WHAT ARE YOU BUYING WHEN YOU BUY A CABLE OR STREAMING TV PACKAGE?

How many people actually know what they are buying when they buy television services?

It used to be that you bought a television. What you got when you tuned in was whatever was broadcast from big towers on top of tall buildings — free. It usually came from the tower placed atop the tallest building or a mountain where you lived.

It cost nothing. You paid for the television and the broadcasting was for everyone, courtesy of the FCC.

That’s how it was supposed to be, anyway. What you actually got was something else. Unless you happened to be positioned perfectly to get clear pictures from the signal tower, you might or might not actually get the channel you wanted to watch. Or anything at all. Signals were weak, too. So you got “snow” and “rolling.”

If you had a big antenna on top of your house, that could help, but it was a lot of years before television had the kind of resolution we have come to accept as normal. “Free” signals have not kept up with the quality of reception we expect.

In fact, since the 1980s, we have mostly given up free television. Cable TV arrived. With a sigh, we exchanged free television for cable companies who could give us clear reception at a price — replacing all that snow, rolling, and rabbit ears. All we had to do was pay the bill.

With cable, you could see clearly — as long as the cable worked. You paid a price for this service. Initially, not a huge price, but it got bigger and eventually, huge. Ultimately, the price for cable television was bigger than the price for electricity, trash collection, and sometimes, heat.

They lured you in with “specials” for 3-months, 6-months or a year. And when the “special” ended, you got a bill so enormous, your heart nearly stopped.

Suddenly, along came streaming packages. Streaming — wi-fi — was the stuff that made our computers work. It turned out it could also power television.

Instead of trying to compete with wi-fi-based services, cable companies kept raising prices while customers said: “Screw this!” and dropped their cable packages. Despite all evidence to the contrary, cable companies are still convinced most users will hang onto cable because they are too stupid and/or lazy to make the change.

They are wrong. Of course, since they are still the only ones allowed to offer wi-fi, they can keep raising those prices too. I’m sure they’ll keep getting their piece of our asses forever.

Even old people like us refused to pay hundreds of dollars for inferior packages. Ironically, AFTER I dropped Charter (Spectrum — the absolutely worst cable company of them all) offered me a good package at a reasonable price. I said “NO” because I’m not playing their game anymore.

I know them. They’ll offer me a bargain and next year, raise the price by $50. Been there, done that. Not doing it again.

So I bought YouTubeTV which is not only a moderately-priced platform but includes MLB and our local sports TV channel so we can watch all the baseball everywhere AND our own team (the Red Sox) too. What’s missing? HBO and Comedy Central. I miss HBO because of John Oliver — but it’s the only thing we watch on HBO and for $15/month, that a lot of money for one very good show. As for Comedy Central, we can watch it on the computer for free. I hate missing John Oliver, but it’s a small price to pay overall.

What are we buying? We are buying a platform that includes channels, just like when we bought a TV and got channels. The channels come in LIVE — just like “real” television. We can save shows (an unlimited number of them) but we can’t fast forward through them to skip commercials as we did on the DVR. That’s something we thought we’d miss but it turns out we don’t miss it much. Instead, we go to the bathroom, the kitchen, turn down the sound and actually talk to each other.

YouTubeTV is a platform, not a channel. It isn’t Netflix or Acorn. It’s more like cableTV than an individual channel.

Each channel is an individual channel that comes in over the platform. Live. You aren’t buying a “channel.” You are buying a live platform consisting of many signals.

What do you get? All of the networks for your area and a bunch of other channels, depending on your location. We are in the “Boston area” and get that package. We have friends in western Massachusetts who get a slightly different package.

Regardless, it’s a big package. A lot better than what we got from Charter including a lot less junk. More watchable channels. Lots of sports. TCM. Plenty of movies including Sundance, TBS. A variety of news channels. If you hate something (Fox news comes to mind) you can turn it off (we turned it off). A few kid things we turned off.

There’s also a connection to YouTube (regular) so you can watch some very old movies that you can’t find anywhere else via your computer, too. I’m really happy with it.

If Netflix gets any more expensive, I may decide to ditch it. It hasn’t gotten better — just more expensive.

You also get five family connections. We’ve only used three: me, Garry, and our granddaughter. Owen isn’t sure they watch enough TV to bother with it.

It has taken Garry a while to realize that TCM is not a separate channel but a channel that is part of the package that is YouTubeTV, that all those channels are part of one platform. That it’s like getting an entire cable package. For $40 a month. Including baseball.

Oh, happy day!

THE CASE OF THE OVERPRICED CABLE PACKAGES – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — The Case of Overpriced Cable Packages

We’ve been overpaying for cable since cable was introduced. We don’t have a choice here. We don’t get any choice except Direct TV or Spectrum (Charter). We can’t use DirectTV because we are surrounded by trees and the signal can’t get through the woods.

The super high-speed stuff you get via telephone cable is unavailable. Not enough people for them to bother to connect and they are expensive too. Meanwhile, as more and more people are cutting cable, Spectrum keeps raising their prices. They provide the cheesiest version of any device we need — for which they charge the highest possible price … and now they’ve raised wi-fi rates, too.

We can’t do without wifi anymore. Too much is attached to the internet, but we had already cut down to the absolute minimum package we could get from Spectrum. I had to renegotiate last week because our “free” HBO wasn’t free anymore and they raised the price of wi-fi by $20 and removed a $10 discount they’d been giving us, which made it now $30 more — just for wi-fi.

We hemmed and hawed and ultimately got it down to what was supposed to be the same as last year’s price, but with an additional $7.50 for HBO.

The bill came in last night.

$154, which was a $25 increase from the last year. $35 was just for renting their junky equipment.

Meanwhile, YouTube — now a subset of Google — is offering a huge selection of channels for $40/month — INCLUDING Major League Baseball as well our local baseball channel. Which means that Garry can actually watch the Red Sox live and still watch every other game being played. It’s got three ESPN channels, Fox Sports, and so much more. It is a sports loaded package, but it has all the networks, TCM, Sundance, and a bunch of other channels I don’t even recognize. We already have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Acorn from before.

I can add HBO to Netflix if we want it. The problem is that we only watch one show on HBO — John Oliver. Otherwise, we don’t watch HBO at all. Yes, they have movies, but so does everything else and Garry like old movies better. We already have more stuff to watch than we have time to see. So we’ll wait and decide. I love John Oliver. I’m just not sure I want to subscribe to the channel just for that show.

The bill did it for me. I can get everything — much more than Spectrum offers — for $40 a month. It will drop our bill by more than $50/month.

I don’t get it. From a business standpoint, it makes no sense.

All cable companies know people are dumping them right, left, and center. Instead of trying to get competitive, they raise prices. They can’t believe this is good business.

It’s counter-intuitive and it gave me that final push to just give up. I hate changing utilities. I’m trying to keep life simple … but I’m also trying to survive on a fixed income. If they want $154 this year, what will they want next year? $175? $200? It will never stop and by the time they realize that instead of raising prices, they should be lowering them, they won’t have customers.

So Monday, they will come to collect the DVR boxes. By the end of next week, I will have just the telephone and wi-fi. I’m sure somehow they will find a way to raise the prices on those too, but I can’t fix everything.

YouTubeTV is a big package. That it includes MLB and our local NESN channel. This along means substantial savings for us because last year I had to buy MLB and we were blocked from seeing the Sox play live because our cable package didn’t include NESN.

Now we get both. For $40/month.

So that’s it for cable. By next week, it will be all streaming.

The case of the overpriced cable package had to be dealt with. Spectrum didn’t leave me a choice.