Cutting your cable can work, if you're a TV snob

While much of the hype about "cord cutting" is overblown, it can work if you're picky about what you watch on TV in the first place.

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Matthew Moskovciak
4 min read
CNET editor Matthew Moskovciak's HDTV antenna setup.
My first, admittedly unglamorous, over-the-air HDTV antenna setup. Served me well for four years. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

Cable cutting has garnered a lot of hype lately, but it can become a lot less appealing once you dive into the details. CNET Senior Editor David Katzmaier didn't even last a full month during his cord-cutting experiment last November, and CNET contributor Geoff Morrison was similarly unenthusiastic when he broke down the details of what it would take for him to be cable-free.

Those cautionary tales are excellent resources for anyone thinking about taking the leap, but not every cable-cutting story ends in failure. I canceled my cable more than four and half years ago and haven't looked back. That's not because I have any secrets or tricks that Katzmaier and Morrison don't know. It's because my TV-viewing habits are substantially different from theirs. Below are the main reasons why being cable-free has worked for me, which could wind up being a good test to see if you're a good candidate to become a cable-cutter.

I don't watch a lot of TV
I don't like calling myself a snob, but that may be the best way to put it. The reality is that I can only think of a few current TV series I watched last year: "Mad Men," "Parks and Recreation," "Louie," and "Delocated." The first three I purchased on Amazon Instant (which is a convenient app on my HDTV), and "Delocated" I bought via iTunes.

According to a report (PDF) by The Convergence Consulting Group, "the average TV subscriber home pays its access provider $74/month and watches 240 hours of TV, equating to $.31/hour." That's much, much more TV than I watch. I probably average more like 40 hours of TV a month and a lot of that is Netflix streaming and DVD rentals, not cable TV. It's not that I don't like TV, but I lean way more toward quality than quantity, not to mention having lots of other hobbies and interests filling up my spare time.

Related links
TV without cable: How to cut the cord
Recap: Diary of a cable TV cord cutter
Which streaming media device is right for you?

I don't like to channel surf
Even when I had cable TV, I wasn't a big channel surfer. I tend to find out about new shows from friends or reviews from places like the Onion A.V. Club, rather than flipping around until something looks interesting. So I'm not missing anything by not having always-on cable TV with tons of shows being beamed to my TV at any given moment. Similarly, a lot of people like to leave the TV on while they're doing other activities, but I never got into that habit. First-time cable cutters are often surprised by how much they miss just having the TV on.

I don't watch any reality TV
Here's where the snob aspect comes in again. Again, even when I had cable, I wasn't a big reality TV viewer. While it's relatively easy to keep watching scripted TV shows without cable, it's much harder (if not impossible) to do the same with reality shows. The lack of reality programming was a big reason why the cable-cutting trial in Katzmaier's household failed.

I'm OK only watching sports on network TV
My biggest compromise is missing out on watching the Yankees. I'm not the kind of die-hard fan who would watch all 162 games every year, but there are generally a few games a month that I'd want to watch. I'd gladly pay a $100-a-year subscription for MLB.TV, but because of blackout restrictions, I still wouldn't be able to see the Yankees. I also typically watch every Giants game during NFL season, but they're all broadcast on major networks, which I get via free over-the-air HDTV. Which leads me to...

I get excellent over-the-air TV reception
The final piece of the puzzle as to why cable cutting works for me is I get crystal-clear over-the-air HDTV reception. If I couldn't watch the Giants every Sunday via an over-the-air broadcast, I'd be back to cable. I'm in a lucky location where all I need is a small indoor antenna to pull in all the major networks and PBS. (And don't worry, my current antenna setup is a lot less of an eyesore than the one in the picture above.)

Should you cancel your cable?
When people ask me if I think they should cancel their cable, my standard reply is no. When I look over this list, it seems obvious that unless you have a lot of things going in your favor, cutting the cord will be a struggle for most people.

That's why I think the picture at the top of this post encapsulates cable cutting--it's kind of a kludge at the moment. Cable TV is incredibly convenient and when you go without you have to mix and match a lot of different content sources to make it work. And even then, you'll probably have to make compromises.

Still, when I recently moved to a new apartment and considered going back to cable TV, I ended up deciding against it. If you're like me and you don't watch that much TV to begin with, it feels crazy to spend $100 a month on a lot of programming you don't watch and that's chock-full of commercials. Maybe that makes you a TV snob, too, but it's much easier to embrace the label when you're saving hundreds of dollars a year.