I’ve just come back from a four month sojourn in Japan and China, and a pleasant side effect of this trip was a break from North American media. I say that, but I had pretty much unbroken contact with any media I decided was worth watching, I simply didn’t access it through traditional means.
Japanese television, despite its charming commercials and genuine enthusiasm for the absurd, was nothing I could watch consistently. Instead I relied on downloads and streaming media, sometimes through a VPN connection. The VPN allowed me to access American sites like hulu.com along with the UK iPlayer app, all by telling these services that I’m actually in their country of origin.
In China this solution was less effective for streaming media, because China’s internet is slooooow. But since a VPN was an absolute necessity to access Facebook, Twitter, anything hosted by WordPress and practically anything else China’s Internet censors whimsically decided wasn’t harmonious, I didn’t feel cheated.
Now that I’m back home the VPN is the cornerstone in my plan to cut cable television out of my life. Since I can watch BBC shows live or on demand, and since I’ve just discovered a pile of great documentaries and indie films on Netflix.ca, I don’t really feel any need to watch the paltry offerings available through Canadian broadcasters.
In effect, this move to on demand media is no different than my shift away from radio a few years ago. The only radio I listen to anymore is courtesy of the CBC Radio app on my iPhone. Local radio is completely irrelevant to me, supplanted by podcasts about topics ranging from the Mac to the media to video games to philosophy.
I’m an outlier. But it’s only a matter of time before more people take the same step. More and more people are perfectly comfortable with watching films on their laptop and short videos on their phones. Being in Canada may actually accelerate this process for many people, because Canadians are online more than anyone else in the world, and because our old media dinosaurs are hell-bent on keeping the public from watching anything they actually want to see and would rather fight tooth and nail for their obsolete business models. Canadians are savvy enough to work around these arbitrary restrictions, and one way or the other I’m sure we’ll see a dramatic decrease in cable subscriptions in the next few years.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to save money and enjoy great content. I don’t think I’ll miss cable in the least, and I’m betting soon others will join me in cutting the cord.