Confession: Maybe Coming Back to Cable TV Was a Bad Idea

Illustration for article titled Confession: Maybe Coming Back to Cable TV Was a Bad Idea

After 2.5 years without cable TV I decided it was time to come back. Why? There were a number of reasons, which you can read about here. Now that I'm back, though, I regret it. Honestly, what the hell is going on?


My first introduction to cable television didn't come until college, but since then it was always a nice-to-have luxury, and one that I was willing to pay for because the content was worth it to me. When I signed back up after my hiatus, I figured that would still be the case, or at least that it would be easy enough to find the diamonds in the rough. I'm beginning to think I made a HUGE mistake.

The lack of decent programming is bad enough, and obviously your mileage will vary depending on taste. But good god it's bleak out there, a landscape littered with reality television bozos and hapless morons and just... ugh. But the shows aren't the worst part. Want to know what really chaps my ass, burns my biscuits, funks up my gravy? The menus.

Decades after gigantic satellite dishes were cluttering up yards, and cable got its first visual interfaces, TV is still hell to navigate with a basic set-top box. The sheer number of channels would be paralyzing enough. As a relaxing ocean of zero-agency white noise, sure, a host of channels to zoom through still has appeal. But who has the time to just channel surf through a bunch of unreadable, unnavigable, unrelenting horseshit menus? Answer: No one.

And let's not forget the actual controllers. They suck. A lot. There's a reason why we can use our mobile devices as remote controls now. Look at Roku or Apple TV, for instance. They both allow you to search for content using the on-screen keyboard, which can be frustrating to pair, but works just fine most of the time. In contrast, with your cable TV remote, you're relegated to the d-pad. If you aren't confused by this, you should be.

I've found that the easiest way to navigate the maelstrom is by using mobile apps. Seriously. Think about it: We've all grown accustomed to mobile UIs. They're intuitive unlike their dinosaur counterparts. You simply scroll, tap or type and voila! When you look at the Netflix, Hulu, or the HBO GO app, you know exactly what to do. There's no confusion. Zero clutter. Just pure viewing bliss.

But we can do better than just apps and websites. When Google TV was announced back in 2010, I thought it was the most amazing thing to happen to TV in quite some time. In theory at least. Most of us know what we want to watch, so it's just a matter of searching for it. You might not Google things all day like me, but you know how to search for things. GTV offered a way to bypass every cable set-top box menu and just get straight to the content. Whether it's a dispute with content providers, like HBO, or drab hardware, like the Co-Star, GTV has been poorly executed from the top-down.

Perhaps that's the reasoning behind Apple's recent acquisition of, a video discovery tool that simply tells you where you can watch what you're searching for. Apple does have a track record of rehashing others' services that work like crap, but there's precedent here. More and more, source-agnostic search is becoming standard in on-demand, from Xbox 360 to the Wii U to the latest TiVo, universal search is taking hold. Adding in live TV would be a nice move for Apple. But there's no set timeline as to when Apple plans to implement the service into current Apple TV software, or even how. Fingers crossed that it will come soon, and that it will be good.

As for the future of my TV watching experience? I think I've made a grave mistake. I'm watching even less content than before. One thing is for sure though, I don't see myself paying for cable beyond this MotoGP season. In fact, I may just end it now; Fox Sports 1's coverage of MotoGP is like watching a monkey fuck a football. I signed back up for cable to watch more stuff—not to ruin the stuff I already watch.


Image: Flickr user schmilblick


I guess it's to be expected, but you kids today are just spoiled. I was born in 1949, the year commercial tv broadcasting began (yes, I'm really that old). I grew up with over-the-air analog rabbit-ear tv; it was awful. The picture was lower-than-low res, low contrast, flickery and... there were only two channels. That's right, two (2) channels. On a 14" screen. Even bad cable today is a miracle in comparison.