NOTE from Roblimo: We're trying something different with this video, namely keeping it down to about 4 minutes but running a text transcript that covers our 20+ minute conversation with SJVN. Is this is a good idea? Please let us know.
Slashdot: I am Robin Miller for Slashdot. Today, we are on the line with Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, who has been writing about cord-cutting. Do you really need that cable TV? Hard to say. His most recent opus on the subject was titled “Now more than ever, the Internet belongs to cord-cutters”, and he wrote that on May 29 – which is last week.
So what do you mean, it belongs to cord-cutters?
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Well, snap, snap, snap (*holds up scissors). But you get the idea. It’s already there. Prime time for Internet usage these days is in the evenings and about – oh, I don’t have the article in front of me or the stats, but it’s about 69% of all Internet broadband is going to video entertainment. And that kind of says it all, when almost 70% of everything on the Internet and at prime time... that’s when the Internet is most used, it’s not during the business day, and it’s all going to video.
Slashdot: Interesting. So all going to video. But does Netflix figure in that? We have Netflix.
Steven: Yep. Netflix is number one by a gigantic majority. Again, I don’t have the numbers in front of me but nothing else really is close. YouTube, I think, is second and they are something like three times smaller than Netflix. So you know every time you are watching something on Netflix at night, a whole lot of other people are on the Internet with you doing the exact same thing.
Slashdot: All right. Now here is sort of a technological question.
Slashdot: About efficiency. As far as I know, as an old radio engineer, as you are too, it’s much more efficient from a bandwidth standpoint to send a signal to a whole bunch of people at once than break it into packets and do it custom for everybody.
Slashdot: So we’re sucking up, it seems to be, a lot of technology, a lot of manpower and a lot of bandwidth.
Slashdot: Why are we doing that? Why don’t we just have feeds going down, push in the background, why aren’t we there?
Steven: Well, we are not there because the technology to do that efficiently so that everyone gets their own little pipeline really is not there, so what we have instead is behind Netflix though you don’t see it.
Steven: First there is this huge cloud thing, which is basically always failing, which is something other people don’t realize about Netflix. Netflix is designed to keep going even as it falls apart constantly. So what’s actually happening though, if everything goes right, you never see it, and since Netflix works , and so many people use it, it actually does work despite constantly failing, as constantly things are coming up and things are coming down, but from your viewpoint it’s always pouring down to you. And they get rid of some of the bandwidth problems by sticking little Netflix boxes and routers throughout most of the major ISPs. So when you say you want to watch – oh I don’t know, the last season of Game of Thrones or something, you are not actually getting it from some central computer in San Francisco. What you are really doing is, it’s going to some data somewhere, one second it might be San Francisco, the next Washington D.C. and then they are both telling wire with the closet point to you in terms of hops and bandwidth to send that show on to you. And it works amazingly well.
Slashdot: All right. Now Netflix costs me, what does it cost me? We have the DVD option.
Slashdot: So we pay Netflix I guess $15 a month, $16 a month?
Steven: For the DVD, yeah it’s about that.
Slashdot: Yeah. And I don’t know, maybe it’s worth it. Now let’s talk about Hulu. I am not sure about Hulu, it sounds to me like they are charging to watch things that are otherwise free. What’s up with that, are people buying that?
Steven: Well, Hulu is a funny little company. NBCUniversal owns a large chunk of it.
Steven: And they are not sure what to do with it. And a lot of other media companies own chunks of it. So what they have done it’s one they really don’t know what they are doing with it. So it is that some shows are available easily and quickly. For example, the show Aquarius with David Duchovny, very popular show, if you are watching; you can't watch it over the air, you don’t need any cable for it, because it’s NBC, but you can have the entire series now that’s actually already available on Hulu, no one is sure for how long. But if you wanted to just watch the entire 13-episode series one weekend, you can do it. And I know a lot of people are. So that’s one advantage it gives you. It’s Hulu Plus which is really what I am talking about here.
Slashdot: Yeah we both are.
Steven: Yeah, which is another example of how they are confused, you say Hulu, but it’s actually two slightly different products. It does cost you about $8, $9 a month, and they do include some ads, you cannot get away from the ads, you can try, but you can’t do it. But if you like a lot of over-the-air cable television shows, sometimes you can get the new ones like in this deal where you can see the whole thing and just gorge yourself on the show, sometimes you can watch older shows, which you can’t get to very easily. And they also do show some movies as well. The neatest things as far as movies go is, they have a large chunk of a criterion collection. So it’s like, so you are really into the French New Wave or the Japanese Samurai movies, I mean it’s well worth the money, because you are going to watch a lot of those kind of foreign international films that you are just not going to get anywhere else, and they are really good. Yeah, some of them are available public domain and so on, but these are really good cuts of them. It’s not something that someone videotaped off a 16 millimeter film 10 years ago and this is just something they threw up on the web.
Slashdot: Okay. All right. And then there is Sling TV.
Steven: Yes, the newest of them.
Slashdot: Yeah, you’ve written about Sling.
Slashdot: And how much does that cost?
Steven: Sling is $20 a month for their main package, which is up to 20 channels right now. The big selling point on Sling that none of the others have is ESPN, because before the one big problem of cord-cutting was if you are like really into baseball, MLB.TV had you covered; if you are really into the NBA, there is a NBA channel like MLB.TV that had you covered. But if you just were like a general sports guy or you are really into football, there really wasn’t much out there for you, and Sling TV gives you basically all the ESPN channels worth watching: ESPN, ESPN News, ESPN New, ESPN 2, ESPN
Slashdot: Oh that goes
Steven: Yeah. Ladi-dadi-da.
Slashdot: Alright.So I watch a little NFL football, not a whole lot.
Slashdot: And that’s about it, so I’m not mister sports guy.
Slashdot: Why do I have to pay for ESPN?
Slashdot: They actually show it as a breakout item on a bill how much you are spending which is like $4 a month just for ESPN.
Slashdot: And apparently since they had a contract obligation to deliver it to every house including mine.
Steven: Right. Well, that’s because ESPN is really popular, live sports television for better or worse is the one thing that up until really Sling TV that the networks, the cable companies and the satellite companies had over the conventional or had over cord cutting, and now it doesn’t, now since I guess your closest team to you is the Jacksonville Jaguars
Steven: I can't blame youfor not watching Major League Football.
Slashdot: No, no, no, we have the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Steven: Well, I’m so sorry. So I can understand your interest in pro ball. I mean, no offense to Jacksonville or Tampa Bay fans, but wow, you’ve had better decades.
Slashdot: Yeah, but we also have more retired football players than anybody because they come here, they play a couple of seasons and go elsewhere and they come back.
Slashdot: That’s why the tackier than Hooters, we have Ker's Wing House, where they don’t mean those, they mean chicken wings.
Slashdot: It’s here because Crawford Ker was from Tampa, he played around here and there, but came home after he got done with the NFL or they got done with him.
Slashdot: He bought a restaurant in Clearwater called the Wing House, stuck his own name on it and turned it from, well it’s still a kind of a family place, you can actually take your kids there.
Slashdot: You can, and they have a kids menu, but don’t go there on frightnight, sometimes Ker’s – let’s put it this way, they have off duty police in uniform as bouncers on the big nights.
Steven: Right, got it.
Slashdot: And on the other hand I like that because I ride my expensive recumbent tricycle there and I lock it up out front, somebody has got an eye on it but not when they're paying a lot of money for some latest big time boxing match.
Slashdot: They regretfully charged a $10 a head cover.
Slashdot: Because they hadn’t gotten to the cord cutting thing yet.
Slashdot: That was over HBO or something.
Slashdot: Now maybe I could bootleg that at home.
Steven: Bootleg cord cutting is, a lot of those, it tends to be really badly done and sloppily done, I mean if you want to, say, bit-torrent movies down, you can still do that and sometimes you get crap, most of the times you don’t, but for things like bootlegging sports and so on, in my experience 9 times out of 10 you get a crappy signal that just.
Steven: It’s more trouble to watch than it’s worth, so. And again getting back to the subject, that’s why having ESPN on Sling is such a big deal. For all those people who love their sports, I mean it’s big, too, and they make it work, but they throw in some other stuff to HDD TV on the main thing.
Slashdot: But here is the thing, on prices, just prices. For a long time I had BrightHouse cable, which is the Time Warner of Tampa Bay, and then they kept getting more and more outrageous. At one point we’re giving them nearly $160 a month for a reasonably good download speed internet, but crummy upload speed, plus augmented basic cable HD with a recorder and all that. And we were like $159 a month. Now I’d shopped around before and like most connections we have two choices, one of them is a cable company and the other one in our case is Verizon FiOS.
Slashdot: And much though Verizon angered my wife and me over the years, we moved to FIOS. Their technology is so much better and, hold on to your horses, $91 a month is what I pay for exactly what I got from BrightHouse except way better internet. So basically I’m paying $30 a month for cable with a recorder and all that.
Slashdot: And replace it with a cut cord, I would have to have – really have to have – TiVo because my wife likes the interface.
Slashdot: So TiVo plus an over-the-air antenna which I do have and a big one, not close to the local antennae, and that’s not all, I also would need Sling, wouldn’t I?
Slashdot: That's more than $30 a month right there.
Steven: Yeah, it does add up, it sounds to me though like what you have is that first 12 month, that first year deal.
Steven: No, got better than that, we’ll see if Verizon can keep that – given Verizon’s usual business practices, we’ll see, but you are quite right though, for some people it’s not really worth the money, if you’ve got a really good deal that’s good for you, that’s fine, it works for you, it does. But say all you really want is movies, I know that’s the case for a lot of people, and it doesn’t have to be the just out right now biggest movies. In that case something like Netflix does you well; if you really like classic movies, Hulu does you well; if you really want say, you do want some new movies, but you want old stuff too, then Amazon – particularly if you order a lot of stuff from Amazon anyway.
Slashdot: Prime, yeah.
Steven: You just go Amazon Prime and you get actually a pretty good selection of free movies. And if there's something you want that's on the pay side, it's $3.99, that’s not a big deal and if you are for some reason really stuck on Apple TV, you can also– everything on Apple, is pay, what a surprise. And generally speaking, anything that Apple has, Amazon will have and Amazon on a rental basis is almost always a lot cheaper. So, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering to buying an Apple TV.
Slashdot: I’m not.
Steven: Yeah, exactly. I’ve got all of these things and really, what I use Apple TV for is I just use it to post up off my media library here, because I made the mistake of committing to iTunes early on to do that and eventually I will convert it to something else.
Slashdot: However, however, let me ask you, this is a not quite on topic although it is
Slashdot: I didn’t think about it, but I have Chromecast.
Slashdot: Like many, many other people. And I know the broadcast, the tab trick.
Slashdot: So, I can literally, if it’s on my laptop, or on my Android device, I can have it on my TV, whatever it may be.
Steven: Yep. It’s great.
Slashdot: So, Amazon is always trying to sell me a Fire thingy.
Slashdot: Now, should I buy that or just continue using the Hulu. I mean, not Hulu, God, it gets out of hand. Yeah, Chromecast, yeah.
Steven: Keep using the Chromecast. I’ve used the Fire Stick and it’s fine, but really the only thing it gives you is it lets you drop stuff from Amazon video directly to your thing. Well, you can also put it on your computer, you can zap it to the Chromecast.
Steven: Or if people ask me, I just want one gadget, I always tell them, just get a Roku. Roku 3 really is probably the best combination because then you can get pretty much everything except Apple TV. Now, a lot of stuff, you can’t get anywhere else. And you’re done. I mean, you don’t have to buy all these gadgets. So, if you’re going to just buy one device, get the Roku. Preferably, the Roku 3 again is what I recommend and if you do, so say you’re going to watch a lot of stuff on your computer, or you’re just doing stuff on your computer that you actually want to see on big screen like in our business we’re always watching video conferences from trade-shows or stuff like that and it’s a lot easier to watch that stuff on a real screen than on something small.
Slashdot: I don’t do that, frankly, because my work computers are in a separate room, office room and second, I’m looking at you right now on a 24-inch monitor that has higher resolution than my not-new 42-inch TV.
Steven: Yeah, it varies from person to person, which again means that’s actually again why Roku is my default recommendation because I mean these days, really big great computer displays are cheap.
Steven: I know lots of people – actually my daughter is one, she watches – she doesn’t have any of this stuff to post up on her television because she’s perfectly happy watching it on her large screen laptop.
Slashdot: We like it on the TV, only really where my wife and I both want to watch something and like we want to be comp-potatoes.
Slashdot: For a couch potato, we have to sit on the couch or if you’re an old guy like me, you have an easy chair.
Slashdot: And then the wifelays on the couch, so it’s traditional living room, plus we have great sound.
Slashdot: But I don’t know – but so, you’re saying basically Roku and good internet.
Steven: Roku, good internet and pick – I mean I have pretty much all of the services because I review and I talk about them and all that jazz, but really again just in the movies, Netflix is fine, for foreign international films go ahead and add Hulu Plus to it. And then if you order a lot of stuff from Amazon, then you know it just go Amazon Prime and you get it for free, so what the heck. And you’re pretty much set. And again, you got a really good cheap cable television you know like you have, that’s fine, you don’t really need any of this stuff.
Slashdot: But if it goes away? If Verizon acts like Verizon
Steven: Put yourself safe there.
Slashdot: Yeah, but then all I have to do is go back to BrightHouse or over-the-air for a month or two.
Slashdot: And they’ll come, oh please come, please come, we’ll give you everything in the world under the sun.
Steven: Yeah. You can almost always make a deal. Actually that’s something that if you ever have a really bad cable bill or for DirecTV, whatever you’re using, always call them up and you don’t want to try cord-cutting, just give them a call and ask for a customer – usually, it’s a customer retention person.
Steven: And if you don’t get the deal you want the first time, call them again, you’ll get somebody else, he probably will give you the deal that you want.
Slashdot: Up to a point.
Steven: Up to a point – I mean, yeah, sometimes they’re just not going to do it, but it’s surprisingly though how often that if you just talk to them or ask them, you can actually end up cutting at least 20%, 30% off your bill.
Slashdot: Well, maybe. But my friend, Matt, he hates Verizon. I dislike Verizon. Matt despises Verizon.
Slashdot: But the price and service quality difference of FIOS in Florida versus BrightHouse, they beat the heck out of them. So, Matt took the step of writing via snail mail, mister computer Science high marks graduate guy in the professional security programmer for financial companies, oh yeah, he wrote a letter on paper and put it in an envelope to the CEO of BrightHouse.
Slashdot: And basically said, can you give me a deal? FiOS is wiping you guys. And they said no, the $160 is what you get, and if you can get it from Verizon for $90 a month, knock yourself out.
Steven: No wonder BrightHouse is probably not going to be around for much longer.
Slashdot: No, it’s already sold. It’s sold. Actually so is FiOS.
Slashdot: So I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next year.
Slashdot: So does that make you happy knowing that you have lots to write about?
Steven: Right, it does actually. It does, I actually wish I had a full time gig writing about it because one, I am big TV and movie guy anyway and I mean not like someone who goes frame by frame through the 400 blows and so and something like that. I have friends who do that kind of thing, but on the – but I do like it, I like the technology behind it, I have been at this stuff since actually back in the early '90s and I saw the first real attempts at internet video and they were trying it on 56K lines, god help them.
Slashdot: God help them.
Steven: And bless them and
Slashdot: They had one thing, let’s not forget, the original Digital Express was on route 198 in Laurel on the same trunk as NSA.
Steven: Yes, they sure were and they had PSSC and they had PSI map right down the road. I think they had originally T3, big deal in those days. Life was great with Digital Express in the day but
Slashdot: Doug is a nice man, he is still one of my Facebook friends 20 years later. And I remember when they opened up, my friend Danny immediately called me and he was like Digital Express user number 20 or something.
Slashdot: I was under a 100.
Steven: Same here.
Slashdot: But then I couldn’t get on and I said, to hell with it and went to Primenet in Phoenix, which also didn’t take a credit card which I did not have then.
Steven: Yep, I’ve lost you. (Hangout connection problem)
Slashdot: Provided – how about now?
Steven: Yeah, you’re good.
Slashdot: Yeah, Primenet gave me both a good price and no credit card requirement, plus I got lynx and pine. Yeah, this is grandpa stuff, guys with grey beards.
Steven: Yes. When I was with Digital Express I actually I helped move some of their spot boxes into their very first spot which was over a Chinese restaurant in Greenbelt.
Slashdot: You were 301 area code.
Slashdot: And I heard that he had modems on that. I was in 410, and it wasn’t so good. But whatever, that’s history. Where do we go from here?
Steven: Well, from here? I think, the business side is going to be really interesting and I have talked about it, I like the content, I like just media, I like the technology, I find that endlessly fascinating. Business side, we’re going to see the big media companies getting direct because they are still trying, they still even now think they can do their same old Monopoly tricks and that’s not going to work, so you’ve got things like CBS is asking people to pay $5 a month in a few locations just to watch CBS. I happen to like CBS shows, Good Wife and so on, great show. But I would tell you that’s not going to work, I mean, people want a la carte television selection, can’t blame them, I mean, out of the hundreds of channels out there, how many do any of us really watch?
Steven: Yeah, the answer s around 20, 23. So, yeah, a la carte is great but charging people a la carte, it means at $5 a channel, 20 channels, that's $100 and that’s not going to fly. And so they need to rejigger their business models to figure out what to do and some companies like actually DISH TV is behind what’s the name of the company again, pardon me...
Slashdot: I think it's Sling box.
Steven: Yeah, there’s Sling TV. So they're satellite, but they see the future, so they are moving. But so many of the other companies aren’t and also one thing that really makes me wonder is what’s going to keep the local stations, over-the-air station,s in business? Sure they can get old content and run it, but old content is easy to find on the internet, you want to watch the episode The Simpsons from Season 2, no problem, it’s out, they are everywhere. You want to watch old movies? They are out there everywhere, but is the NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and so on, are they going to keep supporting these companies, i.e. these little local stations? I don’t know. I don’t think so really, but you know I honestly don’t know how that one is going to work out. But I am watching it closely to see what kind of wheeling and dealing happens on the business side, because you can’t stop this talk, it's just too darn easy and for a lot of people a lot darn cheaper to go cord cutting.