashioned outdoor antenna installed on our roof and joined the ranks of the cord cutters. Going back to a dozen or so local channels and no DVR has been a bit of an adjustment; there were a number of cable shows I regularly watched. The network shows we still receive can’t be recorded, so if we don’t watch them when they air we don’t watch them at all. And not being able to pause or back up a few seconds is a bit of a pain.

On the other hand, I hadn’t realized just how much DVR technology habituated me to a different viewing mentality. Once I started recording a show I liked, I wouldn’t just watch all of them, but every second of every episode. Pause or rewind for even the smallest interruption, because God forbid I miss five seconds of some reality show. Now, though, if I get home late and start watching something halfway in, well, I’ll just have to go through life not knowing what happened in the first half. Loosening that attachment to something so trivial is nice.

The “watch all of it” mindset is still possible with streaming services, though. Once we cut the cord I took a good look at the big ones out there, most of which offer full seasons of various shows along with pause and rewind options. Of course, you only get the shows they offer; not every service has every show. You could probably cobble together a reasonable approximation of cable service by subscribing to all of them.

That, though, just highlights another reason to think about cord cutting: fragmentation. Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are starting to produce exclusive original content. As this trend increases it will become impossible to keep up with everything. Even those who have a full cable menu will be missing buzzed about events like House of Cards or Arrested Development. Pretty soon we’ll all have to pick and choose. Why not exclude the expensive option with lousy customer service?

From a news consumer’s perspective, not getting the cable news channels can be a drag. Some of the shows are very well done, and missing out on their perspective is a loss. Cable news is also good for breaking or ongoing coverage not big enough for broadcast networks.

On the other hand, it also means cutting ties with the cable news paradigm. These channels sell the distilled essence of Washington priorities and conventional wisdom. I won’t miss the Kremlinology or yet another segment on Harry Reid’s latest empty threat to do something about the filibuster. The insidery politics-as-soap-opera narrative – which frequently crowds out actual news events – reflects a curious mindset about what deserves coverage. Not devoting any more brain space to that world seems like a good thing.

At the opposite end of saturation Church of the Savvy coverage are topics that these outlets – residing as they do in multinational corporations – simply have an institutional aversion to covering. The remarkable scenes from the Wisconsin statehouse a few years ago, the early weeks of Occupy Wall Street (and subsequent Occupy encampments elsewhere), last month’s protests against Monsanto, ongoing developments in the labor movement: there are some subjects cable news will never have time for no matter how many hours are in the day.

Turning off the cable channels makes room for other news sources, in particular those that cover the kind of news I’m most interested in. And turning off all the extra cable channels frees up time for other things. Which seems like a pretty good idea in general. Not many of life’s important moments happen while sitting in front of a TV.

Photo from Ho Jon Lee licensed under Creative Commons

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