I hope you'll forgive me for being a bit self-indulgent today. I want to talk about my cable TV service and about how terrible it is. We keep talking about 'cutting the cord' and, at least in the circles I travel in, no one seems happy with their cable provider.
I'll freely admit that I'm working with anecdotal evidence and a very unscientific sample size of one, and so I'm not going to name names because I'm not trying to shame my cable provider into fixing my service. I'm trying to shame all the cable providers into fixing everyone's service!
All right, enough with the disclaimers. I want to describe the frustrations I encountered in just one weekend.
Saturday night I decided to watch Edge of Tomorrow on HBO. It wasn't playing live so I headed for my cable provider's On Demand service. I found the movie on HBO On Demand and started watching. I didn't even get through the credits before playback started pausing briefly. Everything would just stop for maybe half a second, then it would resume again. A minute or so later it would pause again.
I could have watched the movie like that I guess, but it was driving me crazy. I quit On Demand, fired up HBO Go on the Xbox, found the movie there and watched it that way. It played perfectly without any hesitation or pausing. One point for streaming.
The next day I decided to watch a show I'd recorded on the DVR. My DVR comes from the cable provider and it costs me about $15/month the last time I checked. I should probably buy a Tivo but I've heard such horror stories about trying to pry a cable card loose from providers that I've never had the intestinal fortitude to take that on.
Back to my TV show. It starts playing and a few minutes in I start seeing digital artifacts breaking up the picture, and the sound starts dropping out. I'm disappointed but not all that surprised; this happens a couple times a month (I do use the DVR pretty heavily). I'm honestly not sure if the DVR is introducing the issues, or if the DVR is just recording a bad airing of the show. Whatever the cause, the recording continues to degrade and soon becomes unwatchable. Off I go to find the show on Hulu Plus or on a network's dedicated app. Score another point for streaming.
Sunday night the Oscars were on TV. I wasn't watching them but my girlfriend was, on the upstairs TV. We don't have cable hooked up to that TV because renting the box was costing us $10 or $12 per month and we didn't use it that often. Instead I bought an HD antenna that sticks to the inside of the window. It cost me about $40 and it pulls in the major networks nicely.
What's most amazing about watching content via this antenna is that it always looks much sharper than what I get via the cable box. But it was getting late and my girlfriend wanted to finish watching in bed on her iPad. ABC has an app for that, but you have to log in with your cable provider to get access. Problem is, it doesn't support our particular cable provider, so she was out of luck. Honestly I don't know if the fault here lies with ABC or our cable provider, but in any case it was one less 'perk' that we could take advantage of.
So those are the three issues I had in just a single weekend, and during both of the first two I got frustrated and muttered "We pay so much for cable TV and it barely works. I really need to cut the cord."
We also get phone and Internet through our cable provider. I'm fairly happy with the Internet. I wasn't always, but the service improved substantially when I returned the cable modem they provided and replaced it with my own. A happy side effect of doing that is that I'm saving a few bucks every month on modem rental fees (it took about 10 months before owning my own cable modem paid for itself). I pay for a 30 Mbps downstream connection and most of the time I get close to that. I wish I could get something better than 5 Mbps up but that's the fastest I can get, at least where I live.
The phone is virtually unusable. After several service calls failed to improve the phone service I gave up and signed up for Vonage (which works quite well). The only reason I still have phone service through my cable provider is that if I remove it, my bill would actually go up due to the bizarre bundling rules they have. So yes I'm technically paying for a service that I not only don't use, but can't use (since my cable modem doesn't support it).
I get that these are all #firstworldproblems and on some level I'm a little bit embarrassed to be complaining so publicly. But we do pay an awful lot for cable TV (when my bill hit $200/month I started whittling down services and renegotiating with my provider and it's now down to about $160/month) and it's almost like these providers are daring us to cut the cord. Every year The Consumerist runs a contest for Worst Company In America and Comcast (not my provider) won that dubious award in 2010 and again in 2014. This contest is based on reader votes, but you could argue this is very telling: consumers are passionate enough about their dislike of Comcast to make the effort to go and vote against them.
I don't really want to cut the cord. Cable TV service is really convenient and hunting for the show I want to watch across a variety of apps and services is kind of a pain in the neck. But come on, cable companies, meet me half way. If you're going to charge a premium price, can't you at least deliver a consistently watchable television signal to my house? Can't you offer a DVR that works? Can't you get deals in place with the networks so I can use their mobile apps?