“This is the true story… of one person…addicted to TV programming…forced to live in a house with no cable…find out what happens…when I give up my cable boxes…and start to stream…”
Let me preface – I live for TV. I am one of THOSE people who set reminder timers on my phone so I know what’s on when. Every night I have a schedule of at least three or four shows I HAVE to watch. Although the DVR has allowed me to have a life once again (okay, who am I kidding, it’s allowed me to watch MORE shows by recording and watching multiple shows at the same time), I would still rather watch shows the night they air. But, my luxurious cable habit also meant a steep cable bill! A challenge was born. Get rid of cable, and watch everything online. I had no idea how long it would last but it was worth a shot.
“Online video usage in the U.S. is up considerably from the same time last year, as time spent viewing video on PC/MAC/laptops from home and work locations increased by 45%.” ~Nielsen Wire, January 2011
From the beginning, I was well aware that September was “fall premiere” month – the network’s version of the “debutante ball” for TV programs. September meant the debut of hot new shows, and the return of favorites. I needed to make sure I didn’t miss a beat. I chose Hulu as my primary viewing source.
The time leading up to September 19th (fall premiere week) was rough. Most of the time I watched old shows on Hulu, and when I was completely bored – I splurged on one of the awesome dollar DVD’s at Redbox. It wasn’t quite like reverting to the old days of sitting around a radio or playing board games, (although I did manage to pass all levels of Angry Birds and Angry Birds Rio, but that’s neither here nor there).
Premiere week FINALLY came and Hulu delivered for the most part. Nowadays, streaming technology is so flawless. Gone are the days of buffering and stuttering.
While I would normally fast forward through commercials when watching on the DVR (okay not ALL the time, I do work in advertising and need to do my research), I was FORCED to watch the ads online. Although there were only 30 seconds worth of commercials (either a 30 or two 15′s) they got annoying REAL fast. It’s the repetition, the same ad over and over, that kills ya. But I DID find myself commenting and critiquing – some I loved, some I hated, and some were just plain creepy.
I counted. I literally viewed this Toyota ad at least 12 times one night while watching various shows on Hulu. Is it weird or is it just me? I guess it did it’s job and got my attention.
“We are continually looking at opportunities to provide our pay distributers with content and products that enhance the value of pay television to subscribers.”
~ Michael Hopkins, President, Affiliate Sales and Marketing, Fox Networks.
Let me back up. My little experiment was going great for the most part. ABC and NBC had their fall premieres a bit earlier than the other networks, and their shows posted to Hulu the day after they aired. Not bad. As difficult as it was for me, I could wait a day if it meant watching high quality video.
Then, Fox premiere week rolled around, and I couldn’t wait for the return of shows like “Fringe.” I booted up the computer, went to Hulu, and was greeted with a note: “The episodes will be available to everyone 8 days after airing.” It turns out not everyone looks at streaming video as the secret to success.
“Our new authentication service will continue to provide next-day access to FOX broadcast shows for viewers who subscribe to participating pay television providers,” saysHopkins. Their “participating pay television provider” of choice – DISH Network. Long story short – as a reward for subscribing to DISH Network, you get to watch FOX TV shows the next day, as opposed to having to wait the 8 days. Ironically, when an MLB Playoff game went into extra innings, and fans of the new show “Terra Nova” were unable to watch the entire episode, Fox decided to post it online early so they wouldn’t have to wait. New shows can use all the help they can get – and online viewing options offer even more exposure.
I was pleasantly surprised that CBS posted most of their shows the day after air, but they are adamant you visit their site. According to CBS Interactive President Jim Lazone, “The notion of joining up and subjugating your brand to theirs (Hulu) just doesn’t make sense for CBS.” He noted the decreased traffic to ABC.com after they joined Hulu as an example. The more traffic to the site, the more advertising you can sell, at a higher dollar. In a recent article on adage.com, CBS.com broke it’s prior records with 1.8 million video viewers and 600,000 referrals from social networks as a result of the premiere of “Two and a Half Men.”
The one thing that worried me about viewing shows on websites other than Hulu or Netflix was the quality of their streaming. In the past, the edge that Hulu and Netflix had over others was their ability to offer seamless streaming technology that no one else could come close to. This has all changed and I found CBS’ video player to be just as good as Hulu. Sure, they did have quite a few more commercial breaks (allowing them to sell a ton more advertising) but the instant gratification of being able to watch a new show right away outweighed the negative. Minus the Fox setback, I was proud that I had made it a month and had not gone running back to my cable company.
Four words: “Syfy” and “Doctor Who.” These four little words almost made my online experiment go down the drain. On Syfy, I was mortified to find out I’d have to wait almost a month for a new episode to post, and BBC America programming wasn’t even available to stream. It was a dark, disturbing discovery, and it forced me to sink to all new lows. With the help of my husband, I tried out websites like megavideo.com that offered almost any full episode you could think of but only allowed you to view them for a certain amount of time before pausing and making you wait 45 minutes to start again (or of course, you could sign up for a paid membership and watch unlimited). There were also the illegal sites where people posted their recorded shows, soon to be discovered and taken down for infringement. The quality of the video was way worse than the now dreaded standard def, all the while you felt like your computer would contract a virus just by clicking on the link. It felt dangerous…and dirty.
But when reviewing the numbers, Syfy seems to be doing just fine. Some of my favorite Syfy shows “Eureka,” “Alphas,” “Warehouse 13,” and “Haven” all broke the 2.5 million mark in total viewers (courtesy of Variety.com). I’ve always said Syfy’s the place to be. Even on a Friday night, you’ll find a demographic that doesn’t mind staying at home if it means watching a new episode of their favorite show. The dedication is like no other (trust me I know, I am one of these people). On the other end of the globe, the season finale of “Doctor Who” drew in over 6 million viewers on BBC 1. Who knows if their lack of online streaming is helping by forcing people to watch shows on an actual TV.
“We had this very traditional model where you bought 30-second timeslots and that’s what paid for all these television programs. With people having the ability to watch something from Netflix or watch something from the web, it’s really changed the advertising model for television.” ~ Kelli Burns, mass communications professor, University of South Florida.
Sample of Ad Swap On Hulu, where you choose the ad you want to see.
I hit my two month anniversary of being cable free, and if I could do it, I’m pretty sure anyone could. With online viewing becoming ever more popular, companies are finding ways to make things more convenient. Published on usatoday.com, networks such as HBO, Bravo, and Syfy will be providing programming to Xbox 360 owners later this year. And if you have an Xbox 360, you can actually stream Netflix and Hulu directly, making it easier than having to connect your computer to your TV everytime you want to watch something on a bigger screen. Hulu has just launched “Ad Swap,” allowing you to choose which ad you want to watch. So if you have to watch commercials, at least you get to choose which ones.
Even with setbacks, I’d say that ditching my cable was worth all the money I saved. You can basically watch anything you want online, all you need is a computer. Now if they can only figure out how to stream the NFL…