is Patrick Crowley

I’ve cut the cable cord

January 18, 2007

I've cut the cable cord

On Monday, I disconnected my cable service.

While the cable-box-is-your-DVR paradigm has served me well over the past five years, it just seems a bit silly now. I’m paying a pretty high premium for time-shifting (either in the near term: to pause live television, or in the long term: to record shows I’d like to watch later.)

Let’s look at the math for a second.

Cable is expensive

My cable bill is $130/month. That breaks down to $70 month for the cheapest digital cable/DVR combo, and another $60 for the high speed internet connection.

I’d love to ditch the internet connection. But all the other options suck. Dialup: are you fucking kidding me? DSL: too slow. Verizon FiOS: not available in San Diego yet.

Ok, so I’m stuck with internet. What about cable? How much am I spending per year? Well, math fans, $70 x 12 is $840. Ouch. I have to say this number was a bit shocking. Does cable really provide that much value to my life?

My high school economics professor used to always talk about opportunity cost (i.e. if you spent money on something else, what would it buy?)

So what could I buy with an extra $840 in my pocket?

  • 42 DVDs (at $20 per DVD)
  • 120 paperback books (at $7 per book)
  • 420 television episodes from iTunes (at $2 per show)
  • 840 songs from iTunes (at $1 per track)

Starting to make sense? Yeah? So let’s keep going!

The point of this exercise — the reason I cut the cord — is that I want to save money, so the more of that $840 I can keep, the better.

iTunes is now a real alternative

Here’s what I figured out. I watch 5 shows regularly. You know, the ones I can’t miss. They are… LOST, Battlestar Galactica, Studio 60, Heroes, and Dr. Who.

With the “season pass” feature from iTunes, I can subscribe to an entire season of episodes from a show for approximately $35. Too, they’re widescreen, near HD quality, and commercial free. (Another plus: if I’m traveling, I can take my shows with me or download them on the road.)

I don’t have one of the new AppleTV units, but that’s ok. My office is also my living room, and I’ve got a clear view of my 23in Cinema Display from the couch.

Now, of course, nothing is perfect. For me, the main drawbacks to this plan are not being able to watch live television or content that isn’t available on iTunes yet. But I can live with that.

So, five shows at $35 per season. That’s $175. I’d save $665 a year.

Not bad. But can we do better?

And it’s really cheap

I typically watch LOST and BSG with friends, so I probably don’t need a season pass for these. But I’ll probably still want to buy my favorite episodes, so let’s say that works out to $10 per show.

And it turns out Dr. Who isn’t available on iTunes yet (cheeky Brits!), so I’ll have to watch that with friends or maybe grab a torrent.

That cuts down the cost quite a bit.

  • BSG: $10
  • LOST: $10
  • Heroes: $42
  • Studio 60: $35
  • Dr Who: ~

Total cost: $97. (About $743 less than I had planned to pay.)

The future is unbundled

A year of television for under 100 bucks. Not only is that it’s an awesome price, it really makes the business model of companies like TiVo seem tenuous.

DVR was magic five years ago, but we’re living in the future now.


  1. Erin Jan 18 edit

    Freedom! Right on, brother. (Living cable-free for four years now, oh yeah.)

  2. peter Jan 18 edit

    why don’t you do what I do and point your roof-top antenna at the empire state building?

    some of us are not living in the future yet.

    funny thing is most of the antennas in my hood are still pointed at the world trade center.

  3. Patrick Jan 19 edit

    Unfortunately, I’m about 3000 miles away, so not sure that’ll work, Peter. ;)

    But it looks like the current design for the Freedom Tower includes plans for replacing the missing WTC television tower, though it won’t be operational until 2009.

  4. Mike Jan 19 edit

    Who’s your cable company? I work for Time Warner and we have Road Runner High Speed for $40 with a digital package and Road Runner Lite for $20 with a Digital Package. Who’s charging you $60?

  5. Patrick Jan 19 edit

    Cox Cable, sadly.

  6. Chris Radcliff Jan 22 edit

    Still waiting for the Season 3.5 premiere episode to be available on iTunes, over 24 hours after it aired on SciFi. This is the part that sucks about relying on iTunes for these episodes; for some reason they don’t even try to promise a delivery time.

  7. Patrick Jan 24 edit

    My guess is Apple at the mercy of individual content producers.

    So, for instance, Showtime hasn’t posted any episodes from Weeds: Season 2. And they’re months behind, not just a day or two.

    I’d love to see a simultaneous release, so the moment a show airs on TV, it’s also available on iTunes. I imagine we’ll eventually get there, but it will take time to work the kinks out.

  8. peter Jan 25 edit

    Ha, did you see this:

    You should write for zdnet PC!

  9. foobar Jan 26 edit

    Mike you dork, you used the expression “with a digital package” TWICE. The whole point of this entry is that he WON’T have a digial package!

  10. takeo Jan 27 edit

    patrick, yes…although I’m kind of going the opposite way. we never watched tv before, but I recently set up a mac mini system in our living room and are now using it to watch a few shows as well as everything else - music, dvds, and an eyetv 250 tuner. it’s been awesome, and the itunes season pass stuff combined with some torrents here and there and a netflix account is everything we need. the eyetv is less impressive cause we get pretty much no over-the-air reception… I wish we could get just the basic $15 a month analog cable for the main network stations, but our building is “historic” and can’t be cabled up…although you can litter it with a bunch of dishes. oh well. the only glitch we’ve run into is the season pass not letting us download the last heroes episode until thursday, which was really lame. but you’re absolutely right - do the math and buy the season passes for the handful of worthwhile programming and you’re coming out way ahead.

  11. Anita Feb 3 edit

    That’s why I only have basic cable. For $5 extra per month (on top of my $40/month cable modem service), I get 22 channels, including sci fi (but I think that’s accidental … I get 2-22, then sci fi is 77).

  12. Anita Feb 3 edit

    BTW - Found your cool site via Flickr. Thanks for making all your shots creative commons, I’m going to use one today and I’ll link back to this site.

  13. Chris Mar 16 edit

    After reading about your decision to drop cable based on how much money you’d be saving, I decided I’d see what I could save. There’s only a handful of shows I watch regularly, most of which I can get on iTunes. After doing the math, I’ll end up saving around $700/year if I dropped cable. That’s a fair chunk of change, so I’ve decided I’m also going to drop cable TV.

    Thanks for the inspiration to do it!

  14. bradly Mar 23 edit

    My and fiance and I have been trying to decide whether or not we are going to cave in to Cox once we are married. Looks like you’ve already done the math.

    I may have to pick up that Blockbuster movie pass where they mail you DVDs but you can return the to the store, but even with the extra $15 a month, I’ll still be in the black.

    Plus, I watch more TV from DVDs (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, Gummy Bears, etc..) than from cable as it is.

    Good work, Patrick


  15. eric Sep 18 edit

    Now can you stream all that to your iPhone? -eric (from daves iPhone)

  16. Brett Sep 18 edit

    Hi Patrick,

    I downgraded my cable recently with Cox. I had expanded basic, digital basic & high definition. Now I only have basic cable which gets me broadcast stations, TBS, WGN and a shopping channel. Prior to downgrading, I had to subscribe to expanded basic & digital basic in order to get the high definition tier. I almost exclusively watched high definition from the broadcast stations, but also watched football on ESPN HD. Now I just plug my cable line into the back of my HDTV and I still get the broadcast stations in high def via cable with basic cable which is only $11 per month. That saves me roughly $60 per month or $720 per year! My only loss is HD football on ESPN which is only one game per week. I also signed up with Netflix and get six or so new release movies for only $8.99 per month. I didn’t get any new release movies per month with cable. Those same six movies on Cox on demand pay-per-view would have cost me about $24 per month. Like you I’m finding ways to be more selective about the entertainment that I want and saving money, rather than having cable force me to pay for services I neither want nor view!!!

  17. Pilot Mike’s Weblog » Blog Archive » How I ditched my cable TV Jan 3 edit

    […] I had been reluctant for years, but my wife and I finally “had it” with paying Comcast for our cable TV bill. It was a huge hassle calling them up every 6 months and playing the “I don’t want to pay full price for your service so I’m going to threaten to disconnect so they give us another 6 months on a promo rate” game. Face it folks, cable is expensive. We can get in an extra XC flight in the DA40XL by ditching the cable service for one year! […]

  18. Cliff Feb 17 edit

    So, did you ever do it, cut the cable connection? How’d it go? Did you go back?

  19. ML Oct 21 edit

    You should post your quote in the WSJ article :)

  20. ML Oct 21 edit

    Sorry - here’s the link

  21. The Cable Bill | Debt and Clutter Free Feb 13 edit

    […] The Cable Bill 2009 January 28 tags: cable, expenses, goals, internet, skype by Brandy Image by moko.labsOne of our goals is to reduce our monthly expenses. After reading posts on ways to cut costs, we decided to cave in and hack away at our BrightHouse cable bill. We had been paying $103 per month for our promotional cable “package” which included digital cable, a DVR unit, digital phone, and Internet. I had called a few weeks back to return the DVR unit and service but was told I would have to also remove the digital cable and would end up paying almost the same amount as we would no longer qualify for their digital bundle discount. […]

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  24. George Hines Sep 15 edit

    Way to go! More people need to realize that not only is it possible to live without cable TV, but it really isn’t a sacrifice at all. I lived with an aging Cable DVR for years that Comcast never updated! Oh, scratch that, they did update the programming guide and give me Ads. Gee thanks! Instead, I cut both cable TV and the phone line (replaced with OOMA) and am saving $100 per month. That is something I can really enjoy!

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I’m Patrick Crowley. MORE

I make web applications. I'm also into photography and film.

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