In Depth

Column: How to Pull the Plug on Satellite or Cable

Cord-Cutting May Gain Popularity in Face of Digital Transition

On soap operas, the sexy leads will often kiss, date, mate, hiss, throw things, break up, make up and kiss again. And that works on a soap.

But the whole on-again-off-again thing isn’t quite so cute when it comes to the digital television transition. Many consumers are fed up with the mixed messages from the government on the switchover, which makes me wonder if some of those consumers might be tempted to go TV-free.

TV Guide website

SEE IT NOW TVGuide.com helps viewers find their favorite TV shows and Web-only programs online.

Could the digital TV delay be the proverbial final straw for some TV viewers to say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll get my TV from the Internet now”?

Anecdotally, I’ve heard from a number of readers in recent weeks who want pointers on how to get started with the broadband video-powered lifestyle. Consider this your tip sheet on how to start living cable- and satellite-free.

First, let me offer a disclaimer: This isn’t for sports fans!

Sure, some sports are available live online, but if you live and die by the pigskin flying in hi-def, then the broadband video life likely is not for you.

For everyone else, the first thing you need is a phone. Pick it up and dial your cable or satellite operator. Say, “I want to cancel my service.” Steel yourself—these well-trained customer-service representatives will dangle enticing offers to try to lure you back. Remember, you are sticking it to the man and you must be strong. If all else fails, blame your boss. When I called to cancel, I simply said, “My editor is making me do this as part of an experiment for our magazine.” That wasn’t in the “how to save the customer” script, so they let me go.

Then, turn on your computer and go to Hulu.com, NBC.com, ABC.com, CBS.com, Fox.Com, TheDailyShow.com, CartoonNetwork.com and so on and watch your favorite shows. It’s really that simple.

You also can go to TVGuide.com’s online video guide, AOL’s guide or Veoh, as examples, for lists of both TV shows online and Web-only programs.

If you want to get a little more arty, you can connect your computer to your TV. You’ll need to purchase the right cord for your computer, so ask at your local electronics store.

You also can get an AppleTV, which brings iTunes and YouTube to your TV set. I recommend AppleTV if you’re a major news viewer. You can watch many news shows such as “NBC Nightly News” and “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” for free on iTunes a few hours after they air on TV.

If you’re going to watch entertainment programming on AppleTV, you’ll likely need to pay $1.99 an episode. Add up the costs to see if that makes sense over the long haul. You’re probably better off watching those same shows for free on the Web.

I don’t consider AppleTV a must-have for the cable-free lifestyle. The selection is still limited and the free proposition for TV episodes online is much more compelling.

You also could install Boxee TV if you have an AppleTV. This software brings Hulu.com, ComedyCentral.com, CBS.com and other Web sites directly to your AppleTV and thus your TV set.

The one must-have is Netflix for your DVD fix. As part of the monthly Netflix fee, you now can watch more than 12,000 titles immediately online.

Thanks to its relatively cheap monthly fee and its instant-streaming proposition, Netflix added 718,000 new customers last quarter, more than double its expectations. With fourth-quarter profits up 45%, Netflix might have some new cord-cutters to thank.