Cord Cutting 2: The programming

Any cord cutting exercise begins with an analysis of what you watch, and how you’re going to replace it all when you get the scissors out. And this is the part that pains me. Oh, it’s nothing to do with the scissors; in Cord Cutting 1, I mentioned the ever-escalating bill for DISH Network, whose cord I was planning to cut. When I canceled service last weekend, the bill was just over $105 a month. And what did we watch?

  • The local CBS affiliate, generally when Amazing Race is on;
  • The local CW affiliate, for Flash, SupernaturalJane the Virgin, and others;
  • FX;
  • Food Network; and,
  • HGTV.

With the occasional exception, that was truly it. Pathetic. That, and stupid.

Of course, we watch other television here, but these days, the rest of the TV viewing was split between Netflix and Prime Video.

While I personally watch relatively little television (Food Network and HGTV are my contributions to the list above), for the rest of the household, I was trying to figure out how this happened, and as near as I can tell, there are two reasons:

  1. DISH Network’s tired, slow, clunky, slow, hard-to-use, slow, and terribly slow user interface is itself a barrier to wanting to suffer through it to watch anything.
  2. Both the volume and the quality of Netflix and Prime Video programming, and the (compared to DISH, anyway) superior way to access it is simply the lower barrier to entry.

In any case, replacing local channels and a handful of cable channels was the mandate; we already had Netflix and Prime Video. I honestly don’t follow the cord cutting space or television in general, so some homework was needed, but I quickly arrived at Hulu with Live TV a few months ago when first thinking about making the jump. For $40 a month (we’ll see if they play the same games over time that DISH does with pricing), they have the big locals, plus Food Network, HGTV and FX (among others). They did not, however, have The CW.

The CW does have an app for that, and trying it out on the Apple TV led us to conclude that was a tolerable (if ad-laced) way to access the content. As for the rest, Hulu with its default 50 hours of cloud DVR seemed to fill the bill.

Hardware was as much a part of the equation as programming, but that’ll have to wait for a future post.

So how is it?

Considering we made the jump just last weekend, it’s a little too early to tell how well we’ll adapt to life with DISH, but so far, I’m enjoying the flexibility. Hulu has what I personally mostly want — in spades. I’m a fan of Chopped and a number of other Food Network series, including The Great Food Truck Race. The DISH Network Hopper DVR happily accumulated more Chopped than I could possibly ever catch-up on, but — in another complaint about their platform — a number of things that once were in the recording schedule seemed to vanish, or get prioritized out during taping conflicts. We’ve missed the past 2 or 3 seasons of Food Truck, for example.

Well, with Hulu, it’s all there. While separate from the “with Live TV” part of it, who cares? I can find all the Chopped and Food Truck and cupcake shows I could ever consume even if I parked my rear-end in front of the television 24×7. And if Hulu’s “limited” back catalog isn’t enough, I can always use my Hulu login to authenticate into the Food Network smart TV app to binge watch all 504 episodes of Chopped that are available as of this writing.

Hulu’s UI looks clean, crisp and elegant, and the overall UX seems intuitive and pleasant. Hulu doesn’t make a clear distinction between the content you might get from Hulu itself, and the content that’s available to you via the “with Live TV” element, and the blurry line is, I believe, rather intentional. You can go to Live TV, and watch, well, live television. But in our house, we never watch live television; everything is on-demand, or it’s DVR.

With Hulu, you just find the shows you want, and add them to “My Stuff.” Then you have a single entry-point into the show, and whether those episodes are new ones taped from the live stream, or they’re archived shows available on-demand, is immaterial. When you’re used to the DISH Network model, this is a jarring change in some ways, but honestly, it strips away a differentiation that just doesn’t matter, and forces you to think about what you want to watch, not how. And it — correctly, in my case — blurs over the difference between “brand new” and “archival” content.

The proof of the pudding being in the eating, that difference may matter more once the new season of Amazing Race starts, or something else that’s delivered the old-fashioned way, dripped one episode per week from a local channel network affiliate. But no doubt, it’ll still be there, in “My Stuff.” We’ll see how it works out.

As for what’s missing (mostly The CW), I’m still on the fence about putting-in a way to record over-the-air (OTA) television, and making that part of the ecosystem. That too will have to wait for a future post.

For now, however, I’m still in the giddy honeymoon phase of feeling great about telling DISH Network to shove it.