I’ve had cable television for as long as I can remember. It was just one of those things that you always subscribed to, like your telephone service and the Internet, and until recently, I never questioned why I had it.
Growing up, I used to enjoy watching scripted televisions shows, although I didn’t realize how fortunate I was until the year 2000, when television began its inexorable decline. This was the dawn of the “reality television” age, with a new show called Survivor. In the following years, more and more reality shows were filling the airwaves – the dumbing down of television had begun. In less than a generation we shifted from the programming crafted by a room full of writers, to reality TV, where a series of cameras record people placed in artificial situations, and the resulting footage is tightly edited and packaged into a TV show.
I hung on for a while, but the summer of 2008 was the turning point for me. Increasingly, I was flipping through the channels and unable to find anything worth watching. My cable bill was $55 per month at the time, and I began to wonder what I was getting for my money.
Over the next few weeks, I began to log my viewing to find out how much television I watched per week and which programs. Aside from the nightly news and 60 Minutes, I wasn’t really watching much at all. I calculated that I was paying over $3.00 an hour to watch television. I considered switching to another plan and dropping some of the premium channels, but the savings would be negligible – about $5/month. So I decided to try something more radical – I would suspend my cable service completely for 3-4 months, and see if I could handle the absence of television.
I called my cable company, and spoke with a customer service representative. “This request may seem a little unusual” I explained, “I don’t want to cancel my cable, but I’m spending $55 a month and I’m just not getting my money’s worth. So, I’m going to try a little experiment – I want to suspend my cable for a few months, and see if I can handle it. If I can’t, then I’ll call you again and have it reinstated. The reason I’m not cancelling it is because I know that your company charges a $50 reconnection fee, which frankly, I don’t want to pay”.
The CSR didn’t seem to understand my request at first and wanted to put me through to their cancellation department. After explaining my situation again, she said “I see – you want our “Snowbirds Special”. This is something we offer to people who are going to Florida for the winter. You can suspend your cable service for up to six months, with no reconnection fee. You can do this once each year”.
I replied “Yes – that’s exactly what I want! It’s perfect for my situation! OK, sign my up for your Snowbirds Special, and suspend my cable for three months”.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that”
“Our Snowbirds Special is only for people who are going to Florida. You’ve already told me that you’re not planning to go to Florida, so I can’t offer you our special”.
“Come on, I don’t think it matters whether I actually go to Florida or not – your company is still suspending the service for three months. What I do and where I travel will make absolutely no difference to Rogers”.
“But you’re not going to Florida, so you aren’t eligible”
“OK, I have an idea – let’s say that I tell you that am going to Florida, but as soon as you sign me up for the Snowbirds Special and I hang up the phone, I change my mind and decide not to go. Then you can sign me up in good faith, and I’ll be able to begin my cable withdrawal experiment”.
“Sir, I’m putting you through to our cancellations department”.
After being redirected, I spoke with a nice gentleman who handled cancellations. I retold my story, and he said that what I need is their Snowbirds Special. Unlike the previous completely rigid CSR, he had no problem signing me up for the plan.
“OK sir, your cable will be suspended for three months, and during that time there will be a monthly administration fee of $4.25”.
Incredulous, I replied “Administration fee? OK, let me get this straight… you are currently charging me $55/month to give me cable, and now you’re going to charge me $4.25/month to NOT give me cable. Is that right?”
Apparently, he didn’t see any irony in this statement. However, he did give me the Snowbirds Special which I gladly accepted.
Fast forward two years. I survived – so well in fact, that I had the cable disconnected permanently after the three month trial period. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision at all. I don’t feel that I’m missing anything important, and I’m saving $660 per year.
To be fair, in the interim I did buy a 3″ hand-held TV set that receives over-the-air signals. I placed it on my desk beside my computer monitor, and use it to watch the nightly news. It’s a surprisingly efficient arrangement – much better than sitting in the living room watching television – because I can do my work on the computer and listen to the news at the same time. If a story sounds particularly interesting, then I’ll just turn my head slightly and glance at the portable TV. Watching the news in the living room is actually very inefficient, because you can’t do anything else at the same time. For the time being – at least until August 31, 2011, when Canada stops broadcasting over-the-air analog TV signals – I’m a happy dude!
If you’re hooked on reality television or just can’t get enough of Canadian Idol or Dancing With The Stars, then this arrangement probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re a light TV watcher like I am, then I encourage you to try this experiment yourself because it forces you to take a critical look at your viewing habits. We’ve grown up with television, and it’s become a part of our lives. After a while we no longer question why we watch it, and in my case, often don’t evaluate the quality of the programming.
You will of course miss some worthwhile television shows, but $660/year can buy a lot of DVDs, which you’ll be able to watch commercial-free, and at your leisure.