Internet services that stream full, uncut movies and season after season of previously run TV shows have captured the hearts of millions of subscribers.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


With Netflix and other streaming services, the Internet is kissing cable TV goodbye

May 26, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

Cable TV companies were looking the other way -- "standing behind the door," as my drill sergeant used to say -- when customers complained about paying for 120 channels they'd never watch just to get the five or six they really wanted.

What everybody wants, according to surveys, is "a la carte" service -- paying only for what you actually want to see. The current system is like ordering a meal at a restaurant and being forced to pay for every item on the menu just to get your hot roast beef sandwich.

You know how it goes. If you don't do it, somebody else will. And that's exactly what's happening to television these days.

The Internet is about to kiss cable TV goodbye. Within a year or two, you'll be able to get anything you want by connecting your TV to the Internet. You'll have your choice of current feature films, older movies, current TV shows, local news, network specials and much more.

This isn't a fantasy. It's happening already in a limited way. Services that deliver full, uncut movies and season after season of previously run TV shows have captured the hearts of millions of subscribers. The leader is Netflix, at www.netflix.com, which started out as a DVD-by-mail service and grew into system that delivers movies and TV shows that are streamed over the Internet. Netflix is so popular that on any evening a third of all Internet traffic is made up of Netflix streaming.

Compared to cable, Netflix is absurdly cheap. Instead of charging you a bundle for a "package" of stuff you don't want, Netflix charges a monthly fee of only $7.99. There's no contract, and you can quit at any time. (You even get the first month free so you can see if you like it.)

Netflix has no advertising itself, and it even strips out all the ads from TV shows in its vast collection. This is a double bonus: Not only are you spared the ignominy of incessant reminders of purple pills and overpriced carpet sweepers, you're also treated to hour-long shows that you can watch in 45 minutes.

This is surely a little slice of heaven. As if that's not enough, you can pause any show or movie for as long as you want -- for months, even -- and get back to the video whenever you feel like it. You can also create a queue of items you want to watch, cutting menu navigation time to only a few seconds.

To sign up for Netflix, go to the Netflix website and fill out the form or do the same with one of the Netflix apps for Android or Apple devices. Netflix can be watched on HDTVs that have Internet connections built in or through set-top boxes such as the Apple TV accessory.

But a TV isn't necessary. In our home, we watch Netflix TV shows and movies on our iPads and Android tablets after hours, when the TV set would keep others awake. Each Netflix account allows up to four simultaneous connections, ideal for many families. Each device can be watching different material.

At first glance, that's sort of the way cable TV works. Multiple TVs in the house can watch different programs at the same time. But in fact that's sort of the way cable TV doesn't work. With cable, you pay a lot more and get a lot less. You don't get a choice of tens of thousands of movies at no extra cost, for example.

But what about picture quality? Can you get local news shows? Can you watch your favorite current TV series? What about competing services?

We'll look at those issues next week.