Thinking about cord-cutting II: I did it — and I’ve found out even more
Who knew when I wrote a column last week about my experiences cutting the cable TV cord, that it would resonate with so many readers?
Well, you did — you posted hundreds of comments and sent nearly as many e-mails, some setting me straight, some asking for more information, and many telling your own tales of rewiring your homes and information/entertainment grids, for better and worse.
What’s striking, at first, is the demographic cohesion of the respondents: Almost everyone weighing in is in my cohort of 50-something to 70-something (and up) baby boomers. It makes sense, though. A lot of our kids/grandkids don’t need this info, either because they’re already off the drip-feed of Xfinity/RCN/Verizon/What Have You or because they don’t need help figuring out how to do it. (Their kids are just watching YouTube and sending Snapchat videos on smartphones; they don’t need no stinkin’ TV set.)
Basically, everyone born after the Internet revolution has at least a quart of green IT-support blood flowing through their veins; they speak the language because it’s their birthright. For anyone who was sentient before the advent of dial-up modems, not so much. Yes, yes, some of you are fine at navigating the choppy seas of home-entertainment technology. Some of you need help taking a photo with your phone. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. And all of us think there are too many remotes.
I’m using this space, then, to follow up on some issues and clarifications prompted by last week’s column. First of all, as many of you gleefully reminded me, I WAS WRONG and you can’t get the Red Sox on Hulu + Live TV, because that service does not carry the New England Sports Network. It’s my own fault for making assumptions and not reading the fine print during the off-season.
As many of you informed me, you can get NESN outside of a cable package only if you subscribe either to YouTube TV or PlayStation Vue, two “over the top” (OTT) streaming services that basically do the same thing as Hulu + Live TV and AT&T’s DIRECTV NOW. All four deliver live feeds of network and basic cable programming, with premium and additional channels on different price tiers, over the Internet, through streaming hardware like a Roku box, to your TV set (or straight to your laptop, for that matter).
The offerings change, depending on your ZIP code, but in my neighborhood Hulu + Live TV offers 81 channels for $44.99/month, DIRECTV NOW has 73 for its $40/month entry package, YouTube TV offers 72 for $40, and PlayStation Vue has 50 channels for $44.99. Of those four, NESN (and NESNPlus) is available only on YouTube TV and on PlayStation Vue’s “Core” tier (which costs $49.99/month).
I’m in the middle of YouTube TV’s free trial — so far, so good — and if I’m sold, I may switch from Hulu, thus losing that service’s TV library, but gaining local sports. The upside of the modern entertainment landscape is that you can easily switch these OTT services by logging on to your account — no endless cable company on-hold music, thank you.
The other major complaint from readers is that they’re stuck in a Comcast/Xfinity stranglehold. Because their community doesn’t have (or make) any other Internet providers available, it’s impossible to get any of those OTT services unless you pay for Internet services through Xfinity. And Xfinity’s pricing structure makes Internet without cable TV unworkably expensive. It’s a business plan that’s plain unfair to consumers.
If you live in Cambridge, for instance, Comcast is your sole provider of higher-speed broadband services, in part because the barrier to entry for newcomers — wiring a municipality, basically — can be cost prohibitive. (Some Cambridge residents may use Verizon DSL for broadband connections.) That may change with the arrival in the next few years of super-high-speed 5G networks. Or it may not. But this is effectively a monopoly situation and it would welcome a good hard look at the state and local government levels. (Since we’re talking about Cambridge, there’s a local group pushing for change: Upgrade Cambridge at upgradecambridge.org.)
One advantage to cutting the cord that I missed pointing out is the upside of buying your own cable modem instead of renting one from your cable TV or Internet provider. It’s a $100-$200 up-front cost that pays for itself after a year, and your Internet service guy (or your 12-year-old nephew) can set it up for you.
I also forgot to put in a plug for Kanopy, the streaming service that’s free to many students and anyone with a library card from a participating library. (The Boston Public Library just signed on.) The service’s film and TV offerings don’t run quite as deep as, say, Netflix or Amazon, but the quality of content is far superior, plus you can tap into informational and educational content in the areas of business, health, language, science, social science, and more.
I heard from a reader alerting me to the fact that Hulu sends all its streaming content out unencrypted — and my viewing data back in — meaning that third-party data trackers can see exactly what shows and movies my family has been dialing up. As our homes become more and more wired, privacy concerns are increasingly critical; it’s important to know who’s watching you watching.
Of course all of this may be moot when Disney stomps into the streaming/OTT market at the end of 2019 with Disney+, a family programming service that could hog exclusive rights to Disney/Pixar and Twentieth Century Fox product (and since the company has a majority stake in Hulu, expect to see changes there as well). Consumer technology goes through phases of fragmentation and consolidation, and we’re waist-deep in the former, with an overwhelming panoply of platforms, gizmos, and options to choose from. One of the more welcome ironies of tech-era capitalism is that the harder it is to figure out, the easier it is on the wallet.
Totally Unrelated Movie Recommendation: The “Jack Attack!” series at the Somerville Theatre. We binge on TV series, why not movie stars? The Somerville is geeking out on Jack Nicholson from now through October, from one end of his career (“The Raven,” 1963, March 14) to the other (“How Do You Know,” 2010, Oct. 6). Sure, the hits are here: “Five Easy Pieces” (1970, April 19), “Chinatown” (1974, May 4), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975, May 10), “The Shining” (1980, May 12), “Terms of Endearment” (1983, June 13), “Batman” (1989, July 18). But it’s the ones you may not know that show the many sides of Jack: “The King of Marvin Gardens” (1972, April 21), “The Last Detail” (1973, May 4), “The Passenger” (1975, May 5), “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985, June 20), “About Schmidt” (2002, Oct. 5). Pick hit: “Psych-Out” (1968, March 27), a great, sleazy Roger Corman B-movie set during the Summer of Love, with Nicholson in a ponytail as “Stoney,” Susan Strasberg as a deaf hippie runaway, and Bruce Dern as an acidhead on a Jesus trip. Groovy.