Two-bit Column: Cut to the quick: Considering the cable cabal

Mar 30, 18 • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo Comments

The author. Courtesy photo.

By Justin Agrell

We were stunned. How long had it been? Four years? At least three, to be sure.

We were over at my wife’s family’s house and had just settled in to watch a program. Suddenly, the show stopped and commercials started to play (and play (and play)). We must’ve spent at least five minutes staring at advertisements until we finally just left the room. Was this really the norm that everyone dealt with for so many years? Yes, for many of us, it is clear that cable television is dead.

Technology will always evolve and moving pictures are no exception. From silent films to drive-in movies to large air-conditioned theaters, we’ve witnessed a steady change in how we consume video. First, we were forced to go to theaters. Eventually, we took in video at home. Television grew more advanced as we demanded more channels and bigger screens. We fought ads and annoying antenna alignments by adopting a shiny new technology called cable. The cable companies promised an advertisement-free experience without the need for antennas via cable boxes and monthly payments. Later, a technology war ensued and we watched a to-the-death struggle between Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS portable video tape standards and we bought movies to watch at home. By then, cable had somehow snuck commercials back in to the viewing experience. By the time DVDs became popular, our cable bills had skyrocketed, layered with more and more bundling scams, hidden fees, and equipment rentals.

The early 2000s brought us broadband internet. Our phone carriers started morphing into their modern DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)-internet-service-provider selves and cable companies did the same. It wasn’t long until the internet became fast and ubiquitous enough for it to be a threat to the establishment. By the end of the 2000s, it was clear that watching video on tablets and smart phones was the future. If you couldn’t get your media to these types of devices, you were obsolete as a video content provider.

So here we are in the future, but what are our options, really? You can cut the cable cord, so to speak, but what should you replace it with? The most common choice is streaming services. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and soon almost every internet provider (and even Disney) will be hosting their own subscription-based video streaming service. It’s easy and affordable to get an account and enjoy on-demand content on a plethora of different device types. Your first step would be to either adapt your current television or purchase a smart television. I actively promote the separation of “smart” and television since smart TVs have a terrible habit of losing support thus preventing you from being able to update them to use the newest services. A streaming device, however, solves this problem. The popular devices are currently Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire boxes. They are readily available, easy to use, and quite well supported.

The next most popular option is what I do myself. I simply purchase a small form-factor computer (like those tiny Dell or Lenovo desktops businesses like to use) and use it for my entertainment needs. Not only do normal browser-based services like Netflix work on a full computer, but the medium also allows me to play games, too. My favorite aspect of using a computer for home entertainment is that my entire collection of DVDs can be imported or actually played on the DVD reader it came with.

So how will video evolve next? I suspect it’ll grow in two directions: virtual reality, and niche independent streaming. We’re already seeing the dawn of an era in which movies can be viewed on virtual reality headsets. This level of immersion is incomparable. It’s one of those things that absolutely has to be experienced to fully appreciate. The other direction we are already headed in is streaming options like YouTube and Twitch. Unlike with normal shows, millions of common individuals (and individual uncommon people, too) are able to record whatever it is they’re doing and present the live stream (or a recording) directly to even the smallest micro-niche of individuals. It’s amazing to see how such simple topics like camping with your dog can become so popular. It’s even more impressive that video recordings of gamers playing with their friends are becoming popular enough to become a threat to major sports broadcasting networks. Who wants to watch a simple soccer game when we can watch a game where, instead of people, it’s rocket-powered cars trying to get the ball in the goal?

In the end, it’s important to adapt, to vote with our wallets and let the fat-and-happy companies know that we have options other than commercial-filled media — and that, given relative ease, we’ll absolutely choose them. We’re only willing to put up with corporate abuses for so long before we find another way to get what we want. Watching videos has certainly never been an exception to this rule.


Justin Agrell has been a certified IT technician since 2005. He loves Linux, adventure motorcycling, and computer gaming. To get in touch, just email him at Justin@U4E.US.

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