An early cord-cutting experiment

A personal post about our household’s own recently ended cord-cutting experiment.


The NY Times ran a piece on cable subscribers cutting the cord in favor of free, over-the-air HDTV as a way to save some money.

At our house, we recently ended a similar experiment of 18 months, wherein we went from Comcast for broadband and cable, to AT&T for DSL and over-the-air ATSC DTV for, well, TV. This would make us early cord-cutters, a phenomenon which is getting more and more coverage.

With that, we re-experienced all the hinkiness of yesteryear – where to place an indoor antenna to catch signals from two different towers (San Bruno for NBC, Sutro Tower for everything else), multipath, pixelation, all that fiddly stuff that cable allows you to forget. Not to mention scanning for channels. (This is one case where my Rosum experience is useful. No matter where I go, I usually am aware of TV broadcast angle of arrival.)

This was a very simple let’s-see-if-we-can-do-it recession era experiment, and it was a success. It helped that I was working in the ATSC at the time, on the ATSC Mobile DTV standard (ATSC A/153, for those keeping score), and thus had incentive to experience ATSC how consumers experience it. The biggest inconvenience – not getting ESPN. CNN and Comedy Central are generally replaceable via their respective websites. Broadcast network programming can be watched via TiVo delay (at times, with pixelation) or on Hulu.

What else did we find. There’s a reason people like Hulu and why it gets a disproportionate share of ad views vis-a-via YouTube. It really provides a great user experience. Conversely, streaming Netflix over an 802.11g router (the network is 802.11n, but the TiVo STB only accepted 802.11g routers) provides a latency-riddled, entirely unpleasant viewing experience. That and at least at the time the selection felt limited as compared to the traditional DVD rental business. We also found that a simple rabbit ears (well, rabbit ears plus a UHF loop) antenna from Radio Shack was sufficient. The photo below is from the day of the analog TV shutdown, for which I borrowed an old analog NTSC TV and connected a Zenith converter box, and thus fully understood why seniors were having trouble going through the same exercise. Lots of cables to connect and fine print to read.

Why did we end our over-the-top media delivery experiment, as people now call it? DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. All the games, along with the red zone channel. Over-the-air can’t compete with that. Interestingly, with satellite delivery we do see the occasional artifact or pixelation.

The over-the-top phenomenon (we used to call this memes) exemplified by Netflix, Hulu and iTunes seemed to hit a crescendo this summer, which is when the over-the-top seemed to crossover into the mainstream. More on this subject in future posts.

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