Life Without Television

Cable and satellite programming may become as obsolete as CRT televisions.

For over three years, I lived in a remote area where broadcast and cable television were not available.  I could have gotten satellite TV, but I didn’t miss cable enough to ever get around to checking into it.  My little girl was five years old when this started.  She had never watched anything but PBS Kids, and she had a LOT of tapes and DVDs of those shows, so removing television programming from our lives was seamless for her, too.  Eventually I discovered that a lot of programs (both for kids and grownups) were available online, so we watched some of those.  I don’t think either of us felt deprived. 

Then I married a man with DirecTV.  My daughter was eight when we first began hanging out with him, and I think the fact that he had satellite TV must surely have helped win her over quickly.  I had to be won over by more-traditional virtues; I wasn’t very interested in TV programming.  For several months, I didn’t even know how to operate the DVR remote.  But once I started using it, I was impressed by the concept of being able to pause and rewind live TV.  I loved that I could record programs so easily and watch them without commercials.  But I still didn’t watch that much television because, even with our hundreds of channels, there was rarely anything worthwhile to watch.

My husband was very devoted to his DirecTV, though, especially for sports and racing programming.  I wasn’t just a “football widow,” I was a “NASCAR widow.”  It’s probably not a coincidence that football takes up roughly half the year, and NASCAR takes up the other half. 

But last week, DirecTV made my husband mad.  So after many, many years of having DirecTV, he cancelled it.

This all started brewing several months ago, when DirecTV allowed Primecast to take over billing functions in our neighborhood.  This would have been okay except that Primecast has terrible customer service, and for some reason, they don’t offer “whole-home DVR service.”  This is a nifty feature whereby you can record a program in one room and watch it (or finish watching it) in another.  We used this a lot in the evenings at bedtime.  But one day it stopped working.  After a lot of phone calls and misdirection, we finally found out that Primecast was to blame (though we also held DirecTV responsible for allowing Primecast to do this). 

At the same time that Primecast took over DirecTV’s billing, Comcast stopped offering phone and Internet in our neighborhood, so we were forced to allow Primecast to take over those services, as well.  And Primecast was just as inept with them as it was with our TV service.  The sound quality of the phone was awful, and there were fewer features.  Periodically, the phone went out.  The Internet service was slow and unreliable.  The whole Primecast takeover was a giant step backwards.

When the phone went out (yet again) last week, my husband called Primecast.  They said they couldn’t schedule a service call for nearly a week.  My husband had had enough.  “If you can’t provide phone service, I’ll find someone who can!”  At that point, he stopped just short of cancelling our phone service, though I could tell he was aching to do it.  He’s very anti-landline, anyway.  But I strongly prefer using a landline, so I was appreciative that he checked with me before pulling the plug. 

My husband found that Qwest (one of the original “Baby Bells”) is available in our area.  They offer much faster Internet, and, surprisingly, their price for Internet plus phone is much lower than Primecast.  Easy decision!  (Qwest is not a nice company, but at least they have really good phone service.  And so far, their Internet service has been reliable and fast.)  But my husband was so annoyed with Primecast by this point, he asked me if I thought we should get rid of DirecTV, too.  I told him that I wouldn’t miss it and the kids would get used to it, so it was up to him. 

He called DirecTV and told them how terrible the service with Primecast is.  They offered him financial incentives to keep the service, but they said there was nothing they could do about Primecast not offering whole-house DVR service.  So my husband called Primecast and said, “Give me back my whole-house DVR service, and I’ll keep DirecTV; otherwise, I’m canceling it.” 

Not surprisingly, they said, “Okay, that’s fine.  Do you want that effective immediately?”

So for the past week, we’ve been experiencing life without television.  For me, it doesn’t even register.  I figured the kids would be ready to strike and riot when they found out we’d cancelled DirecTV, but there was hardly a whimper.  On the last day of service, they didn’t even watch it, electing instead to watch streaming video from Netflix.  Not exactly the funeral I expected

My husband has had withdrawal pains, though.  He likes to keep the television on in the background when he’s working from home, and he likes to use it to wind down at the end of the day.  Netflix and other online programming has kept him running (most cable/satellite channels make at least part of their catalog available online).  And today he hooked up a piece of coaxial cable to our television as an antenna so that we can get broadcast television (still an adequate source of sports and racing programming). 

We stream Netflix into our living room TV through our Wii console, and today we hooked up a Roku box for doing this on our bedroom TV.  Roku also lets us stream Amazon videos (a large portion of which are free for people who are Prime members), some network programming (including newscasts), and dozens of “channels” you can subscribe to for free, with a staggering array of material from many different sources.  Roku’s functioning is not perfect (it doesn’t currently support closed captioning, for example, and it is sometimes cumbersome to navigate), and it doesn’t have everything, but it’s pretty cool as a free alternative to paid programming (though the box itself requires a bit of cash outlay, currently $59-$99 on Amazon). 

Between all of these options, our only recurring expense is $10 for Netflix (and I, for one, could do without that).  With DirecTV, we paid around $90 each month (plus Netflix).  Browsing through our current options, we have more “ooo, let’s watch that!” programming than we could ever possibly get around to.  Though we’re going to miss out on some programming, did we really need any of it in the first place? 

Morals of the story:

  1. DirecTV is really, really stupid to let Primecast run roughshod over its customers.
  2. Primecast is just really, really stupid, period.
  3. The modes available for delivery of video entertainment are rapidly evolving, and companies who don’t pay attention to this now will soon find themselves scrambling to preserve their customer bases.  I don’t mind paying reasonable fees for commercial-free programming.  I don’t mind having to sit through a reasonable amount of commercials for free programming.  And I don’t mind spotty functioning and non-existent customer service for free programming.  But why should I pay an obscene amount of money for crummy customer service, loads of commercials, and so-so programming? 

My husband and I are not the only people asking this. 

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