Diary of a cable cord cutter: Final entry

A month after cutting the cord on his subscription TV service, CNET editor David Katzmaier reconnects.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
6 min read

After less than a month, the Katzmaier household is back on the (dumb) pipe of Verizon Fios TV. David Katzmaier/CNET

Last Saturday night, after a few sleepless hours thinking over alternatives and scenarios for how to continue my cable-cutting adventure, I came to the conclusion that I should probably just give up and reconnect Verizon Fios TV. The next afternoon, I did just that.

My household is now back on the pipe, dumb as it may be, and I'm back to being able to watch Knicks games legally. More importantly, my wife eBeth can watch CBS daytime shows and Bravo prime time without having to deal with streaming video from TV.com, a wind-tossed rooftop antenna, or paying for individual episodes via Amazon VOD.

Doing the math
The main reason eBeth and I decided to cut cable in the first place wasn't to pursue some high-minded lifestyle of reduced TV intake. It was simply to save money. I was paying a stiff $179 per month before the cut, a price that included Internet, phone, and a TV package with HBO/Showtime, Fios' Home Media DVR, and a second HD box.

Compare that with my bill during that one month of cutting the cord--$75 for Internet and phone--and I figure a savings of about $100 per month. Not too shabby.

In a last-ditch effort I ordered TiVo, but at $20/month, it would cut too far into our cable-cut savings without solving the basic problems. It's going back. David Katzmaier/CNET

When I logged on to Verizon.com to reconnect, I was offered a package with a two-year commitment that kept the same Internet and phone service and added TV, albeit without premium channels and with only one standard DVR. Including an estimated $20 in taxes and fees, I will pay $110/month for the first year and $125/month during the second year (after the "free DVR for a year" deal expires) for the new package.

Compared with the new package, cutting TV saves me roughly $35/month during the first year, further eroded by the necessary Hulu Plus subscription ($7.99/month), optional TiVo ($20/month), and whatever other Internet video I needed to purchase (like Amazon's $2 episodes). That savings just wasn't worth it to me.

And as I detailed in previous entries, the savings wasn't the only thing that was rough.

Why cutting cable didn't work for us

I chose to replace my full slate of cable TV with a combination of over-the-air antenna programming, available for free from local broadcasters, and Internet TV services. eBeth and I experienced first-hand a few big disadvantages to this arrangement, not all of which will apply to other prospective cable-cutters.

Spotty antenna reception. Despite purchasing a $180 antenna that's appropriate to my location, installing it on the rooftop, and orienting it properly, I couldn't get reliable over-the-air (OTA) reception of the local CBS station in my area. Other major stations came in well most of the time, but during windy days we experienced outages and breakup even on strong stations--frustrating, to say the least. I understand that my relatively flimsy antenna mount might be partly to blame, but I've also been told that nearby trees (and my yard has a lot of them) can play a factor, especially when the leaves come in next spring. My antenna solution is a failure at this point, and it will require additional money and effort to fix.

Lack of hassle-free sports was a major reason why cable cutting didn't work for us. David Katzmaier

Less programming than cable. Even if I achieved perfect reception by securing the antenna better or cutting down a tree or two, the five major networks available over-the-air aren't enough for my household. I missed sports and currently there's basically no completely legal way to watch my home baseball and basketball teams without cable TV (Internet options like NBA League Pass black out local teams). eBeth was unhappy with the selection and timeliness of shows available on Hulu, Hulu Plus, and Netflix, and paying for them on Amazon got expensive quickly. It's true that online services have significantly more legacy content than cable, but that advantage didn't appeal to either of us.

Lack of a DVR for Internet video. We used a bare-bones ChannelMaster DVR for the antenna-based shows--which despite an unreliable program guide and kludgy interface, basically got the job done for no monthly fee. But with streaming Internet programming on Hulu or TV.com, we had to watch (numerous, repetitive, unskippable) commercials. We also missed DVR functions previously taken for granted, such as fast-forwarding through a program or rewinding to catch something we missed--actions that were were less convenient or impossible with streaming video.

More difficult to use. The PlayOn software I chose at first, mainly because it offered the most content for the least money, wasn't reliable or easy enough to use for streaming video. We were both used to Netflix on the PS3, but having to sort through its interface in addition to Hulu/Hulu Plus and Amazon--as well as the OTA DVR itself--to find a show didn't make eBeth a happy camper. As she put it in a comment to my original post: "I hate to sound like a couch potato but there is nothing like turning on the tube for few minutes when you have down time and vegging out." A cable box with built-in DVR collects all of our programming in one easy-to-access location and interface, more painlessly and seamlessly than any antenna/Internet solution I've experienced.

Why cutting cable might work for you

The experiences described above and in my previous entries may paint a gloomy picture for cable cutting, but I want to stress that thousands of people have cut the cord successfully, and continue to enjoy savings as a result. Here are a few things that may make ditching cable easier for you.

Getting good reception via antenna really helps ease the pain of cutting cable. David Katzmaier/CNET

You get good antenna reception. Solid reception of free, major network broadcasts in high-def depends on your location and local conditions. In my case, neither were ideal, but if you get good reception via antenna, it really helps.

You're not into sports. Most fans of local sports teams simply cannot get the selection of live games they want via the Internet (at least, without stealing them) or antenna. Not caring about sports goes a long way toward cutting the cord.

You don't mind waiting. DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming editions of TV shows almost always appear later than the live versions. Sometimes you have to wait an hour or a day, sometimes you have to wait a year, but especially when it comes to paying less for your TV fix, patience is a virtue.

You're willing to steal programming. In the month I went without cable I was tempted more than once to simply steal TV using the Internet (for the record, I never did, unless you count the "Slingbox workaround"). Numerous shady file trading, torrent, and download services allow just that, and some have been around for a long time, quietly serving up movies and TV for free or even nominal subscription fees. In my experience, people who feel comfortable taking advantage of such services often have a much easier time cutting cable than people who don't.

You're single and/or computer-savvy. My wife watches more TV than I do, is less tolerant of unreliable reception and streaming, and has less patience with clunky interfaces (hey, maybe she should be the reviewer). For my part, I am unwilling to buy a new computer to set up with Windows Media Center or another PC-based solution, just to better integrate the various antenna and Internet options. Cord cutters with less-demanding (or nonexistent) families, or those willing to put a tricked-out PC in the living room, have a better chance than we did.

You go about it gradually. Like any self-denial, cutting off cable TV is easier if you do it slowly. I made the mistake of setting up a system and then canceling the TV subscription before I, or my wife, realized the implications. If you have the discipline to make the transition more gradually, you might find it less painful.

You don't watch much TV anyway. Many cord cutters I know simply don't watch TV very often. The fewer shows you follow, or the more you're willing to give up, the better chance you have of successfully cutting the cord.

Lessons learned
In the past month I've received hundreds of comments, e-mails, tweets, and other responses to the Diary, and many of them recount different, potentially more effective ways to get rid of cable TV. I appreciate the interest my little adventure has stirred up, and I've learned more from readers' participation than I ever could going it alone.

Even though I've reconnected, and committed to the pipe for another two years, I can't help but feel that I should have done more, kept at it longer, or found a way to make it work. On the other hand, I'm infinitely relieved that my wife and I can eliminate TV as a source of stress in our household.

One of those tweets read simply "I am disappointed." You may be, too, dear reader, but hopefully you're also a bit more informed about what's involved in cutting the cord, and if nothing else you can glean some idea about how not to do it.