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Unplugged: Giving Up Broadcast TV

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Seeing that even my HD receiver was going to punish me with full-screen squares of video, I cut the cord. With only our 8Mbps cable modem left and our Vonage phone, we dropped to a single-play subscriber, the cable company’s worst nightmare: Customers of the $40 per month "dumb pipe." I figured I’d just buy the shows I needed from iTunes.All last season I heard people raving about NBC’s Heroes. On several visits to my parents’ house, I had noticed that they had the first season DVD, still wrapped in the box and gathering dust. So I borrowed it to catch up on the show for the coming season. Several red-eye, weekend-night marathons later, I was fully up-to-date. Needing the fix of the next few seasons, I went to the iTunes music store.

Well, you probably already know what happened. This all occurred right after NBC said "Later, iTunes." I was about to pay for what I guess would have been about $6 worth of episodes, of which NBC probably would have gotten $3, but NBC wouldn’t have it.

So I went to NBC.com. I watched the first episode (season 2) of Heroes. For some reason, I was able to watch it with no commercials. Later, I watched the next episode. This time, I was shown three different "talk to Chuck" Charles Schwab commercials, which seemed very optimized to my demographic, customized to the demographic they thought I belonged to. Apparently, people who watch Heroes have trouble with their stockbrokers not caring about the paltry sums they can invest, or they have their own half-baked ideas about how to invest their money. "Chuck" suggested I talk to him to resolve any conflict. I already use the family broker and have for years, but thanks.

I heard that ABC.com streams in "high-definition" (looks like a 2Mbps stream; pretty thin for HD, but I won’t quibble), so I tried watching Pushing Daisies. Gorgeous interface—beautiful, engrossing, interactive telescoping ads I couldn’t skip for a product I would never buy.

Well, what can I say? I tried to give NBC a few dollars, but they opted to advertise to me instead. I hope Schwab and NBC’s other advertisers pay them enough to make up for the episodes I couldn’t buy. I even tried walking out of the room while the commercial is playing, a strategy that works equally well with TV and computer.

So I’m $60 a month richer, I absolutely love Heroes, and I haven’t paid a dime to watch it. The quality is lower than it was on my cable. I might buy the second season boxed set; I might not. I own six computers and one television. I own an iPhone. I don’t own a Blu-ray player.

Is this really the future?

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