Putting Out the Vibe Random observations from my day-to-day life

December 5, 2012

To Cable or not to Cable: The historical cost of cable and the benefits of cutting the cord

I recently dropped ridiculously expensive cable and opted for a combination of a free over-the-air antennae, streaming Netflix, and downloading via a Newsgroup.  Having paid internet with no paid TV service is called “cord cutting” and is a major trend among Generation Y.  More specifically, non-subscribers fall into two categories – “evaders” (those who have never purchased subscription-based pay TV) or “defectors” (former subscribers who have cut the cord) – and evidently I’m a “defector” (says the middle aged woman who wrote that article).

In not an economist but I do find the cable industry to be a bizarre playing field.  Although not a monopoly at the federal level, many areas of the country operate as such because consumers are left with only a single viable option for cable service (I’ve written about one such monopoly in the past).  However, unlike other near monopolies, there is a free alternative to cable which provides (almost) similar quality (although much fewer channels).  Imagine if DeBeers, in their monopoly of the diamond market, began giving grade “S” diamonds to the public for free.  Would anyone pay egregious amount of money for grade D diamonds?  How much better would a diamond need to be for anyone to decide to pay anything for it?  Similarly, how much better does MTV need to be for me to pay $70 a month versus settling with HD quality NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and PBS for free?

Yet cable didn’t used to cost three times more than a utility bill.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lists average costs of cable dating back to 1995 (unfortunately I couldn’t find consistent earlier data):

Average Cable Prices by Year Graph

Year Basic
Expanded Basic Service
Price # Channels Price/Channel
1995 $22.35 44 $0.60
1996 $24.28 47 $0.61
1997 $26.31 49 $0.63
1998 $12.06 $27.88 50 $0.65
1999 $12.58 $28.94 51 $0.65
2000 $12.84 $31.22 55 $0.66
2001 $12.84 $33.75 59 $0.60
2002 $14.45 $36.47 63 $0.66
2003 $13.45 $38.95 68 $0.65
2004 $13.80 $41.04 70 $0.66
2005 $14.30 $43.04 71 $0.62
2006 $14.59 $45.26 71 $0.65
2007 $15.33 $47.27 73 $0.67
2008 $16.11 $49.65 73 $0.68
2009 $17.65 $52.37 78 $0.71
2010 $17.93 $54.44 117 $0.56
2011 $19.33 $57.46 124 $0.57


A few definitions according to the FCC:

  • Basic Service:  The local broadcast stations; public, educational, and governmental access channels; and typically a few additional channels that may be of local, regional, national, or international origin.  (required by the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992)
  • Expanded Basic Service:  The combined price of basic service and the most subscribed cable programming service tier excluding taxes, fees and equipment charges

Comparing these prices to inflation of the US Dollar shows that although “Basic Service” (which I don’t believe anyone actually uses) trends similarly with inflation, “Expanded Basic Service” has gotten ridiculous:

Cable Price Increases Since 1995 Graph

A few issues with these prices:

  • All of the prices above exclude taxes, fees, and equipment charges.  In my experience, these are usually ridiculous so the true cost of cable TV (and its difference from US inflation) is really underrepresented above.
  • Although the cost of Expanded Cable has increased at a rate far exceeding cable, the average number of channels available in Expanded Cable has also increased.  As a result, the average cost per channel has actually decreased in recent years.  In my opinion, however, the percentage of channels actually watched must be at an all time low.

October 12, 2009

Television Revolution: The programs that ran my life

The Disney Afternoon: 1991 Lineup

The Disney Afternoon: 1991 Lineup

Throughout my life, quality lineups of TV programming seem to take an interesting hold on my day-to-day activities.  Here’s the progression as I remember it in what I like to call my own Television Revolution: The programs that ran my life.

1991: The Disney Afternoon
3:00 – Duck Tales
3:30 – Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers
4:00 – Tale Spin
4:30 – Darkwing Duck
In 1992, Duck Tales was moved to weekday mornings and was replaced with Goof Troop (more quality Disney programming).  Although I missed Duck Tales, I liked Goof Troop so much that when my family went to Disney world in 1994 I remember crying when Goofy’s autograph smeared because I thought it was that valuable.
Reason I Didn’t Miss it:  At this phase of my life I really had nothing else going on from 3:00 until 5:00 (especially in the winter).  Plus, these shows were easy to have on in the background while I played with Legos.

1993-95: TGIF
8:00 – Family Matters
8:30 – Boy Meets World
9:00 – Step by Step
9:30 – Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper
Although TGIF started in 1988 and included three shows that I barely remember, it became a staple of my elementary school Friday nights.  The 1990-91 lineup of Full House, Family Matters, Dinosaurs (think “not the momma”), and Step by Step was stellar in its own right, but I believe that the real TGIF glory days came from 1993-95.  Boy Meets World is such quality programming that I made it my routine to catch it at 1:00 AM on the Disney Channel when I got home from the library during my junior year of college.  Some nights I felt like I was learning more from Mr. Feeny than I was from my Physics book.  Then the Disney Channel began playing Hannah Montana reruns in the 1:00 AM timeslot and, despite an angry e-mail to the Disney channel, hasn’t been on since.
Reason I Didn’t Miss it:  I didn’t want to be left out of the conversation during Monday morning recess.  Plus, watching TGIF was a great excuse to have someone sleep over on a Friday night (we literally couldn’t come up with anything better to do on Fridays back then).

90s: Before School
Bobby’s World and eventually Rugrats (once I was mature enough) comprised my before school TV lineup.  There was no real “lineup” of programming in the mornings – I guess because they wanted kids to actually go to school.  As a side note, I now own Bobby’s World on DVD and it makes for great A-Bar entertainment.

1995-96: Must See TV
8:00 – Friends
8:30 – The Single Guy
9:00 – Seinfeld
9:30 – Caroline in the City (I guess)
10:00 – ER (I guess)
Another longstanding TV lineup, “Must See TV,” actually had its start in 1993.  Seinfeld easily dominated this lineup (unless you’re a woman and then you’d say Friends) and the second timeslot perennially sucked.  Actually, for about five years, I’m pretty sure that NBC planned to put whatever crappy shows they had lying around before and after Friends and Seinfeld.  I would give an honorable mention to Frasier, which made the lineup a few seasons, and a dishonorable mention to ER, which ran approximately 15 years too long.
Reason I Didn’t Miss it:  I would still consider Seinfeld to be the best show ever created and, although girly, Friends did have its moments.  By this time in my life I had regular homework and Thursday night television was the best form of procrastination I knew of since I still largely thought the internet was comprised of those channels that came with AOL.

Today: Television à la carte
Gone are the days when a lineup is of such quality that I actually schedule my whole day around it.  Today, if I want to catch one of my favorite shows (like The Office), I just tell my computer to record it.  The chances of there being two shows in a row that I want to watch are very unlikely.  Re-runs are plentiful and streaming video sites like Hulu and YouTube make watching Seinfeld extremely easy.  Today, when I want to watch shows like Dexter, Entourage, or The New Yankee Workshop (I’m probably the only viewer under 50 years old), I download them on torrents and am watching them a minute later.  Interesting that in 1992 I watched The Disney Afternoon because I had too much free time and today, there are too many shows available and the days are never long enough.

September 11, 2009

Why Charter sucks and the last week in August was one of the best of my life

The Real Charter BundleFriday, August 28 was truly a momentous day which I will forever remember for accomplishing one of my life’s greatest feats.  I’m actually not talking about finishing UW Marching Band Reg Week – which is the most physically demanding tryout week I have ever had to endure (much harder in fact than varsity football two-a-days).  I was happy that the days of six hour rehearsals and conditioning in the middle of August were over and regular rehearsal schedules would begin.  My much greater accomplishment, however, was managing to free myself of Madison’s own axis of evil, the Fourth Reich – Charter Communications.  Here are my own opinions why Charter is a terrible company and as I found, I’m evidently not alone.

  1. Calling their customer service requires reading minds better than even Miss Cleo is capable.  Figuring out what I needed to say to their automated voice recognition software to actually talk to a human being took me 15 minutes.
  2. I received junk mail about the charter bundle seven days a week – sometimes more than one letter a day – because Charter never removed past customers from my college address.  On more than one occasion I even threw away a bill because I thought it was more junk mail.  A company that knows anything about marketing should realize that convincing college students that they need a Landline would be an incredible accomplishment.
  3. Figuring out what all of the charges, sub-charges, and sub-sub-charges on a bill actually mean is more confusing than computer science.  I had no idea what I was actually paying for and costs continually increased from month to month without Charter informing me.  Disputing these charges requires an hour long phone call (see #1) or threatening to switch to Direct TV.
  4. Question: How hard is it to remove someone from an account?  Answer: Three phone calls and an eventual “required” trip to an actual Charter office.  This is something that should be easily done over the phone or the interweb.  Instead, we were told by two Charter employees that all I had to do was call and provide my SSN.  When I did that, the customer service “expert” told me that “no one would have told me that it was possible over the phone” and “sir, I’ve been working for Charter for 14 years, I think I know how to remove someone from an account.”  I think the only thing worse than being a Charter customer would probably be working 14 miserable years for the company…

What if I lived my life like Charter runs their business?

  • When people owe me money, provide them with a list of chargeable sub-items which they do not understand.  For example, if I bought someone a beer at a bar, I would probably charge them for an intoxication fee, a money handling fee, a non-local beer fee (if it was an Anheuser Busch product), a pint glass renters fee, hangover insurance, and even a falangy fee (made up).
  • Schedule appointments with people stating that I will arrive between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.
  • Constantly tell people how much money they could be saving if they bought two things that they don’t need and one that they actually do.
  • Perform with mediocrity at both work and school, treat others as if they are indebted to me for the mediocre work, and then when I’m asked about it, provide people with a recording stating that my work isn’t actually mediocre.

Truthfully, I don’t believe Charter will be around long and hopefully filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 28, 2009 will speed up the process.  Much like AOL in the 90s, who once owned a large share of the internet market (cancelling an account with AOL literally took four hours – I remember doing it because my Dad didn’t have time), new players will come along, providing better customer service and a better product.  For example, AT&T has started providing cable and internet in Madison at a cheaper rate and seems like a much better option.

Update 1-8-10:  If you recall, at the end of August I thought that I had achieved freedom from the Charter slave driver when my roommate and I completed paperwork to completely remove me from our account and transfer it to his name at his new address.  However, Charter’s head hunter traveled north and found me, enjoying my new stress free lifestyle.  When I returned from Christmas break in New Berlin on the 26th, I was greeted by a notice from a collection agency (I didn’t realize that Scrooge was still stubbornly working on Christmas day).  I was flabbergasted by this collection notice for a number of reasons:

  1. We filled out paperwork to completely remove me from the account back in August.
  2. I haven’t ever lived at the address where the service is actually used, but Charter still sent it to my current address.
  3. Charter only seems to send me notices when shit has really hit the fan (i.e. the account is delinquent on a payment) but never sends monthly statements or anything else (giving me a false sense of Charter freedom).

So we had little choice but to visit Charter (becoming one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon) because the only phone number listed for the local Charter Communications location was “1-888-get-charter” and I didn’t have 45 minutes to kill until I could actually speak with a human being.  We turned in my roommate’s digital box and paid the remaining balance.  So in theory, this time, my life really should be Charter-free.  Some Q&A from my enjoyable visit to Charter’s office:

Q:  Why is my name still on the account?  We filled out paperwork to remove me at the end of August.
A:  Your paperwork must have never been processed.

Q:  Can you provide me with documentation that my name (or at least my SSN) has been removed from the account today?
A:  We can’t do that.

Q:  What should I do when I receive a second notice from the collection agency?  (I assumed that Charter would not resolve this issue any time soon and that my credit score would continue to suffer for no reason).
A:  You could come back in to our office if you really want, but customers typically receive a notice or two after the balance has been paid.

May 13, 2009

Vas up? or Train to Auschwitz?

Some big developments for me recently.  I finshed my undergrad (who cares), I joined Twitter (for ideas too random or short for this blog), and I’ve been really into showing friends two online videos this week.  The first video is the Bruno trailor.  It looks INCREDIBLE and I think has the potential to be more ridiculous than Borat.

…that is such a Samantha thing to say. Then there’s the sequel to Dick in a Box that aired on SNL this past Saturday when JT was once again hosting…

March 23, 2009

Coalition of the willing monkeys

Filed under: Hilarity,TV — Tags: , , , , , , , — Matthew @ 2:22 am

I typically associate myself with the conservative side of politics, however, after watching Will Ferrell’s “You’re Welcome America” on HBO for the second time, some absolutely ridiculous portions of his stand-up comedy caused me to wonder, “can that possibly be real.”  There were hilarious quotes that Bush actually said, such as,

“Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever.”
-George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., March 12, 2008

Moroccan-Land-Mine-Detonating-MonkeysHowever, some of the things that Will Ferrell went into elaborate detail about were so ridiculous that I wondered if the statements were even closely based on fact.  Maybe I was on a hiatus from the current events pipeline when some of these things actually happened.  For example, among the 46 countries in the “Coalition of the Willing” against Iraq, was Palau (mainly known for their great scuba diving, coconuts, and tapioca), Costa Rica, Iceland, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and the Solomon Islands, all of which have no military whatsoever.  This Washington Post article gives a pretty hilarious account of just how elite “the willing” were.  Will Ferrell even went on a rant about Morocco agreeing to send 2,000 land-mine-detonating monkeys, to which I thought “no F-ing way this is real.”  I was wrong. Evidently, back in 2003, United Press International reported that a newspaper in Rabat, Morocco claimed that Morocco offered to send 2,000 monkeys from the Atlas Mountains, “trained” in detonating land mines, to Iraq.  I’m not sure we took them up on this offer, but Will Ferrell sure did have some hilarious things to say about these “crazy, land-mine-detonating/child-entertaining monkeys.”  Ferrell’s act also reminded me of a Daily Show clip that stands out in my memory as one the most hilarious in the show’s history (it gets good around 4:15):

March 20, 2008: Iraq: The First 5 Years

January 10, 2009

The Disneyland of Mexican Restaurants!

Filed under: Colorado,Hilarity,TV — Tags: , , , — Matthew @ 3:02 pm

While in Colorado during winter break I accomplished three significant things:

  1. Spent time with Dave and Brea
  2. Skied four days with Lee in Keystone, Vail, and Copper Mountain (my first time at Copper)
  3. Ate the Mexican dinner of a lifetime at Casa Bonita!

If you’re unfamiliar with the restaurant, this requires a bit of background.  The official Casa Bonita website provides some basic information, as does the Casa Bonita wikipedia page, however, the true essence of the experience is best captured in the South Park episode, Casa Bonita.  Here is the full episode: Episode 711 (Original Air Date: Nov 12, 2003)

We approached our visit with caution because I was told to prepare for a months worth of indigestion after my all you can eat Mexican dinner.  One Mexican platter and 5 tacos later, I realized that this advice was… well, pretty accurate.  However, what they lacked in quality of food, they more than made up for with ambiance, cliff diving, Black Bart’s cave, strolling mariachis, and skiball in the amusement arcade.  I wanted to include video comparisons of our trip and Cartman’s, but WordPress doesn’t let you embed the video that I wanted to.  Check out these clips (Mexican Disneyland, More Sopapillas, Please!, Totally Worth Juvenile Hall) and then see below how our experience mirrored Eric Cartman’s.


Eric Cartman’s Experience
Our Experience
Cartman at Casa Bonita

Casa Bonita

Lee and I at Casa Bonita

Cartman at Black Bart's Cave

Group at Casa Bonita

Cartman near Casa Bonita Cliff Diver
Cartman - top of Casa Bonita Waterfall
Casa Bonita Cliff Diver
Cartman eating
Group eating at Casa Bonita
Cartman taken from his food
Cartman in Black Bart's cave
Strolling Mariachis
Mexican Manger

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