Skip to main content

In a Flyover State: Diary of a Cord-Cutter

So Nielsen came out with a study last week that says the percentage of homes with a TV declined for the first time in 20 years. They gave some possible reasons, ranging from the DTV transition to the economy to the contestants on ‘American Idol' being pretty boring this season since Pia Toscana wuz robbed.

But the other thing they mentioned was “Cord-Cutters,” which are people who had a TV service and got rid of it. That of course should not be confused with “Cord-Nevers”—young people who never buy a TV service in the first place. Nor should it be confused with “Chord Overstreet,” which is what young people drool over when they should be reading a damn book and not growing up stupid.

I understand the Cord-Never thing; kids growing up now just don’t see the TV as the primary source of electronic entertainment the way many of us did growing up. TV is like an overpriced drug that we as an industry need to hook them on as kids. We should probably call on Big Tobacco for some pointers.

But the Cord-Cutter trend is tougher to define. Granted, the economy stinks (c’mon, you really see signs of a recovery anywhere but on Wall Street?), so that plays a big part. There are more ways to cobble together a video entertainment package through connected TVs, or outright online. And social media takes up a lot of the time we once spent plopped on the couch watching old John Hughes movies and thinking about that girl we never had the guts to ask out. Wow, did I just say that out loud? How’s that midlife crisis treating you there, Grossman?

Whatever the reasoning, I can’t imagine falling into Camp Cord-Cutter. I want to sit on my couch, press one button, and have my big-ass TV kick out 37,000 channels of mostly unwatchable crap in beautiful HD. While my wife brings me my dinner and my kids shine my shoes. And I want to be 6’4”, thin and have hair— which has a better chance of happening than the thing with the wife and kids.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was talking to one of my best friends from back in beautiful Minneapolis, a guy I grew up with, have gotten into plenty of trouble with, and with whom I share a lot in common. He has a wife and two kids, works for a successful media company, likes sports and has questionable taste in several respects.

So I was shocked when he casually mentioned to me that he was dumping his cable service. Yes, one of my best friends had just come out…as a cord-cutter. I felt like one of those people who grew up next door to a serial killer and has to do one of those, “I had no idea, he seemed like such a normal kid” interviews after the fact.

But the bottom line is, it happens. For real. My friend has a good gig, but he also has a wife and two kids and plenty of bills and was sick of paying for a ton of channels he never watched. He says he was running out of new shows he liked; for instance, he’s an ad exec who says he never knows when Mad Men is actually coming back every year (I didn’t have the heart to tell him…). He told me if there was a la carte, sign him back up, but not for cable in its current form.

He said canceling was interesting. First they tried to give him more for the same price, then they tried to keep him subscribed to a cheaper package, and then when they realized he was actually serious about canceling, they treated him like he was crazy.

But he kept a high-speed Internet subscription only (which he may abandon for free Wi-Fi provided by the city), then went out and grabbed a Roku box, a DTV antenna and subscriptions to Hulu Plus and Netflix. And suddenly, he was on the other side of the statistics chart.

He misses seeing programs like The Daily Show day and date, and would like to see more baseball, though the Minnesota Twins being awful has helped. He says not being able to watch Monday Night Football will be odd, and is wrestling with whether he would watch an illegal stream of it, knowing full well (as he puts it) that it will be from some guy in the Ukraine holding a flip camera in front of his TV.

So he’ll see how it goes. He says the test will be in the middle of the winter in frigid Minnesota. He figures if he and the wife are still talking in the aftermath of not having cable, the experiment went OK.

I wish him luck, but can’t see joining him anytime soon. I have a fancy TV that can get Netflix and all that stuff directly into it. I have a nice iPad that gets more and more programming every day. I suppose I could buy any TV-related toy on the market and expense it or write it off on Uncle Sam.

But call me old-fashioned, or just old: that just ain’t happening. My definition right now of “TV Everywhere” is turning up the game loud enough to hear it when I go to the bathroom or to get a beer from the fridge. So as for cord-cutting altogether, count me out.