February 13, 2014

Are we Ready to Cut the Cord?

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I was excited to go to a Super Bowl party last week to watch America’s most popular sport (read: I was excited to have a socially acceptable excuse to engorge myself with Wings Over Ithaca). The setup seemed ideal: the lights were dimmed, the game was projected from a laptop on the entirety of a large white wall, and, of course, there was enough junk food to sustain a small country.

But the quintessential viewing experience soon turned awry when other partygoers unintentionally passed by the projector, casting shadows of their heads on the field.

The feed started lagging, freezing the game at the rare moments when the Broncos seemed to have been – very momentarily –gaining an edge over the Seahawks. Everyone watching was throwing out suggestions to solve the problem to no avail: Make sure no other device in the house is connected to the WiFi. Find another live stream on the Internet. Don’t expand the feed to full resolution. Still, with no luck, someone finally blurted, “Can we get a CS major over here?”

Apparently, pursuing a Computer Science degree is a requirement to satisfactorily watch a football game nowadays. I couldn’t help but wonder how much less aggravation would have ensued if we had simply pressed the “on” button on a standalone TV. But, like most Cornellians including myself, the host didn’t have one. Why bother having a TV in college when you spend most of your waking hours in class or at the library – and are likely simultaneously streaming shows on Netflix anyway?

Just five days after the Super Bowl, the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Olympics took place. My Facebook newsfeed was filled with inquiries asking if anyone knew of a good site where they could watch it. But I noticed that most posts didn’t receive replies.

I was with my housemate as she frantically searched for a reliable feed right before the Opening Ceremony was scheduled to be televised. She thought she had found a winner on CBC.ca until she realized it was only viewable in Canada. But alas, the Canadians took the brunt again. Cut us some slack – we’re already responsible for Justin Bieber and Rob Ford.

With the average American cable bill at a whopping $90 per month, more and more households are cutting the cord in favor of Internet streaming services. But these aforementioned anecdotes reveal that there are some times when the Internet simply can’t replace good old traditional television.

Is it worth paying for standalone TV service just to ensure that you can reliably watch the Super Bowl yearly and the Olympics biyearly? Considering I’m far from being a sports aficionado and am on a student budget, the answer for me is no. But at risk of sounding like a grandmother, I don’t think that Internet streaming is a fully viable solution yet. Watching shows online requires a more active, concerted effort than plopping yourself in front of a TV and mindlessly watching who-knows-what for hours. Traditional televisions still play a key communal role at bars and serve as an “electronic hearth” for American families. Until Internet streaming can wholly fulfill these functions, traditional cable TV is here to stay.