Ditching cable for Internet or Over-the-Air (OTA) only programming has been simmering for a while. The reason is simple: cost. Every year the rates go up for what is considered basic service on most services, which can be from 76 to 99 channels that include all local broadcast, the major cable networks, news, sports and entertainment to name a few. Premium channels (HBO, Showtime etc) are usually excluded along with HD programming. To compete with Netflix, many cable companies offer On Demand or Pay Per View services allowing you to order movies right from your cable box.
I come from the generation that remembers using antenna to get local ota programming. Back then you had the three major networks, PBS, and a smattering of local channels. Sometimes you had to fiddle with the horizontal or vertical to stabilize the signal. You had to actually turn a dial to change channels and weather could effect signal quality. Cable changed all that back in the 1970’s. I recall our first cable television and seeing pictures crisp and clear for the first time. We still got local channels but some far away ones as well. There were no cable news channels or MTV back then, but HBO and Showtime showed up by the time I was in high school.
Simpler times but the downside was there was no competition. It was either cable or ota. Most cities signed exclusive contracts with one cable provider so that was it. Today that has changed with satellite and Internet. Looking around my apartment complex, it is amazing the number of Dish or Direct TV satellite dishes on balconies pointing south to get the signal. Driving around my area you see a combination of both satellite and digital antennas. My local cable company, a rare municipal one, is losing customers and trying to win them back with specials. They tried a door-to-door approach that got lots of angry calls (mine being one of them) and now tries a softer approach to win back those who defected to the other guys.
The Internet provides streaming of movies and television shows (sometimes free or for a fee like Netflix or Hulu) that competes with cable. Yet it has not quite yet replaced cable television. Despite a lot of concern, cable is not being dumped but reduced. In my case, I decided not to pay $60+ for getting 99 channels most of which I never watched. I downsized to just getting local channels for $20 a month. I gave up watching a few channels I watched regularly and seeing S.F. Giant’s games that were shown exclusively on cable. Rather than pay for HD programming, I hook up an indoor antenna and get all the local HD channels for free. Netflix fills me in on the shows I missed on SyFY (Warehouse 13 and Eureka) and with free On-Demand I get to see a lot of cable shows such as The Next Food Network Star.
So why do I keep cable? Well I do not have broadband yet (it is coming!) and while I get strong reception on the digital antenna, signals drop for all kinds of reasons. So while it works 80% of the time, I can and do lose the signal to atmospherics, the station switching to a backup while main transmitter is being fixed, or on the weaker stations when my neighbor upstairs is playing with his litle kid. HD programming looks great but on just ordinary programming does not add much. Okay, take that back. Local news reporters and anchors like Darya Folsom, Julie Haener or Gasia Mikaelian look good in HD.
The folks over internetserviceproviders.org sent me a list of the “100 Sites That Can Replace Your Cable TV Service.” The list is interesting showing what content is available online. So if you are thinking about downsizing your cable (or going ota), the Internet offers a lot to fill in the gaps. And you do not have to pay a princely sum for it either.