July 17, 2016

Over nine years ago I cut the cord, getting rid of even basic cable TV. Earlier this month I officially came crawling back to Comcast. My reason: live sports. I want to watch them, Comcast has them, and nobody else does.

Netflix, Amazon, and many other services provide a basic-cable-caliber lineup of movies and TV series to stream. For anything not in their catalogs, I still get Netflix discs in the mail. For shows I want to watch a day after they air, currently Better Call Saul and Archer, Amazon sells me season passes for a reasonable price. In short, those who don’t want live sports and events can get all the video they want, ad-free, for cheap.

Most recently I’d been subscribed to Comcast for Internet and “Limited Basic” TV, which gave me local channels in HD and a few other channels like Music Choice (which I love; it’s like Pandora for the even lazier). Limited Basic TV cost me about $16 per month including taxes and fees. I tried out Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, two “over the top” services costing $20 and $30 a month respectively for a mix of useful (ESPN, CNN) and useless (HGTV, E!) channels. These services sound good, but in practice they didn’t work: when trying to watch live TV in prime time, I found myself staring at a loading indicator for 5 minutes or more. I can’t blame Comcast’s Internet service for this, as tempting as it might be; MLB.TV games and Netflix movies streamed beautifully when over-the-top services failed. Coincidentally, the New York Times also recently found Sling TV and PlayStation Vue less usable than a regular old cable TV subscription.

In time for the Olympics I signed up with a Comcast bundle that, for a one-year promotional period, charges me about $90 a month for Internet service and all of the major sports channels that NBC, Fox, and ESPN offer. That’s only about $20 more than I’d been paying for Internet and Limited Basic TV. As a Comcast subscriber I also now have access to many “TV Anywhere” apps like WatchESPN and Fox Sports GO, giving me a similar (but more functional) experience to Sling and PS Vue. Most of those apps didn’t exist when I cut the cord in 2006.

I thought Comcast was desperate to get customers back as a generation of “cord-nevers” comes of age. Aside from the promotional price, though, the experience has been disappointing. Comcast shipped my “X1 Entertainment Operating System” in an large attractive Apple-style box — but to the wrong address. I had to go through a few phone calls, including one to an annoying voice confirmation service, just to get the service activated. Advertisements abound in the X1 Entertainment Operating System: the on-screen guide includes dozens of channels I don’t receive and links to buy pay-per-view programs. Even the free on-demand shows have commercials, many of which are promos for the show I’m currently watching.

A year from now I’ll probably look back, realize how little TV I’m actually watching, and call Comcast to cancel. They might want to negotiate a better deal for me then. In the meantime there’s a lot of video to watch.