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Cord Cutting: Signs of Doom for Cable and Satellite

Cutting your cable or satellite subscription in the USA continues to gain momentum. At my house, we cut our subscription about two years ago with little pain and much satisfaction.

The sleeper events for cord-cutting were the government-mandated transition to digital TV, and Netflix/Hulu style streaming. With digital TV freely broadcast on the airwaves, you can now receive HD television and multiple channels. PBS, for example, has PBS Kids and PBS Explorer. Suddenly, those 5 networks become 15 HD channels of varying content (if the cable and satellite companies had seen this result, I think they would have done more to block it). Meanwhile, Netflix streaming supplies an endless amount of great material, both old and new.

You'll need some supplementary equipment and services to successfully cut the cord while having access to quality screen time: high speed internet, TiVo, a digital antenna (or digital TV converter box), and some sort of subscription service (Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu). (You could also go the Amish route, of course, and cut it all.)

The primary obstacles to cutting the cord are the 24-hour news and financial channels (CNBC), kids channels, and the popular, water cooler shows on particular channels (The Walking Dead on AMC, for example). Water cooler shows can be bought and downloaded from iTunes or Amazon on the same night they air. PBS Kids (and Netflix streaming) provides lots of kids programming.

What about the news channels, like CNN? I thought I would miss them, but I don't. The endless dissection, repetitive punditry, and desperate quests for new stories grow oh so tiresome. I occasionally watch PBS NewsHour, which gives me a one hour, commercial-free daily news program. I also use RSS readers and the internet to stay on top of the news. But in the end, the news addiction is one I was glad to finally break.

After cutting the cord, I'm enjoying PBS more and more, finding lots of great programming on my local and free PBS station; for example, the terrific Downton Abbey was free on PBS' Masterpiece Classic. I don't leave the TV mindlessly on anymore, and I don't have to sit through so many annoying commercials, thanks to streaming and purchasing online. I also enjoy many great shows on the over the air networks (NBC, FOX, etc.).

It's still early, but the uncoupling of TV from the cable and satellite masters is beginning. Louis C.K.'s online, DRM-free comedy special, sold directly through his website, has grossed more than $1M. The TD Ameritrade iPad app offers free streaming of CNBC. ITunes sales and ratings kept The Greek TV show on air, and many TV show pilots are free on iTunes. CNBC's Mad Money now airs in the early morning on NBC.

The disruptive power of the internet, with its new ubiquity on our television sets and portable devices, is changing content delivery. When and how it evolves is uncertain, but cable/satellite TV is becoming more irrelevant to more great programming.

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