I’m one of those rare millennials who’s had it with streaming everything I watch.
After five years of living cord-free, getting most of my TV from a combination of Netflix, iTunes downloads, and an antenna that tunes in over-the-air broadcasts, I’m back on cable. I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing.
I’m no longer a cord cutter. Now I’m a cord flopper. I love it! And even a new digital set-top box from Apple hasn’t changed my mind.
My journey back to the dark side started earlier this year when I moved to a new apartment. I didn’t plan to get a cable subscription again, but I caved after some nudging from my TV-obsessed fiancée.
To tell the truth, I didn’t need much convincing. Among other benefits, traditional pay TV offers things that can be hard to get via online video services, including live sports, live news, and a reliable DVR.
Cord cutting, by contrast, is a headache. Technology is supposed to make everything cheaper and easier, but internet-delivered video can be just as expensive and more confusing than simply signing up for cable.
You have to juggle multiple subscriptions to services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now. You have to wait while your shows buffer. There’s often a two-minute or longer delay when you stream presidential debates and other live events.
And when streaming services don’t have the shows you want to watch, you have to hunt for them in digital video stores such as Apple’s iTunes, Amazon and Vudu. If you can find them, you’ll have to spend a few bucks an episode or upwards of $50 for an entire season. Even then, some shows aren’t available until the next day, and others aren’t available until a year after they’re originally broadcast.
We were promised better, but no one has delivered. But it’s Apple that’s been the most disappointing of all.
For years, Apple has been teasing us that it’s going revolutionize our relationship with television in the same way that it upturned the music market and the way we interact with our phones. For example, before he died in 2011, Apple founder Steve Jobs described to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, his vision for TV.
“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” Jobs said. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine.”
What’s more, he said, “I finally cracked it.”
If he did, we still haven’t seen the results.
As a case in point, take the company’s Apple TV set-top box. The company touted the gadget in the past as the “future of TV.” But it’s still nothing of the kind.
Apple just released a new version called the Apple TV 4K that will stream videos that are sharper looking and more colorful than before – at least on televisions that support the technologies needed to display those better looking videos. But like its predecessors, the new device fails to solve any of television’s bigger shortcomings or improve the cord-cutting experience.
Apple TV’s interface is fine, but you still have to contend with numerous apps and deal wth logging in separately to multiple services, such as Netflix and Hulu. To use the apps associated with the various broadcast and pay TV channels, you typically have to go through different log-on routine, this one through your pay TV provider. Taken together, the Apple TV experience is nowhere close to the vision Jobs had six years ago.
Apple reportedly tried to do something different. According to multiple reports, the company worked on creating a live TV streaming service that would be easy to use and cheaper than traditional cable offerings. But Apple couldn’t seal the deal with Hollywood, and this is what we’re stuck with – a mishmash of apps and streaming services that even taken together don’t match up well with plain old cable.
The fact that cord-cutting is still so painful isn’t entirely Apple’s fault, of course. None of the other tech companies have solved the underlying problems either. Apple TV’s rivals, such as Google’s Chromecast and Roku’s assortment of boxes, largely just serve as conduits for the various streaming services users watch. They don’t do much to try to organize those services or make them simpler to use. None of the devices or services offers an easy way to get all the stuff you may want to watch in one place at a reasonable price with only one log in.
Cable and other traditional pay TV services have their own problems, including set-top boxes with clunky interfaces and service packages that force you to pay for loads of channels you’ll probably never watch. But at least you can watch what you want, when you want it, without delay or compromise.
I’m sure internet TV will get better, but the disruption is happening far slower than it did with phones, computers, and music. Apple TV and other streaming devices do a good job of offering services that complement traditional pay TV. But they can’t yet replace it.