iTunes + Netflix = Cancel Cable?

A blogger over at ZDNet realized that he could cancel part of his cable, order his shows on iTunes, watch movies on Netflix and save $300 a year.

    Last week I came to the realization that with Netflix and iTunes, I would be able to cut out the $50 portion of my cable TV bill and ditch the 80 or so channels I never watch, including 3 shopping channels, 3 sports channels, 6 family channels, numerous foreign language channels, and one Lifetime Channel for Women that my fiance tortures me with. Farewell Melissa Gilbert, Rachael Ray, and Paula Deen! You are thus banished from my home!

    I’m currently interested in about 6 shows, all of which it turns out I can get on iTunes. Plus, Netflix handles all of my movie needs. If I’m generous with my iTunes figures, it adds up to about $300 in purchases each year, versus the $600 I pay for all of the “variety” that Comcast provides me. The old model of just piping junk into my home simply doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

Even though it makes sense, it seems like a hard sell for most people. It may not sound practical to you right now, but paying for your shows individually may be the way of the future. People want

la carte media, and with the way cable prices are rising, it may be more cost effective for a lot of users. Are you listening Comcast? DirecTV? NFL? —MEGHANN MARCO

The Comcast Cancer: Is Web 2.0 the Cure? [ZDNet]


Edit Your Comment

  1. robbie says:

    I was thinking the same thing myself the other day. We use cable and DVR to watch a handful of shows, but for $2 a pop we could buy them on iTunes. The only remaining piece is a program that burns those shows to DVD effortlessly.

  2. alicetheowl says:

    Similar concept: I rent DVDs of shows I want to watch through Blockbuster Online, and haven’t needed cable in a few years.

  3. JCSaint says:

    It’s interesting that as far as TV is concerned, people seem to want a la carte but when it comes to music and iTunes, everyone is hoping for a subscription based system so they can listen to anything anytime.

    Some mesh of the two would seem to work best. X dollars per month gives you whatever you want from iTunes plus maybe you could “buy” certain shows/music with credits (built up on how long you’ve been subscribing) or cash to keep some things even if you cancel your subscription. I just feel that most people don’t mind paying monthly as long as they’re not forced to buy junk they don’t want.

  4. adamondi says:

    And if everyone switched from subscribing to cable to buying their episodes from iTunes, then shows would get canceled for terrible ratings before they ever made it to iTunes or to DVD to be rented through Netflix.

    This trick would only be helpful for someone who watches very little TV. I mean, seriously? Only 6 shows? I currently have six shows from just NBC on my TiVo’s Season Pass list.

  5. Smashville says:

    Plus…for those of us who actually do watch sports…or prefer news off of one of the cable channels…you can’t really watch live events or news on your iPod.

  6. GilloD says:

    Cable is one of those things I don’t need, but when I want it, I want it. It’s nice when I can’t sleep or want something on in the background. There are quite a few psychological factors at play that Mr. Smartypants ZDNet didn’t think about

  7. Chris says:

    And despite my noise-cancelling headphones and full devotion (and subscriptions) to Tivo, iPod, Netflix, XM Radio, Bloglines feeds, and about a dozen fairly-narrow-interest magazines, there is still something to be said for “broadcasting” -watching the same shows, at the same time as everyone else.

  8. facted says:

    I like the general concept, but getting the shows from my computer to my big screen TV would be an issue, for now.

  9. Kierst_thara says:

    Forgive me if this is a luddite question, but how does the resolution and quality of downloaded TV shows stack up if you intend to view them on something other than an iPod’s little screen?

    Other than that, I’m all for ushering in a new age of media distribution. There’s very few television shows that I find worth watching, and it galls me to know that everytime I pay my cable bill so I can watch a quality show like Battlestar Galactica, I’m also subsidizing a dozen bottom-of-the-barrel reality shows and barrage of mind-numbing advertisements.

    Anything that’s a step towards cutting out the networks/ratings/marketing middlemen, and getting my consumer dollars more directly into the hands of the creative talent behind the entertainment that I enjoy is a good thing in my book.

  10. Jimmy M says:

    When fiance turns into wife she’s most likely not going to let you cancel such things and get away with it.

    Just FYI :)

  11. weave says:

    @facted, that’s where apple’s new Apple TV comes in. It’ll pipe your shows from your computer to where your big screen tv is.

    @kierst_thara, They are 640×480, or in other words, 480p – DVD quality.

  12. facted says:

    @weave: I guess so. Though I’m pretty anti-apple for a slew of reasons. It’s only time before our whole house is connected and you can control the microwave through the TV :) Now if only I could find that darn remote…

  13. kbax says:

    Way back in the day, we got sick & tired of Adelphia and their unannounced rate hikes that would sneak into the bill every few months. We canceled in protest, and signed up for Netflix (iTunes wasn’t doing the TV show thing so much back then, and we’re anti-iTunes anyhow). We kept it like that until we moved somewhere where we had another cable option.

    I have to say, I didn’t mind it so much as I thought I would. I would recommend it if you’re looking to save money.

  14. kenposan says:

    I don’t know about this for me. While I don’t watch the majority of channels being pushed into my home, I like having the ability to watch stuff. I watched a really interesting documentary on the History channel last night, but I certainly wouldn’t pay to download it.

  15. 44 in a Row says:

    I’ve been torn about this issue for a long time, and I think what it comes down is that I’d be very concerned if we wound up going to an entirely a la carte cable system, because I’d wind up with many fewer spur-of-the-moment options for TV watching.

    To put it another way, I like having all the channels I have now, because even though I don’t watch them regularly, every now and then there’s something that will catch my eye, and I’ll watch or TiVo an individual show. Right now, I don’t mind paying for them, because it’s part of a bundle; if I had to pay, say, a dollar a month per channel, on the other hand, I’d pay much less for my total cable bill, but I also wouldn’t wind up with things like National Geographic Channel or Nick Games & Sports.

    I don’t watch channels like that with any kind of frequency, and could never justify paying for them individually… but at the same time, it’s nice knowing that if I want to see a National Geographic special, or check out one of those retro Nickelodeon game shows that was on when I was a kid, I can do that.

    And I know, I’m paying for those channels anyway as it is right now, but there’s a psychological element involved; I can basically fool myself into thinking I’m getting it for free, because I’m paying for the bundle.

  16. voodoodle says:

    i do this. cable a la cart is never going to come from the cable companies. it’s gonna come from the networks and then internet. doing it now is just early adoption. i can’t watch yet cause they don’t like macs, but i like having my shows from itunes any time i want. if my friends come over we can choose (almost) whatever we want to watch.

  17. JCSaint says:

    Question, what about true cable competition? I’m not sure how it is everywhere but in NJ, cable companies negotiate local franchises with municipalities and don’t compete against one another. We recently passed a statewide franchise bill that will allow any company to build anywhere which Verizon is planning on taking full advantage of. Lower prices and better quality might entice many to stick with the whole subscribtion system.

  18. mathew says:

    I wouldn’t mind the cable/satellite providers so much if I wasn’t forced to pay for literally dozens of sports and news channels, none of which I ever watch. And I know those sports channels are expensive.

    Knock the compulsory news and sports off the tariff and cut the price by 30-40% and I’ll stick with cable. Otherwise, I’ll be looking at Apple TV with interest…

  19. SuperJdynamite says:

    I was pretty sure that downloads from the iTunes store were in HiDef. If so, and if you had an HDMI output from your computer, you could ditch the premium that cable/satellite companies charge for HiDef.

    You could also download HiDef movies and not have to buy a currently expensive HDDVD/BluRay player. You’d also avoid having to choose sides in the HDDVD/BluRay Format Wars.

  20. MoogleLally says:

    This is exactly what I did. We never watched cable anymore. We watch Lost with some rabbit ears and buy everything else we want to see on DVD.

    Between and, I’ve got hours more of entertainment for sooo much less.

  21. juri squared says:

    We cancelled DirecTV, because we have Comcast for internet and therefore get “free” basic cable (our bill with basic cable is actually less than what they’d charge without it; how that’s legal is beyond me). We only miss two shows we’d normally have watched on satellite, and one (Battlestar Galactica) is regularly released to DVD anyways. We also have a media PC hooked up to watch digital files on television.

    It’s really nice to not get that fat DirecTV bill in the mail anymore!

  22. superchou says:

    yep, got rid of cable (kept the basic $10/mo cable to get the $20 discount for broadband . Between itunes, yourtube, blockbuster online, dvd deals on ebay and the shows that are streamed on-line… cable has gone the way of the dodo… if they could lower their prices so I am not palying lke $70/mo to watch crappy shows like Flavor of Love then I would reconsider it… honestly I do miss HBO but hell, those shows come on dvd eventually. The TV shows streaming for free is now my favorite to be honest. And as for quality…for a sitcom I really don’t need the quality of a dvd like you would for a movie like, say Amelie… 30 Rock looks fine either way and is just as funny when on my MacBook :)

  23. William Mize says:

    Through BrightHouse, I have something called “Limited Basic Cable” – which covers channels 2 through 23. $15 a month. FIFTEEN BUCKS. They never advertise it, so it might be something you have to ask your cable company if they offer.

  24. Jesse in Japan says:

    Seriously, how often do you watch TV if you’re saving money by buying your shows through iTunes? Even if you only watch one show per day, that’s 60 bucks a month.

    Hell, why not just Torrent the shows?

  25. crayonshinobi says:

    I also do something like this. We canceled our cable and just rent movies and shows from the library, etc. I guess we don’t watch much TV anyway.

    The only thing I miss are the current events. Now if there is some sort of disaster or huge event, I don’t usually find out until at the water cooler at work the next day, or on the radio on the way to work.

  26. IsenMike says:

    I canceled my cable last month, set up an old PC with Media Portal, and am using Azureus + the RSS Feed Scanner plugin to download my shows for free as soon as they’re available online. Screw paying Comcast or Apple for my TV.

  27. methane says:

    I don’t understand why iTunes forces ppl to pay for TV shows. It seems to me, that with a PodCast like format for TV shows, and with Apple’s complete control of your content AND hardware, they could easily let you download TV shows for free and Force you to watch commercials embedded in them. If you want to Fast Fwd, you can do it, but when you get to a commercial break, you have to watch it in real-time. then you can start fast forwarding again. If you’ve watched 18 minutes of a show, and hit pause, you could resume at that point without watching the earlier commercials again, and finish watching your show.
    It seems to me that Apple has all the pieces in place (IE control over your content and your player – through a Firmware update) to make this happen.

  28. I’m all for a la carte cable channels, my co-workers are just now considering dropping their premium movie channels as they’ve been enjoying netflix and not minding catching whole seasons of shows on DVD even if it’s a little late.

    Unfortunately some of my favorite networks only offer their past shows through their own store for sale and movie rental companies won’t ever get to offer them to customers, so it seems easier to keep cable for now. But if someone asked me, I could probably easily cut out over 75% of the channels I currently pay for.

  29. glitterpig says:

    We’ve been doing this for nearly four years now. Minus the itunes, because of the DRM thing, and instead of Netflix. (The “free” in-store rental thing is really nice for when you just want to watch something and there’s nothing on tv.) We just wait for series to come out on DVD, and we also get the “no commercials” bonus. The Office is the best show on tv now anyway, and hey, that’s network. It’s true that it won’t work if you’re a big sports fan, but if you’re not, it’s something to look into.

  30. Hypertime says:

    “…but getting the shows from my computer to my big screen TV would be an issue, for now.”

    Thus the reasoning behind the Apple TV device.

  31. Papa K says:

    If I can’t torrent it or download it, it’s not worth it.

    I love my netflix, but my wife enjoys discovery channel/nature/animal everything, but we never ever pay for any of the ‘premium’ services which seldom have anything we want to see when we’re interested.

  32. Void_Ptr says:

    We do this. We just moved out of an apartment complex with free basic cable, into our own home, and got a bit of sticker shock about the price of cable television.

    Instead, we opted to download our shows from the net. We had a modded Xbox already, so hooking that up to the network and our television was already done.

    We still support the shows we love by purchasing them from iTunes, but we never watch them that way. While we do pay for “season passes” for BSG and the Stargates on iTunes, we prefer to also download them via torrent and watch them free and clear on the Xbox.

    This, combined with Netflix, is fabulous. The final step for me is to set up some kind of interface so that you can set up season passes for downloading torrents. The sheer variety of what is out there for download is staggering.

  33. pronerd says:

    Just somethoughts to add.

    There are better options for the X-Box and Wii. Both offer services to let you buy the shows and you can re-download them later so you do not have to store them. This is a big deal as explained below.

    First iTunes is not HiDef. As an earlier post pointed out it is only 480p. This is may look grainy on large screens.

    Each 30 min iTunes show is about 150MB – 250MB that adds up fast so you will need a lot of disk space, and even more to back it up. If you lose the files they are gone and you have to re-purchase them.

  34. Pelagius says:

    We’ve held the line against cable in our household. Visiting my folks with their 100+ channels of absolute garbage just strengthen our resolve. News? Take your pick of a zillion news outlets online, including foreign ones with better/different coverage than CNN/Fox. Sports? Not a big sports fan and can’t get my Aussie Rules on TV here anyway. Feh. Quality shows? Wait for the whole season on DVD and watch without commercial interruptions. After what happened to Arrested Development I don’t really trust networks to keep good stuff around anyway. And there are other shows like IT Crowd that I watched on YouTube and couldn’t get on most cable packages. Call me a luddite, but it’s $30-60 more a month to spend on beer.

  35. methane says:

    Yeah, I can’t get my Sumo Wrestling or Jai Alai here, so I don’t need it for sports either. ;)

  36. pestie says:

    I’m glad I’m not the first to bring up torrents or modded Xboxes. Xbox mod chips are useful for a whole lot more than game piracy, which I have no interest in. I do, however, love being able to use Xbox Media Center to play all my videos on my TV in the living room. And I can run Xebian (Debian Linux for the Xbox), too!

    I’m not the only one I know who does stuff like this, either. I know quite a few people who never go to theaters to see movies any more because the experience is so miserable. Torrents and DVD’s are their friends, and mine!

    I actually put up one of those huge, ugly outdoor TV antennas last year so I can get over-the-air TV for free. I’m working on a MythTV DVR setup with multiple tuners, including at least one HD tuner. What little I watch on cable I can get via torrents or DVD, depending on how much of a hurry I’m in.

    There are even some decent channels on “free-to-air” satellite (unencrypted satellite TV). I watch NASA TV pretty regularly, especially during shuttle missions, and Russia Today is a pretty decent English-language news channel. I can roll my free-to-air satellite stuff into my MythTV setup, too.

  37. juanloya says:

    Photo source?

    Credit where credit is due, man.

  38. chizoom says:

    iTunes + Netflix + Antenna = Cancel Cable

    Switched off Comcast about 1.5 years now and haven’t looked back.

  39. jmfc says:

    I can’t believe pestie was the first to mention the other option – ANTENNA – which is free. These pick up all the local network stations just fine for me, also they are all broadcast in HD over the air. I get several different PBS stations (I guess they can broadcast up to 4 digital stations on one channel or something?) along with ABC/NBC/CBS/FOX. This obviously may not work for some people based on location. I have an old Hugues HD box that can be used as a tuner for these.

  40. bglickstein says:

    My experience:

    In short, it was a tough decision to turn off my cable, but once I did I’ve never looked back. What took me so long?! I don’t even need iTunes; I can wait the several months it takes for good shows to come out on DVD. I was time-shifting them with TiVo by months anyway.

    Also, once you are no longer immersed in the continual stream of commercials and other promotional crap on cable, your insensitivity to them will diminish and you won’t believe what an offsensive barrage they really are, nor the cost to your psyche of tolerating them.

    – Bob

  41. peteo says:

    I do similar thing. I Have basic cable with hdbox. cost me $28 a month after taxes & fees. I use that for watching sports or HD shows on the major networks. The shows i do not get with basic cable I grab from the net and stream them to my tv with an Xbox and XBMC software on it. works awesome. Best of both worlds and im saving at ton of cash. If you get the normal cable package (with mtv, sci fi etc…) it costs around $45 a month add hd to that it goes to around $65!! total rip off . No need now that we have those internet “tubes”!

  42. zebstriped says:

    My house dumped digital cable last year, and it was hard to say goodbye to fun shows like WonderShowzen and Andy Milanokis, but with Netflix, I will eventually get to see the series again! Our home entertainment costs were cut in half by this decision!

  43. adamondi says:


    Antenna (also referred to as Over The Air or OTA) is free and good times–if you get reception. One of the reasons that I pay for cable with HD channels is that I live in a hilly area in which the OTA reception is dicey. Plus, my neighborhood has rules on how big an external antenna can be.

  44. methane says:

    You should make sure that your neighboorhood rules don’t conflict with the FCCs rule that allows you to have an antenna.

    Basically, what this say (IANAL) is that you have a federally protected right to have an antenna attached to your house on a mast up to 12 feet above your roof. Zoning, Covenants, and HOAs are not allowed to make rules countermanding this right. It also covers your right to have satellite dishes of certain sizes.

  45. digitalbrian says:

    It is all fine and dandy but what happens when you get a letter in the mail saying that you are stealing copyrighted material off the Internet, and your Cable Internet provider cancel your account without any warning?

    Or when you reach the “unspoken” bandwidth level of your ISP because you are downloading all those show? what are you going to do then?

  46. greenvortex says:

    I want to ditch my digital cable for a homemade PC-based DVR. The problem I see is getting the shows from the PC to the TV. I don’t want to have to burn everything to DVD-RW. I want to point a remote at the PC and have the show play on my TV. All the affordable TV-out cards I’ve seen have reviews complaining about the image quality.

    Those who use modded Xbox, how is the video quality on the TV? Does anyone know of an affordable TV-out card that won’t make my DVD-quality files look worse than VHS on the TV?

  47. tji says:

    Free broadcast HDTV + Netflix + iTunes is even better. I agree with the original author, but an optimization would be to get your local shows via broadcast HDTV. It’s completely free, and there are several DVR options to choose from. If you’re a techy geek like me, go for MythTV and its commercial auto-removal.

    Netflix provides all the movies I need, and I can fill in the gaps with iTunes Store (The Daily Show is the only show I want form cable right now).

    The one thing I want and can’t get in this scenario is ESPN-HD. Monday night football, and the various college basketball games are what I want. But, given the $80/month cable bill, I think I can live without them.

  48. gabbie says:

    I thought Joost (the venice project) was supposed to do this for us—stream tv via the internet. With ads, so broadcasting companies are still incentevized to joing the hooplah.

  49. thestud says:

    i am doing it. I have been without cable for almost a year. I am a cheating a little bit though i have a slingbox at my parent’s house for sports games. But i wish i could buy those off some service… go Denver Nuggets.

  50. alicetheowl says:

    My parents had an antenna until I graduated from college. I’ll vouch for the fact that reception is iffy, especially if you’re far away from the broadcasting locales. There were several shows I never knew whether I could watch or not that night, because the reception might be too fuzzy.

  51. bflat1 says:

    Don’t forget about the public library as an option for your movies. I go to Netflix, shop through the new releases or browse a handy section like Academy Award winners, find what I want, then go online to the library and order it to be delivered to my local branch. Some things they didn’t have, they bought at our request. In Dallas, you can have 5 dvd’s and 5 vcr tapes at a time, and probably 5 in cd’s also. They have books on tape/cd also if you have a long commute.

  52. pestie says:

    The quality of the Xbox itself is excellent (an unmodded Xbox makes a very good DVD player). The quality of video playback on a TV is entirely dependent on the quality of the file itself. Even 320×200 or 352×240 video looks as good as VHS ever did, if encoded well. 512×384 is virtually indistinguishable from full DVD resolution.

    I can’t speak to the HD issue, as I don’t have an HDTV, but I doubt the original Xbox’s processor is fast enough to decode full 1080i HD in real-time. 720p would probably be fine, though.

  53. Anonymous says:

    OK, I read the first page of posts, and I dread reading the other 3. I just want to know what type of internet you are using for your itunes? You have to pay one of the monopolies for that , so is that included in the $300 a year?

    I currently have comcast 6m service, and had started digital package, which they just opened up a slew of digital channels and dropped my cost cuz I told them I was leaving.

    I am still leaving…. leaving cable for over the air DTV/HDTV, and cable internet for ATT DSL and phone. The move, while getting slower internet (bummer), wil save me about $80 a month. I will stream/ dl content not available over the air from the internet.

    bye comcast… see you when i determine that DSL speed sucks….

  54. Anonymous says:

    I think a great option for those who are wondering how to get files from a PC to the TV is to use a PS3. Remember that the PS3’s browser now supports flash video on sites like hulu, and you can install your own OS on a PS3 without any hardware modding, and still switch back to the native OS for games. Basically the PS3 turns into a media center PC (sans tuner) with full blu-ray support AND HDMI out.