Moderizing my television subscription

Photo by Solacetech

Photo by Solacetech

I was reading Wired 18.09: The New TV Guide which comes as I’m re-evaluating my cable TV usage and evaluating every cost savings as I try to free myself from expenses while starting up a new company. I decided to switch from Rogers Home Internet to Teksavvy. Teksavvy cable provides me (currently) with 15Mbps download and 1Mbps upload with 200Gb monthly usage for $42.95/month. This compares to essentially the same service from Rogers for $59.99/month (HighSpeed Internet Extreme – 15Mbps download/1Mbps upload and a 80Gb usage). I figured for approximately the same service I could save ~$17.04/month or about $200/year. Once this decision was made I started to look at our cable expense and watching patterns.

Basically, the F1 season ended and I my blood pressure can’t bear to watch the Steelers. I watch very little television, it was mostly morning news, kid shows, a few sitcoms and movies. I like watching TV in HD. I had Rogers VIP Ultimate with TMN that was approximately $100.47/month. We had a digital cable box plus the HD PVR. My cable bill was averaging approximately $140 after taxes (about $1680/year). What was watched:

On December 21, 2010 at midnight was the day the cable turned off in my house. I was really scared. It was the first time since 1997 that I hadn’t had cable television. I had Time Warner in Austin. I had Rogers in Canada. It’s been a long time. But I decided to shake things up and see what our TV watching experience would be like. I figured I had a rough budget of $200/month including hardware or about $2400/year. Here is my current setup.

Using a very simple amortization algorithm (divide the price of hardware over a 12 month period) plus the basic cost of content I spend $79.98/month (TekSavvy + Netflix + Hardware) versus $200/month for home internet plus HD cable. This is a very basic comparison and assumes that my total content is provided by Netflix or other internet source.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Netflix. Perhaps this is because the only 2 movies I’ve seen in a theatre in the past year are The A Team and Tron. And the only other movies I’ve watch on planes. There are all six seasons of Franklin the Turtle and Dora the Explorer. And I’ve caught up on some of the movies that I missed on The Movie Network (500 Days of Summer; I Love You, Beth Cooper; Taken; The Day the Earth Stood Still – not the best selection but when you haven’t seen them they are sufficient entertainment). Plus the documentaries are great (Crips and Bloods: Made in America; Empires: Medici – Godfathers of Renaissance; Blood into Wine; MacHEADS; Between the Folds; Vice Guide to Travel; and a bunch of other stuff). It’s not perfect but for $8/month it is perfect. I’ve rented 2 movies on iTunes at $5.99 (Predators and Cargo) plus purchased TopGear Season 15 HD from iTunes ($14.99) and DVDs of Shrek Forever After ($19.99); WALL-E ($12.99); Toy Story 3 ($19.99) and ripped them using Handbrake. So for December I’m all in for $425. Not bad given that it’s about 3x from my previous bill but includes hardware: cable modem and AppleTV. Using my rough calculations if I continue to rent 2 movies @ $5.99/month and purchase 6 movies (or TV shows on iTunes) @ $19.99/month I should break even after 4 months compared to my previous cable + internet bill.

The set up is not perfect. I feel like I miss local news even with a digital antenna for the TV and the CityTV application on the iPad. I’ve added the CityTV podcast to my favorites, and we’ll see if that satisfies my coffee and the news fix at 7am. I miss watching football, well technically I miss falling asleep watching football with a beer on Sunday afternoons. Television has been the most difficult. Season Passes to HD shows on iTunes are about $60 (The Big Bang Theory Season 4 – $55.99) and we’re part way through the season and I don’t feel compelled to purchase the full pass. Season 3 was 23 episodes at $3.49 – $80.49 purchased individually vs $64.99 as a Seasons Pass. I could download torrents of most of the shows but that’s not my style. I’m leaning more towards DVDs given the unfavourable ownership rights of digital content purchased on many of the services. We’ve tried watching episodes on Boxee and CTV but the quality is just not right on a 37″ 720p capable TV. And I have no idea what I will do for Formula1 in 2011, this is still up in the air, hopefully the mobile application for 2011 will work. But I’m hoping Bernie Ecclestone is reading I’d pay him directly for a live stream (may have to purchase a VPN connection to watch BBC or other broadcaster).

Kids are just as happy. There are movies and TV shows they watch. Essentially no change. Spouse is mostly happy. TV is a little weak but that’s because Boxee and iTunes are different. Netflix and movie consumption is up, which balances the displeasure of traditional broadcast. My assessment is that it’s a wash. We’ll break even in another 3 months and my TV watching behaviours will have changed.

Next, I’m considering purchasing a proxy or VPN service. Anyone have any recommendations? I’m also looking at hacking my AppleTV or jailbreaking the iPad to stream content from any app using AirPlay. Fun stuff.

  • http://www.allaboutnortel.com Mark Evans

    It’s an inspiring and educational post given I’ve been playing around with the same idea. I watch very little TV but the idea of not having access to live sports is the biggest hurdle.

    cheers, Mark

  • Facebook User

    Sounds like you need to take a look at what Kuz had to say on cutting the cord earlier today:
    http://posterous.remarkk.com/how-i-cut-the-cord-cable-free-and-web-connect

  • http://www.eben.ca ceben

    I’ve been back and forth in my head for over a year now about this same decision. It’s always the live sports that gets in the way.

    I can’t speak to the F1 but I can say it sounds like you’re missing a good HD antenna (ideally on your roof) to get the NFL. I don’t have one but hear they’re good and from Toronto, you can pick up 30-35 HD channels. And over the air HD is higher quality than cable.

    My issue is soccer and the horror of having to change my current setup. Damn switching costs!

    • http://davidcrow.ca/ davidcrow

      The switching costs are horrible. It took a rough customer service experience for me to get fed up. I’ve essentially been on Rogers since 2001 on roughly the same package (added HD in 2007).

      It’s not quite but @adamschwabe points to @remarkk posterous about his adding an outdoor antenna http://posterous.remarkk.com/how-i-cut-the-cord-cable-free-and-web-connect which I think would make the transition more seamless.

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  • http://twitter.com/anulman Aidan Nulman

    I’ve been (proudly?) not paying for cable ever since I moved out. Though, admittedly, I roll with torrent crews.

    As for proxy/VPNs, @3rdparty recommended AceVPN to me a while back, and I love ‘em. Cheap, reliable, and easy-to-use on my MBP, it lets me use US-based servers for American consumption and Flickr/Craigslist/pushing-to-Heroku while at Davidstea. http://www.acevpn.com/

    • http://gcn.tumblr.com Gabriel N.

      I second Aidan on using AceVPN which is rock solid. UK’/US/France servers, fast, cheap (in comparison to other services I’ve tried) and always reliable.

  • http://twitter.com/anulman Aidan Nulman

    I’ve been (proudly?) not paying for cable ever since I moved out. Though, admittedly, I roll with torrent crews.

    As for proxy/VPNs, @3rdparty recommended AceVPN to me a while back, and I love ‘em. Cheap, reliable, and easy-to-use on my MBP, it lets me use US-based servers for American consumption and Flickr/Craigslist/pushing-to-Heroku while at Davidstea. http://www.acevpn.com/

  • Anonymous

    For F1 (I missed lots of the races last year) I keeping hearing that the the bcc is going to launch iPlayer worldwide. I don’t know if that is going to include the live steam as well.

  • Anonymous

    Hey David, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m preparing for a move back to Canada and will have an opportunity to start with a clean slate in choosing my service providers. Unfortunately in my case, I expect we’ll be locating in a rural setting, so access to robust broadband delivery might be the governor.

    One question – does voice communications factor into your IP equation?

  • Anonymous

    Hey David, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m preparing for a move back to Canada and will have an opportunity to start with a clean slate in choosing my service providers. Unfortunately in my case, I expect we’ll be locating in a rural setting, so access to robust broadband delivery might be the governor.

    One question – does voice communications factor into your IP equation?

  • Anonymous

    Hey David, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m preparing for a move back to Canada and will have an opportunity to start with a clean slate in choosing my service providers. Unfortunately in my case, I expect we’ll be locating in a rural setting, so access to robust broadband delivery might be the governor.

    One question – does voice communications factor into your IP equation?

  • Anonymous

    Hey David, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m preparing for a move back to Canada and will have an opportunity to start with a clean slate in choosing my service providers. Unfortunately in my case, I expect we’ll be locating in a rural setting, so access to robust broadband delivery might be the governor.

    One question – does voice communications factor into your IP equation?

    • http://davidcrow.ca/ davidcrow

      Currently I use Rogers Wireless, Wind Mobile and Skype. We don’t have a VoIP solution because of a lack of Inbound SMS for Canadian numbers. I’m looking at VoIP.ms and Les.net to port my current number and create a managed Google Voice using OpenVBX http://www.openvbx.org/ or OpenVoice http://blog.myopenvoice.org/ but I don’t want to give up my 416 number.

  • Anonymous

    Hey David, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m preparing for a move back to Canada and will have an opportunity to start with a clean slate in choosing my service providers. Unfortunately in my case, I expect we’ll be locating in a rural setting, so access to robust broadband delivery might be the governor.

    One question – does voice communications factor into your IP equation?

  • Anonymous

    Hey David, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m preparing for a move back to Canada and will have an opportunity to start with a clean slate in choosing my service providers. Unfortunately in my case, I expect we’ll be locating in a rural setting, so access to robust broadband delivery might be the governor.

    One question – does voice communications factor into your IP equation?

  • Anonymous

    If you put up an antenna you can get NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CBC, Global, CTV, etc… all in HD. Check out tvfool.com, remotecentral.com/hdtv, and digitalhome.ca’s OTA forums for more. Mark just did it, I’ve been doing it for a few years now. Canadian stations will all go digital this August which means pure, uncompressed digital signal for free. Between OTA, Netflix, and Hulu I’m set.

    For the US access I just started using Hide My Ass VPN service for about $7/month (on 12-month annual payment). It’s based on OpenVPN so you can use a number of clients across various operating systems to connect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stevehulford Steve Hulford

    We are using http://www.acevpn.com and it has been a pleasure. Very few hurdles to watch what we want through Boxee, Hulu or other services. It becomes difficult however keeping track of what episode/season you are on with the different shows.

    • http://davidcrow.ca/ davidcrow

      Sounds like acevpn is the solution. Need to look at DD-WRT solutions that will let me run an OpenVPN client at the router.

  • http://yousayyeah.com Lee Dale

    TV wise, you’ve got the best show I’ve seen in a while in The Big C on Netflix. And it’s from 2010. You’ve also got Justified, last year’s Unusuals (which was basically replaced with the Good Guys this season). There’s Monk, which seems very British as much as it’s SF. And speaking of British: MI5. Then there’s Huff which is oddly Californication (cocaine and whores does that, I guess), but Huff’s not at all Hank Moody. Comedy wise, tons of standup, and I enjoyed the 4 seasons of My Boys. And then there’s Pingu! All this stuff is on Netflix. With the kind of bandwidth you have, dig in.

    I’ve also paid for the decidedly mediocre hockey pass from CBC for the iPad, and will be looking into MLB.tv for the summer. Nothing similar from football and F1, eh?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=561090410 Adam Sadowski

    Hi David,

    Congratulations on cutting the cord. I’d chime in here and add to some of the commenters below:

    1 – Get an outdoor antenna. They are cheap and depending on your location in Toronto, you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. I live downtown and pick up all Toronto stations and most Buffalo stations. Have a look at the resources already mentioned by commenters. Looking at your list of shows, you will be able to pick up these ones:

    – Big Bang Theory – CTV in HD
    – Cougar Town – CityTV in HD
    – Breakfast TV – CityTV in HD
    – NFL Football – PIckup the Canadian broadcast on CTV when available. Otherwise, Fox is very reliable, CBS and NBC somewhat less so, but I was able to get my couch/beer/sleep fix all season. Best of all, Superbowl is on FOX this year. Pick up the US broadcast and get US commercials, always most entertaining part of the game.

    2 – Roll your own PVR. Just an assumption, but a guy like you must have a PC or mac Collecting dust somewhere. Recording video doesn’t take much in the way of memory or processing power.. You’re basically just saving an MPEG file from a stream.. A big fat stream, mind you, but an old PC/Mac should be able to handle it. You need a TV Tuner card or device, but these are cheap… My recommendation is the Silicon Dust HDHomeRun (http://www.silicondust.com/products/hdhomerun/atsc/). A tad more expensive than a card, but a well supported product and a responsive company. PVR software is relatively cheap as well.. I use SageTV (http://sage.tv/). Doing this will allow you to cut down on Season Passes on your AppleTV for shows that are on broadcast (Big Bang Theory, Cougar Town). Since the broadcasts are unencrypted, you can export the files off your Computer for compression and later viewing if you like too. I’ve got a built in Season Pass to 30Rock, The Office, Modern Family and others… hardware has already paid for itself.

    3 – For a VPN, you could look at rolling your own as well.. Depends on your usage, but if you’re paying for an EC2 or Rackspace cloud server already, you can pop open a tunnel to it and mask your IP.. Avoid the flat fee for the VPN, avoid Hulu or whomever shutting off entire IP blocks..

    Good luck. Feel free to ping me w/questions

  • http://remarkk.com/ Mark Kuznicki

    Awesome post David, and great minds think alike: http://posterous.remarkk.com/how-i-cut-the-cord-cable-free-and-web-connect

    I HIGHLY recommend the rooftop antenna I bought for digital over-the-air broadcasts. As I describe in my post, sometimes you just want to channel surf, and downloads and on-demand streaming will never replace that experience. I get 22 digital channels that are better and clearer than what is available on cable. I didn’t realize how much compression and noise were in the so-called HD cable signal until I saw the real deal with an antenna.

    And – BONUS! – if you get a good antenna pulling in Fox in HDTV, you’ll be watching Super Bowl with US commercials!

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  • Anonymous

    whoops, dup.

  • Anonymous

    Thirding (fourthing?) the external antenna recommendation. We rent, so we’ve been a bit limited in what we can set up, but we had an external antenna on the roof at our last place and that + VPN service for US stations. It was a really decent setup, and cheap.

    I’ve done a ton of VPN research and the three I’ve used that I can recommend (in no order) are:

    * http://strongvpn.com/
    * http://witopia.net/
    * http://purevpn.com/

    Strongvpn has the edge as far as functionality and infrastructure, but witopia and purevpn have both been really good as well. One plus with purevpn and strongvpn is they both offer both L2TP over IPSec and PPTP, so you can use your VPN connection on your phone.

    The option is important because Rogers and Fido both block PPTP VPN traffic on their network unless you pay an extra $5 a month. I’m not sure what Bell / Telus do – can anyone confirm?

    L2TP over IPSec works fine, though, so you can use that to listen to Pandora or some other music service on your phone.

  • cutthecable

    It looks like your running Boxee .09 software. I’m using the Boxee Box by D-Link and watch CTV, CityTV, Global shows in 1080p setting with sync frame rate. The quality looks very good on all the new programs. Using the Navi-X plugin, I can stream shows from all the big US networks directly and quality is very good as well. Boxee should be getting the Netflix app approved very soon, so you may want to consider the hardware to aggregate your content provisioning. I have over 400 movies and the Boxee box plays every format. There is also the LiveTV plugin where you can watch live sports games.

    Cheers

    • http://davidcrow.ca/ davidcrow

      Pic above is from Flickr not my TV config.

      I’m running the Boxee Box by D-Link. I haven’t been able to get some of the CityTV programs to run on the Boxee, in particular BT Toronto in the morning, works fine on the iPad ;-)

      I set up a VPN using one of the suggested VPN providers. Which makes TopGear and other programming available. I’ll check out the Navi-X plugin and the LiveTV plugin.