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March 10, 2014

Learning to cut the cable

Locals explore television alternatives

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Even before the upcoming rate increase by Time Warner Cable, one Oneonta resident said recently that high prices had pushed his family to cut the cable cord. 

Though it is too soon to say if the rate hike will affect the cable provider’s numbers, people interviewed on the subject said there are a number of options for area residents to access television shows and movies.

Paul Agoglia is a retired technology education teacher from Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School. The 62-year-old said he and his wife Barbara had talked about making the change a number of times, but finally took the plunge recently. 

“We noticed prices slowly going up and we were not watching as much TV,” Agoglia explained. With more sports, reruns and reality shows on the cable dial, “we wondered where the money was going,” he said. 

The couple and their son, Adam, made the move away from Time Warner last month — just before the announcement that rates were about to go up. 

Effective March 19, the average Time Warner Cable bill for those not on a promotional plan will rise 6.4 percent, Time Warner spokeswoman Joli Plucknette-Farmen said. For the others (about 70 percent of Time Warner’s customers) the bill will be unchanged — until any promotions expire. 

The rate hike will impact all tiers of services offered by the company, Plucknette-Farmen said. She cited increased costs from television networks and cable channels as factors, as well as the cost of adding new services and expanding existing ones. In the Oneonta region, the monthly rate for the company’s standard definition television package will increase to $80.14 monthly. 

When asked if the increases could lead to loss of subscribers, she said, “We’re confident that we can work with other customers to find a package of our services that match their budget and interests.”

But Time Warner customers aren’t the only ones whose bills are getting bigger. According to Money Magazine, two major satellite providers recently raised rates as well. DirecTV increased by about 4.4 percent, with its “Entertainment” package costing $58 per month. Dish kept the price of a few plans unchanged, but raised others by $3 to $5. Its “Smart Pack” is increasing $3, to $33.

Agoglia said that for his family, being fans of the Olympics, it might have been difficult to get by without cable while the games were on, but that things are going well now. 

The family is experimenting with Netflix to see how much viewing it provides. Agoglia said he can access the online video streaming service through a Blu-ray player or a computer, adding that the latter works better.

Netflix provides on-demand media such as television programs and movies through a variety of devices. Besides the Agoglias’ computer and Blu-ray player, Netflix videos can be viewed via several different types of videogame consoles, as well as through standalone set-top boxes such as Apple TV and Roku, which stream select channels directly to the television set. 

To work, these devices need to be hooked up to the television set, as well as being connected to a WiFi network. Apple TV, which retails for about $99 and has an option that allows devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch to work as a control. There are a variety of Roku players, with the top model listing at $99.99. 

The devices aren’t exclusive to Netflix, however; they also offer access to other services. Hulu, a free service that offers more limited content, is also available. Movies can be rented on Roku and various platforms through channels like Amazon Instant Video. Apple TV allows rentals through its iTunes Store. Various sports channel subscriptions are also offered for the various devices. Accessing Netflix costs $7.99 per month; the same cost for Hulu Plus, which offers commercial-free viewing of its various television shows and movies. 

Scott Goble, manager of the Oneonta Radio Shack, described these offerings and more as a “plethora of alternatives” to standard cable. 

Some, like Roku or Apple TV, can be used alongside cable service, while they can also stand alone, Goble pointed out. He also mentioned that Smart TV television sets have services such as Netflix built in so that no additional devices are needed.

This “plethora of alternatives” is on full display among some State University College at Oneonta students, who described a piecemeal approach to viewing television and other media. 

Emily Horner, 20, of McGraw, said she lives on campus, which provides Time Warner. Nate Wind, 21, of Rochester, lives in the dorms and uses cable, but he also watches movies on Netflix and some programs on Hulu. When he wants to watch something like the Oscars, he uses cable, he said.

Garrison Shepard, 19, of Milford Center, commutes to school. His family uses DirecTV because it is the only cable-like service available where they live. Jay Gleason, 23, of Bath, lives off campus and doesn’t have cable. He uses his computer to watch Netflix and such networks as ABC that have programming available on the Internet. 

“It works for me,” he said. “I’m way too busy to watch much else.”

Morgan Giannattasio, 22, from Port Jefferson, lives off campus. She has basic cable from her landlord, but watches some things on Netflix on her computer — but, she said, she doesn’t watch much of anything because of her work schedule. 

Several computer technicians at Information Systems Division, a technology company in Oneonta, showed a similar diversity in viewing habits. 

Josh Roe, 23, of Stamford, said he mostly uses streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and whatever is available on YouTube, a free video provider. Matt Stearns, 25, said the majority of what he watches is through Time Warner, but he does watch some streaming Internet videos as well. Wilhelmina Guest, 48, of Unadilla, said she lives where there is no option for cable, so she watches DirecTV. After the introductory rate, the bill has been increasing steadily, she said. John Abrams, 27, of Oneonta said he recently disconnected his Time Warner Cable video because of the cost. 

ISD vice president Roxana Hurlburt said the company is an authorized Time Warner Cable retailer and said Time Warner provides the best product in the area. She noted that cable is no different than many other items in today’s economy that have gone up over time.

4:31 Average number of hours per day Americans spend watching TV