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03.30.11

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Phaedra

Cutting the Cord

Is unplugging cable a defiant act or just more of the same?

By Daedalus Howell


"Cut the cord" has become the rallying cry for those interested in abandoning cable television in favor of streaming online video to their phones, tablets, desktops and—forsooth!—televisions.

It's an apt phrase, not merely for its echoes of severing the umbilical cord in the delivery room but for its metaphoric reach between baptismal rebirth and outright renaissance.

There are variations, of course. Google indicates that "cut the cable" is a fraternal twin. It also brings up a blogger who simply calls himself "John," who launched Cut-the-Cable.com two years ago. John matter-of-factly identifies his online effort as "the anti-COMCAST blog and resource site" and admits to having a "chip on my shoulder" due to the layoff that affords him the free time to take on the "fat bastards," which presumably no longer fits his budget.

Whether or not John's informative if pungent tirades are justified (and they are to anyone who has ever made a phone call to Comcast's customer service), they're a bellwether of sorts, since John is not alone. If Crystal Collins, the discount doyenne behind TheThriftyMama.com, doesn't cast cable providers as evildoers, she does provide a gleeful step-by-step guide to cutting the cable—which, depending on one's cable consumption needs, she claims can save upwards of $600 a year. Lifehacker.com also shows how to slice and dice one's media diet, with additional info on where to stream that favorite live television feed.

With all this blogging and flogging of cable companies, cutting their core product might seem to be grassroots movement. However, one should keep in mind the fact that broadcast networks themselves have stoked much of the fervor by streaming their content directly to consumers via their respective websites, effectively sidestepping cable.

Moreover, Hulu is a consortium of a several networks—NBC itself owns over a 30 percent stake. This is ironic given the fact that Comcast now owns NBCUniversal (the merged version of the network and the studio). However, the Department of Justice mandated as part of Comcast's acquisition that it "must relinquish its management rights in Hulu" lest it "interfere with the management of Hulu, and, in particular, the development of products that compete with Comcast's video service."

Comcast isn't crying, since it dominates much of the broadband market. To wit, the cable behemoth still profits by the umbilical link through which the data that is, say, Parks and Recreation comes tumbling. The revolution is being televised on the internet, brought to you by the very entity against which you're in revolt. One could say it's like cutting off cable's nose to stream its face.


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