Unthinkable? Unplugging the TV

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Those of you avoiding headline news in an attempt to keep your spirits up should carry on with heads planted firmly in sand—today’s economic alert status remains Hell in Hand-Basket With Slight Chance of Hope. And the state of that economy is exactly what has led me (and a lot of you, no doubt) to reexamine where my discretionary dollars go each month.

Which leads me, naturally, to the billing statement I receive from my satellite TV provider. With the latest rate increase I pay $83.98 a month for the privilege of watching HBO (Flight of the Conchords and Eastbound & Down), TCM (just about anything), ABC (Lost), AMC (Breaking Bad and Mad Men), and Comedy Central (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park). Most of those programs wind up on TiVo (I’m still working through the first seasons of Mad Men and Breaking Bad and, much as I love Eddie Izzard, I haven’t finished with The Riches).

That’s a lot of great programming, but is it really worth just a hair over $1,000 a year? Particularly given that I have alternatives with a Mac mini jacked into my TV and AV gear?

Alternatives, you say? Why yes. Allow me to enumerate them.

Hulu. NBC and Fox’s Hulu directly takes care of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park. Although it doesn’t carry Lost, it does provide a link to ABC.com, which happily streams the show. AMC doesn’t stream older episodes of Breaking Bad, but it is streaming the premiere episode of Season 2.

And thanks to Plex and the most recent version of Boxee I can watch this material (and a lot more) without dealing with an ungainly web browser interface.

The iTunes Store. I can pick up the first season of Breaking Bad in standard definition at the iTunes Store for $13.93. A season pass for Season 2 costs $21.99 for the standard definition version. Season 1 of Madmen is $20 and Season 2 is $23. So, for $5 less than what I pay Dish Networks each month, I can have all the goodness that is Breaking Bad and Mad Men. If I wanted The Riches on something other than TiVo, I could have its first season for $22.99 and the second, shorter season, for just $12.99. I could also catch up on some older HBO material such as the $23.88 first season of Flight of the Conchords, but the option I’m about to discuss makes more sense for HBO content given how maddeningly long it takes HBO to issue its programs to iTunes.

NetFlix. For $8.99 I can stream NetFlix’s Watch Instantly content to my computer. Granted, what’s available via Watch Instantly is hardly NetFlix’s best stuff, but it does provide a lot of the old movies I’d watch on TCM and there’s enough content there to keep me occupied while I await the DVDs that contain the more current stuff (which takes care of the movies I’ll miss by not having seven HBO channels). And, as I just hinted, you can get HBO’s shows on DVD from NetFlix around the same time they're released to the iTunes Store. (I missed out on The Wire, but am slowly catching up thanks to NetFlix.)

Yeah, but…. What about sports? My nearly total disinterest in sports saves me on that front (I followed baseball at one time, but Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens took care of that). If I still harbored a passion for the game, I could subscribe to MLB.com’s MLB.TV—$15 a month for the standard version and $20 a month for the premium version (which adds HD quality, DVR functionality, multi-game viewing, picture in picture, and game radio).

And news? These days I view not having access to news-as-it-happens as a blessing.

And a free one, at that.

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