Can Gaming Consoles Replace Cable?
Alexandra Mangen / Feb 18th, 2014 No Comments
The first few times we told friends and family that we didn’t have cable, their reactions ranged from horror to surprise to downright bewilderment. “Why not? What are you going to do without cable?” they asked us.
At the time, we had just moved from a small studio apartment with a tiny kitchen and douchebag neighbors to a new place. I worked from home and it didn’t take long for that shoe box-sized apartment to feel like a prison. I was unable to escape much as I was just beginning to build my business and we had a tight budget. The one luxury in that little apartment was free cable and it was my escape.
Every day, I flipped through channels discovering new shows and feeding my Food Network addiction. When my husband got home from work, he’d plop down on our cheap IKEA couch with me and it would be his turn to decide what we watched. We struggled for a bit but things got better. We both started earning more money and decided it was time to move. Our new place was two floors of more space, more storage, a garage and freedom. What it did not have was free cable. If we wanted it, we would have to buy it ourselves.
At first, the decision was not whether we needed cable. The question was which package and which company? Did we need the premium package? Which movie channels did we prefer? Which shows could we live without? After examining the options in my area, I was frustrated. Why couldn’t I buy cable like I buy donuts? I’ll take a dozen assorted but I’d like to pick them. All the packages that had the channels I wanted were a lot of money and came with a lot of other channels that I could care less about. Eventually I began to ask myself if cable was worth it.
I had begun discovering unpleasant truths about cable in my quest to find the perfect cable package, or rather, my perceptions of cable. I had exaggerated the greatness of it in my mind. Cable was an all-knowing being, a wise and kind ruler. When my favorite show on one channel was done, cable saw fit to provide me with another show on another channel. Cable was wise. Cable knew that if I could always watch exactly the shows I wanted to watch whenever I wanted to watch them, I’d grow spoiled and egocentric. Somehow, cable had become a minor deity in my head and I wasn’t sure if cable deserved my worship. It turned out, it didn’t.
It turned out that although I watched ridiculous amounts of television, I very rarely watched what I really wanted to see. There were too many commercials and too many reality television shows. We spent too much time flipping between channels because there was nothing good on. We watched crappy movies and TV shows because “we had nothing better to do.” We decided not to get cable. We reasoned that any shows we wanted to watch, we could buy on DVD.
Though I’m ashamed to admit it, we had our PlayStation 3 for a year or two before I realized it had wireless Internet access. We already had subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu, which were both accessible through our console and access them we did. It seemed we had finally found the alternative to cable…well, almost.
Netflix kept us covered on past TV shows. We could marathon through entire seasons over the course of an afternoon. Hulu covered our more current TV needs with an added bonus – we could watch new TV any time we wanted. No TIVO, no flipping channels waiting for our show to come on. It’s true that Hulu tends to store only the last five episodes of popular shows and Hulu has commercials that you can’t fast forward through, but it’s still TV on demand. Soon came Amazon Prime and the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. Any TV shows not covered by Hulu or Netflix could be purchased episode by episode through Amazon within a few days of airing. With Amazon, we can rent or buy new movies and watch the trailers for those movies. Amazon also enables us to access any movies or TV we’ve purchased and get a synopsis and trailer all through the app on our console.
I wanted an alternative to cable and I found one. A subscription to both Hulu and Netflix runs about $20 a month. Amazon Prime costs around $80 a year, which includes access to free movies and e-books. Monthly subscriptions to all three cost less than $30. For the price of a decent cable package, I get TV and movies on demand and have enough left over to purchase and actually own some movies and TV.
Do I think gaming consoles could replace cable? Absolutely, but not yet. There are still some kinks to work out. First, namely, Internet data capabilities. We do not have an unlimited amount of bandwidth. Of the bandwidth available in North America, Netflix uses 28 percent, YouTube uses roughly 17 percent and combined, Netflix and YouTube account for a little over 50 percent of North American bandwidth usage. In the last quarter of 2013, Netflix reported just under 30 million U.S. subscribers. As it stands, North America doesn’t have the data capabilities to support the console alternative to cable. Additionally, sports fans have no console alternative. Though select sports like Moto GP have Internet streaming subscriptions that can be purchased annually, there is not yet a season pass console equivalent for major sports such as football and baseball.[adsense250itp]
Eventually gaming consoles will be the all-purpose entertainment and media devices that their manufacturers advertise them to be. For some, they already are. Apps like Skype and features like party chat have made connecting with friends and family through consoles easy and convenient. Games, movies, TV and music can be stored in the cloud. Independent services offer console alternatives to iTunes and the list goes on.
Six or seven years after ditching cable, we don’t get strange looks anymore when we tell people we rely on our PS3 to meet our TV and movie needs. In fact, more and more of our gaming friends have switched from cable to console over the last few years. While it’s nice not to be in the minority anymore, I can’t help but hope that it takes a little longer for the rest of the mainstream to catch on. I value my bandwidth and my patience, which is always sorely tested when Netflix freezes or has loading issues.
tags: amazon prime , bandwidth , cable , Editorial , hulu , netflix