I’m a millennial and I still pay for cable. I feel like I should apologize.
Cable isn’t cheap — plenty of beat reporters have explained as much, including The Verge’s own — but it is easy. With cable, I can watch whatever I’d like when it airs, on-demand, or recorded onto DVR. All of my favorite shows are in one place, not spread across a handful of apps. Cable never buffers.
For years I figured that when I scrapped my cable plan, it would be because an even easier option appeared. But this week, I’ve considered finally cutting the cord for a different reason: subscriptions services better respect my time.
Cable isn’t built to curate television
In fact, now I recognize all the ways cable is designed to waste my time.
Cable is built around channel surfing, this theory that subscribers, exhausted from a day’s work, toss themselves onto a couch and click the remote to find serviceable entertainment. Hundreds of channels bait their hooks with reality television and syndicated reruns, hoping to catch us as we zip downstream, praying we’ll drop the remote just out of reach.
This is to say, cable isn’t built to curate television. And it barely allows for us to handle the curation on its behalf.
This lack of guidance, let alone customization, is increasingly onerous as I see that time spent surfing channels is time I could be spending catching up on the dozens of shows in my back catalog that I already know I want to watch. Deadwood and The Shield, The Legend of Korra and Steven Universe, Inside Amy Schumer and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I have thousands of hours television that I can’t wait to see, that I know aligns with my taste, and yet cable is founded on the guide button, a exhausting scroll of what’s on right now on hundreds of channels that, at best, vaguely interest me.
On-Demand menus ugly, slow, and often confusing
On-demand is, theoretically, the alternative, though many of the shows I want to watch aren’t on-demand on my cable subscription. Many of the shows available on-demand are limited to certain episodes or seasons, stripped of DVR controls, and peppered with ads. And everything is buried inside a menu system so ugly and slow that I regularly surrender and just watch whatever rerun of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is playing on Food Network. Hey, I love Guy Fieri as much as the next cable subscriber, but watching him slurp ranch dressing from a bowl is neither the most efficient nor enjoyable use of my time.
This week, irked that I couldn’t easily mainline the past two seasons of Adventure Time, I decided to test-drive a few streaming services and see if they’ve improved enough for me to abandon cable for good.
Apps help me focus on what I want to watch
In the past, I’ve been disappointed by both a lack of content and the slow pace at which new television shows are made available. And in some capacity, that’s still an issue. Cable is, and will likely be for some time, the best option for watching TV the moment it airs. But I found that Amazon, Netflix, and especially Hulu are structured to better help me watch the TV I want to watch — not just what’s already on.
All three services feature some variation of a "favorites list," a menu that collects shows I’d like to watch or am currently watching, and bookmark how far I’ve progressed through both a series and individual episodes. The lists let me pick up where I left off on my smart TV, my Roku dongle, my laptop, my smartphone, or anywhere else I can install their apps, which increasingly feels like anything that plugs into a wall.
Hulu is no longer a punchline
Hulu was, until recently, burdened by a subscription infuriatingly littered with ads. But now for $11.99 a month, the streaming service removes the ads from the vast majority of shows, besting the experience of cable and DVR. Hulu is arguably the best option for streaming recent television series, and has instantly gone from a Bing-like punchline to one of my favorite services.
None of this is to say that enjoying television should be an act of laborious efficiency. If I want to surf, each app still features deep catalogs of programs, including lists created by algorithms based on the shows I already watch. There’s an argument to be made that apps create a feedback loop, not allowing me to discover new things — but let’s be serious, I get most of my entertainment recommendations from the internet anyway. And I can’t name the last time surfing cable introduced me to a rich new corner of the world.
So, I think I’m ready to cut the cord. I’ll save money, reason enough for me have done this years ago. But honestly, I’m just as excited to save time. I have so many shows to watch, and my apps are ready to help.