Sunday, April 19, 2009
It's time to cut the cord to your TV. Don't worry: I'm not urging you to throw out that new flat-screen, or even the smartphone, laptop, minivan-mounted LCD or other blinking thing on which you've lately been getting your fix of filmed entertainment. I'm referring to the expensive pipe that mainlines programming into your home -- your cable or satellite subscription.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, you're probably spending about $80 a month or more -- $960 a year -- to keep your TV stuffed with programming. In lonelier, introspective moments, you've caught yourself wondering whether you're getting fleeced. You say you don't really need Spike TV, the Hallmark Channel and all those flavors of MTV? Tough break. For the most part, cable and satellite plans present you with an all-or-nothing menu, like being forced to pay for first class when all you need is coach.
The first step in breaking this addiction is to examine your needs. If you're comfortable watching TV on your computer -- curling up in bed with a laptop can be very relaxing -- you can get many of your favorite shows for free on the Web (on Hulu.com or at the Web sites for the shows themselves). Should you prefer a more traditional setup, buy a device like the Apple TV ($229) or Roku digital player ($99). The first lets you order programs from Apple's iTunes Store straight from your couch. A typical network show will cost you $2 to $3 an episode, or about $12 a month, a tiny fraction of what you pay your cable company.
What about news, sports and other staples of live TV? Get them the old-fashioned way: Buy an antenna or, if you need one, a digital converter box. The government will even give you a coupon.
These alternatives aren't for everyone, of course, and they do require some financial outlay. You'll need a computer of recent vintage, a broadband Internet connection and a bit of tech-savvy. But in return, you get to support just the shows that appeal to you. If enough people decided to watch TV this way, perhaps the many inane channels that you've long feared would rot your brain might wither away.
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of "True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society."