Watching TV on the Internet — Only on the Internet

As someone who watches a lot of television on my laptop, I have spent time wondering if I really needed to cable television. Those moments of reflection usually come when my damn Comcast bill arrives in the mail each month.

This week, the New York Times profiled some folks who have more willpower than I and thus risen up against their cable providers.

The article discusses how people who do not want to pay the rising monthly costs for cable — I think mine in the far-from-metropolis Bloomington is $50 for cable and some HD channels — are doing just that by relying on network web sites, Hulu, Fancast and I’m assuming even iTunes or Amazon to watch their television. Even for people who buy episodes on iTunes, the costs could still be less if they are not burning through 10 different series per week or something.

But what happens when the content you want isn’t online? You better have some cool friends — or be ready to break the law:

Because they command hefty advertising rates, few sporting events are streamed live. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime also keep their original programming behind a pay wall, since they rely largely on subscriber revenue. So a rabid football or “True Blood” fan who decides to dump cable had better have some very hospitable neighbors (preferably, ones with a premium package).

The Times article notes that all the people interviewed here find their television by legal means, but no one is that naive. Just as the article mentions, even if you can watch nearly everything online, there are still things you cannot. Sure, HBO has their in-development web portal GO, but Showtime doesn’t have anything and AMC and FX also do not post new episodes online as far as I know.

That means no Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, Damages, Rescue Me, Weeds, etc. And if you love those series, you’re not waiting the extra year to catch up on DVD, you’re streaming them illegally from Megavideo or downloading the torrent. The article kind of dances around this idea with one portion, saying “It’s impossible to quantify how many people have ditched their cable service.”

Add to this that people who don’t have cable or can’t watch certain series online must avoid social media:

Social media can actually pose a problem for people without cable: because they must wait for shows to be available on the Web or DVD, they sometimes must avoid sites like Twitter and Facebook, which are minefields of episode spoilers.

And we know how difficult it is to avoid social media, especially for people who are tech savvy and “connected” enough to their TV content through the web.

This all might not be anything new, but perhaps it’s too short-sighted to glorify people for not paying for cable — even if Comcast deserves it. Instead, let’s all be aware that people watch a lot of television illegally and we still might not be sure what that all means.


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