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January 18 2012

23:10

Your Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests

Today was an important day in the history of the Internet and activism. While the U.S. Congress expected to quickly pass two bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), mounting opposition online has led them to reconsider. That all came to a head today when various sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit decided to black out their content, and others such as Google put up anti-SOPA messages on their sites. The following is a Storify aggregation of all those efforts, including explainers, stories, tweets, parody videos and more.

[View the story "A Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests" on Storify]

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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July 26 2011

19:25

Your Guide to the U.K. Phone-Hacking Scandal (or 'Hackgate')

From time to time, we provide an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. We've previously covered Twitter, local watchdog news sites, and Net neutrality, among other topics. This week MediaShift U.K. correspondent Tristan Stewart-Robertson looks at the phone-hacking scandal.

Background

To still use the terms "phone hacking" or "News of the World" to describe the scandal engulfing the British media is now somewhat insufficient.

"Hackgate," as it's often called on Twitter, has really been going on since 2002, but didn't explode until July 4, 2011 and has since dominated the news in the U.K. and increasingly abroad.

Without question, The Guardian has been the leader on the phone-hacking story from day one, and reporter Nick Davies will most certainly be the runaway candidate for "reporter of the year" at next year's British Press Awards. The paper's multimedia coverage and interactive features on a continually moving and expanding story are second to none.

The New York Times has also been a leader on the story, particularly with its September 2010 investigation into the subject.

Glossary of Terms

"Blagging": It might sound like a quaint English term, but it, too, is illegal. As the BBC summarizes, the Data Protection Act 1998 prevents someone from pretending to be another person for the purposes of gaining access to private data, such as medical records.

Phone hacking: The technical term for what private investigators, and some reporters, were doing for the News of the World is actually "illicit voice message interception." It's illegal to access someone else's cell phone messages, usually by having one person call the phone, and while it is engaged, a second person calls and gets access to the messages. Most people wouldn't think to change the standard manufacturer's code, such as 9999 or 0000, to protect voicemail, and so it's usually quite easy to access.

"Pinging" or phone tracking: Police can track a suspect's cell phone by triangulation from nearby cell phone towers. But as the Guardian exposed, the News of the World allegedly paid police to access such tracking. If proven, both the bribery and obtaining of private data would be punishable.

Public Interest: When the British media talks about what is in "the public interest," this is quite broad but has a specific legal backing which is referred to as The Reynolds Defense. The full case is here, but Wikipedia has a summary of it.

Regulation: Many commentators, when talking about possible statutory regulation of the press, cite the flaws of self-regulation, which currently takes the form of the Press Complaints Council and its code of practice. But regulation could mimic the Broadcasting Act 1996 which dictates fairness and balance in television news, and can invoke large fines for breaches.

Main Cast of characters

Andy Coulson: Editor of the News of the World. He resigned in 2007 when phone hacking was first exposed with the criminal convictions of former royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire. Coulson later was appointed as chief of communications for Prime Minister David Cameron before resigning again this year.

james murdoch.jpg

James Murdoch: Chairman and chief executive of News Corp., Europe, and son of Rupert, he authorized out-of-court settlements for phone hacking, which he later said he regretted because he did not have all the information about the extent of the criminality. His evidence in front of a House of Commons select committee has now been questioned.

Rupert Murdoch: Chairman and CEO of News Corp. Political leaders considered he was essential to have on their side to be able to win British elections.

Rebekah Wade: Editor of the News of the World, then its sister paper The Sun, and then chief executive of News International until her resignation during the hacking scandal. She was editor at the time of the alleged hacking of the phone of murdered 13-year-old school girl Milly Dowler, which turned the public against News International.

Timeline

In 2005, a story about medical treatment of Prince William led Buckingham Palace to suspect interference with his voicemail.

Goodman, the News of the World royal reporter, was jailed in 2007 as was private investigator Mulcaire. Coulson resigned as editor, and everyone claimed it was just a few bad apples.

In 2009, the Guardian returned to the story and exposed out-of-court settlements to public figures, suggesting there were thousands more potential victims, including celebrities and politicians.

On July 4, 2011, the Guardian revealed the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, which turned public attention dramatically to the story.

After an outcry from the public and a campaign on Twitter and Facebook to get advertisers
to drop the News of the World, News International announced that the July 10 issue of the News of the World would be the last after 168 years.

The next week, News Corp. announced it would stop its attempt to take over all of BSkyB.
And in the ultimate climax, the following week, James and Rupert Murdoch and Wade gave evidence to a House of Commons select committee.

The dominant digital coverage

20110721.GU.hackingtimelinegraphicwb.jpg

The phone-hacking story traditionally would have started in print on July 5. Instead, the Guardian released it online first on July 4, giving other media a chance to pick up the story for the next day and hitting the social media sphere much earlier than Tuesday morning.

That very much fits into the strategy announced by the Guardian last month of digital first. Most, if not all, of the revelations from the phone-hacking scandal were broken online before print editions hit the streets in a battle for the public attention -- and frequently mid-afternoon so ideally placed to catch the 6 p.m. TV newscasts and an American audience five or more hours behind.

Online coverage has also allowed for detailed timelines and data visualizations in the Guardian, as well as crowdsourcing from the Guardian and Telegraph (see below).

Digital reaction

When news of the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone first broke, outrage ensued on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Although the public did not initially have papers in front of them to target particular advertisers with the News of the World, a campaign soon started.

Parenting forum Mumsnet helped drive the online campaign and pulled its own campaign from Sky television, which at the time News Corp. was trying to acquire.

Again, the Guardian was at the forefront of providing information, publishing the Twitter addresses of the top 50 News of the World advertisers.

Twitters users became perhaps the most active during the James and Rupert Murdoch testimony in front of Britain's Select Committee on July 19, showing the speed of social media reaction. Within minutes of a protestor throwing a shaving-cream pie at Murdoch senior and the right-hook reaction from wife Wendi Deng, #piegate shot onto the Twitter trending list, only to be overtaken minutes later with #wendi.

Crowdsourcing and Data Visualization

The Guardian and Telegraph have both invited readers and users to get involved in sorting through data. The Telegraph released articles from the past decade in the News of the World that mention phone calls, voicemails and emails. The Guardian's crowdsourced list of potential victims is currently offline to check accuracy. The Atlantic has also praised such efforts to tackle the volume of potential phone-hacking victims and associated data.

Investigations

  • The Leveson Inquiry will be the formal and broad investigation into the media's practices and ethics, as well as publishers' involvement with politics and the police.
  • Operation Weeting is the formal inquiry by the Metropolitan Police into phone hacking and more, and is a follow-up to the previous failed police inquiries. A total of 60 officers are now on the case.
  • The Serious Fraud Office in the U.K. is said to be considering an investigation.

In Numbers

Deaths: 1 [Sean Hoare]

Arrests: 9 [Neville Thurlbeck, Ian Edmondson, James Weatherup, Terenia Taras, Coulson, Goodman, an unidentified 63-year-old man, Neil Wallis and Brooks]

Charges: 0

Allegations dropped: 1 [Press Association reporter Laura Elston]

Convictions: 2 [Goodman, Mulcaire]

Resignations: 4 [Brooks (News Int), Coulson (technically well before the scandal blew up, and twice, from News Int and Conservative Party), Sir Paul Stephenson (police), John Yates (police), Les Hinton (Dow Jones)]

Fired: 1 [Matt Nixson, features editor at The Sun and former NOTW employee]

Laid Off: 200 [News of the World staff, according to its former political editor]

Tristan Stewart-Robertson is a Canadian freelance reporter based in Glasgow, Scotland, operating as the W5 Press Agency.

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July 19 2010

21:35

Your Guide to Next Generation 'Content Farms'

content farms logo small.jpg

As traditional news outlets continue to lay off journalists, a new generation of companies is betting big on online content. Their approaches differ significantly, but are all built on the common premise that for online content to be profitable, it has to be produced at a truly massive scale. The proliferation of these so-called "content farms" -- a name the companies predictably dislike -- has raised the ire of journalists and pundits alike.

"If you want to know how our profession ends, look at Demand Media," wrote Jason Fry, a former Wall Street Journal columnist who edits Reinventing the Newsroom.

Of course Demand Media is far from being the first online content company built on search-driven data. Both About.com and Weblogs Inc. built content based on popular search terms, and employed large teams of content producers and bloggers to create stories to help answer common questions.

It's easy to see why Demand Media's strategy has been replicated by start-ups and start-arounds alike. When Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt discovered that algorithmically-generated assignments could generate 4.9 times the revenue of traditional editor-generated ideas, the sheer profitability of this new content paradigm guaranteed that companies like Demand Media would be viewed as outliers in the context of a news industry facing significant fiscal troubles.

This is the first article in what will be a full week of PBS MediaShift special coverage dedicated to next generation content companies. We're calling this series "Beyond Content Farms" and each day will see us examine different aspects of these companies and what they mean for the web and the media world. Below is an overview of the major companies that are taking a "content farm" strategy of pushing out massive amounts of content, a primer that sets out some of the key players, what they do, and what their goals are.

AOL

tim_armstrong_lg.jpgOverview: When AOL severed ties with Time Warner last year, it took the opportunity to reinvent its failing business model, which had been predicated largely on it dial-up service. Under the leadership of CEO Tim Armstrong, AOL has embraced a mission of becoming the world's largest producer of high-quality content. A corollary goal: to be the world's largest net hirer of journalists next year.

Brands: AOL's portal, AOL.com, serves more than 59 million people in the U.S. monthly, a firehose of traffic that the company can direct at a large portfolio of editorial brands, which include major sites such as AOL News, Black Voices, and Engadget.

Content platform: AOL operates two major platforms for freelance content production. Seed, which AOL built itself, deals largely with the production of text-based and photographic content. StudioNow, which AOL bought this past winter for $36.5 million, caters to video production. Between the two platforms, AOL has access to more than 40,000 content creators, a small army that the company hopes to increasingly utilize in the coming months.

Algorithm: Since the inception of its new content-based strategy, AOL has said that identifying content opportunities through demand/search data would be a major focus of the corporation. But nearly eight months later, AOL's David Mason, who runs its content platforms, said told me in an interview: "We are in our early days with demand technology. The floodgates have been somewhat shut and as months go by we'll see them open."

Local: AOL has entered the local news space in a big way with Patch, which had 83 sites live in communities around the country as of early July and many more in the pipeline. Each site is run by a professional journalist who reports, edits, and curates. "What we're looking for is nothing less than tomorrow's journalists," said Patch editor in chief Brian Farnham in an interview with MediaShift. Editors are able to hire freelancers through Seed to round out coverage, namely to populate the community's business directory with rich content. "We're sending teams to communities who will go door to door and collect data about those places, structure it in our templates, and have a really rich Yellow Pages," said Farnham. "The concept of Patch was not just to find a reporter and editor, it was to create a modern online platform to digitize the town."

Demand Media

richard_rosenblatt.jpgOverview: Demand Media seems to be headed towards a $1.5 billion IPO, proof positive enough for the many competitors who have since embraced its algorithmic approach to online content. This approach is necessary to achieve its daily production of 6,000 written and video-based pieces of content. CEO Richard Rosenblatt won't call the 10,000 people who produce content for Demand Studios journalists, but he believes Demand Media helps journalism by generating content and revenue for outlets that can "take that money to fund other reporting."

Chief revenue officer Joanne Bradford (formerly at Yahoo) has said that the company's immediate goal is to outgrow AOL and then Yahoo, but that might be just the beginning. Rosenblatt has said that the company's true goal is to publish the world's content. The similarities with Google, whose mission is to organize the world's information, don't end there: Google was the last technology company to break $1 billion in its IPO.

Brands: Demand Media's largest brand is eHow.com, home to 2 million "solutions" that reach more than 59 million people in the U.S. monthly. Other brands include Livestrong.com and Cracked.com. Demand Media is also the largest uploader to YouTube.

Platform: Demand Studios is Demand Media's content platform. After titles are generated by the Demand Media algorithm (described below) and reviewed by title proofers, they are submitted as potential assignments for Demand Media's network of freelance content producers. For more information about how Demand Studios' editorial workflow functions, check out this BuzzMachine post by Jeff Jarvis interviewing Steven Kydd, who oversees production of content on the Demand Studios platform.

Algorithm: The Demand Media algorithm, the most famous of its kind, received the fullest treatment to date in a Wired article published last fall. Kydd, the executive VP in charge of Demand Studios, explained the algorithm's purpose in a column published last December. "These algorithms help companies to predict this content will have an audience, an advertiser, and the ability to get traffic to an article or video before its creation," wrote Kydd. To accomplish this goal, the algorithm is fed data about what users are searching for or talking about on social networks, which keywords are being bought by advertisers, and what content is already available. Based on that information, the Demand Media algorithm generates bundles of keywords that are translated into meaningful headlines by a second algorithm called the Knowledge Engine. At that point, an editor proofs the headline and submits it as a potential assignment on the Demand Studios content platform.

Local: Demand Media has not entered the local content market.

Examiner.com

rick-blair_200x200.jpgOverview: With over 90,000 pieces of content published monthly, Examiner.com has filled out its 238 city sites and expanded its staff of "Examiners" to over 42,000. CEO Rick Blair told Forbes that he doesn't think the site is getting the respect its traffic deserves, especially when compared to less mature offerings like AOL's Patch initiative.

Brands: Examiner.com attracts more than 13 million people in the U.S. monthly to its domain, which generates geo-targeted content depending on the location from which the user is accessing the site. Each of the Examiner.com city sites is populated with locally relevant content and filled out with nationally relevant or "evergreen" content. Much of the branding on the site derives from the writers themselves, who have titles like New York Celebrity Dog Examiner" and Commercial Real Estate Examiner". The site refers to its writers as "Examiners" and they are compensated based on a formula that factors in things such as traffic and ad clicks. The company is frank about saying that being an Examiner is at best a part-time gig for the vast majority of people.

Platform: Examiner will soon launch a completely redesigned version of its website and content management system. It is moving to Drupal 7, and is currently training its Examiners on what to expect, and how to use the system. (More details about its training program will be featured in a subsequent report this week.)

Algorithm: Examiner does not use an algorithm to assign content. Each Examiner is expected to generate her own content within an assigned category.

Local: Examiner.com's main focus is local content, but Blair cautioned that, "We offer stories about the best bike trips in the city and where to go on the weekend. We're really not covering news."

Yahoo

Carol_Bartz.jpgOverview: Yahoo bought Associated Content for over $100 million this spring, some say as a step away from the high-cost content Yahoo was producing through a partnership with former NBC entertainment head Ben Silverman. The purchase greatly increased Yahoo's ability to produce content for its network. Associated Content had also been courted by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, an original investor in the company who was a college roommate of Associated Content founder Luke Beatty.

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz has had trouble identifying the company's mission, but it is reported to be preparing a new product strategy that will be released later this month. Expect it to focus on four main areas of content: Premium, social, crowdsourced, and original.

Brands: Yahoo's portal, Yahoo.com, reaches over 122 million people in the U.S. monthly. It also has popular verticals in a number of categories, including news and sports. AssociatedContent.com itself attracts more than 16 million people in the U.S. monthly.

Platform: The Associated Content platform is home to more than 380,000 contributors. In contrast to Demand Studios, contributors do not need to complete an application process to begin accepting assignments or submitting content. The Associated Content editorial staff, which unlike Demand Studios and Seed.com is not composed of freelancers, review more than 50,000 pieces of content each month.

Algorithm: Associated Content uses an algorithm to determine potentially profitable assignments, but hasn't said much about it publicly. However, with the influx of data from the Yahoo mothership, expect to see demand-driven content appear on an increasing number of Yahoo properties. Yahoo has already begun integrating demand data into the editorial practices of sites such as the Upshot, a new news blog run by Yahoo News.

Local: CEO Carol Bartz has said that Yahoo users want to see more local content, adding credence to rumors that Yahoo is preparing for a major push into the local content market.

More Reading

In addition to the articles linked above, here are a few more stories about next generation content companies:

Content Farms Compete With Book Publishers, Not News Sites at Advertising Age

Journalists Worried About Content Farms Are Missing The Point - The Web Has Always Been Filled With Crap at Techdirt

Content 'Farms' - Killing Journalism -- While Making a Killing at The Wrap

Jay Rosen Interviews Demand Media - Are Content Farms Demonic? at ReadWriteWeb

Google eyes Demand Media's way with words at Financial Times

The End Of Hand Crafted Content at TechCrunch

Inside the Examiner.com Purchase of NowPublic - Hyper-Local Media at BNET

Davis Shaver is MediaShift's editorial intern. He is also the founder and publisher of Onward State, an online news organization at Penn State. He studies history and the intersection of science, technology, and society.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

January 08 2010

17:48

Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV

From time to time, I'll give an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. I previously covered Twitter, citizen journalism, and alternative models for newspapers, among other topics. This week I look at cutting the cord to cable (or satellite) TV and watching TV content online.

Background

Anyone who gets cable TV or satellite in the U.S. has noticed a pronounced trend over the years: their monthly bill keeps going up. Sure, you can get lots of channels, plus HD channels and DVR functions, but those usually cost extra. According to research from Centris (PDF), the average digital cable bill was nearly $75 last year, and the average monthly satellite TV bill was $69.

What's causing those bills to skyrocket? A lack of competition among cable and satellite providers, and the rising costs of programming. The most recent programming dustup happened when News Corp. demanded carriage fees from Time Warner Cable, and settled before any channels were dropped. Time Warner is planning an upcoming rate hike. Like other traditional media, TV networks (both cable and broadcast) are being squeezed by lower advertising income, and think they can just keep raising the cable bills indefinitely.

Unfortunately for the cable TV industry, they've picked a bad time to raise their rates. Centris found in a separate report (PDF) that due to the economic meltdown, eight percent of U.S. households were likely to cancel their pay TV in the third quarter of '09, and nearly half of households contacted TV providers for discounts or cheaper packages.

Thanks to the rise of Netflix, Hulu and hardware like the Roku box and Apple TV, cutting the cord to cable TV doesn't mean cutting yourself off from your favorite shows and channels. While past experiments at bringing together the web and TV (such as WebTV) have failed, the recent recession has pushed people to pursue their own convergence projects that enable them to watch web content on their TV. Depending on various living room setups and viewing habits, making the changeover from cable to online TV can be complex and maddening. But you're sure to save a bundle of money.

Hardware and Services

The first thing to do when cutting the cord is list the shows you watch regularly, and your favorite TV channels. Next, do a little online research to find out whether those shows appear on the channel's streaming sites (such as NBC.com, CBS.com, etc.) or on Hulu or YouTube. Many shows on pay channels such as HBO don't appear until much later, and usually must be bought via a service such as iTunes.

In addition to what's available online, you might be surprised at the quality of over-the-air broadcast channels since the digital switch-over last year. Many newer TVs only require an antenna to get local broadcast channels, while older TVs need a converter box, which runs from $40 to $80. Plus, some of the programming includes HD content. To find out which digital channels you can get over the airwaves, input your location at the AntennaWeb site.

(Note: Broadcasters recently announced at CES that they would be offering "mobile DTV" so that people could pick up digital broadcast TV on laptops, smartphones and tablets.)

Below is a rundown of some of the more important elements to enjoying TV content via the web. You won't need to get all of them but you can mix and match those that will get you what you need. Most cable quitters find they can get about 95 percent of the TV content they used to watch on cable via the various services below.

Hardware

Roku
This is the box most cable quitters seem to like. It connects to your TV and your computer network, let's you watch Netflix streaming movies, and offers some free and pay options for additional content. It costs $79.99 for SD and $99.99 for an HD model.

AppleTV
It's basically a front-end device to iTunes, letting you download movies and music and play them through your TV. Problem: No TV tuner or DVR functionality.

Digital converter box
If you want to get the digital over-the-air stations in your area, you'll likely need an antenna for newer TVs or this box for older TVs. Cost: $40 to $80.

wdtv.jpg

WD TV
This small box connects your TV to an external hard drive, letting you play movies, TV shows, photos or music you have downloaded. The standard WD TV is about $79, while the WD TV Live that lets you watch Net content is $119.

eyeTV hybrid
It's a TV tuner for a Mac, letting you watch digital over-the-air channels on your Mac, or even on your iPhone with an extra $4.99 app. Cost: $149.95.

Game consoles
Netflix will let you play movies through your XBox 360 or PlayStation 3. There are also a wide variety of TV tuners and other devices that can turn game consoles into home entertainment systems.

Note: If you prefer simply connecting your computer directly to your TV set without any other hardware, you can do that, too. Here's a great video explaining how:

Services and Sites

Netflix
The granddaddy of the DVD-by-mail services, Netflix has also become a huge entryway for people who want to dump cable and get TV shows later when they're available on DVD. Netflix also offers unlimited streaming of some movies and TV shows, which works well with a Roku box or other Netflix-ready devices. Cost: $8.99/month for 1 DVD plus unlimited streaming, with various higher cost plans for more DVDs.

Hulu
The free U.S.-only TV show service is a joint venture between NBC Universal, Fox, and Disney. You are forced to watch commercials before and during TV shows and movies. While it has been an especially popular service for those dumping cable, there has been chatter that Hulu might charge for content at some point. Cost: Free (for now).

iTunes
Apple's poorly named digital media buying service started out selling music downloads. Then it added a podcast directory, and now sells TV shows and rents/sells movies. Downloading TV shows at $1.99 per episode can get pricey, though there are discounted "Season Passes" and some limited free TV show offers.

YouTube
The most popular video site on the web also can be accessed through various devices in order to view its content on your TV. These devices include the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and TiVo.

amazon on demand.jpg

Amazon on Demand
Trying to compete with Netflix and iTunes, Amazon offers quick downloads of various TV shows at similar prices to iTunes. They are playable on Macs or PCs, or on devices that connect your computer to your TV.

Boxee
Free software that helps you organize TV and movie content on your computer. Currently in beta, the Boxee software will soon come on a special Boxee Box from D-Link for under $200.

PlayOn
Windows software that lets you play Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. from your computer on your TV via a PlayStation 3, Wii or XBox 360. Cost: $39.99 after 14-day free trial.

BitTorrent
Popular free file-sharing software for people who trade TV show and movie files. You'll need to search your own conscience to decide whether to download copyrighted material from sites that utilize the torrent system.

Sample Setups

Here are a few sample setups of people who get TV content without subscribing to cable.

Roku + Netflix and Amazon

Who: CancelCable.com bloggers

Setup: Roku box that plays Netflix and Amazon content; digital TV converter box.

Quote: "Since we need to be more proactive and select shows from Netflix or Hulu, we read a lot more reviews and tend to sit down and watch complete movies rather than just switching around hundreds of channels."

eyetv setup.JPG

eyeTV + Mac Mini

Who: Dan Milbrath, product manager, San Francisco

Setup: eyeTV hybrid to get broadcast channels on a Mac Mini; projector for movies; Netflix.

Quote: "I'm intrigued by on-demand, online TV options like those being offered by Amazon and iTunes but I think the pricing is still a bit too steep. $1.99 for a one hour episode of 'Mad Men' is about double what I think they should charge."

AppleTV + PlayStation 3

Who: Leo Prieto, founder of online community BetaZeta.com, Santiego, Chile

Setup: AppleTV with iTunes and Boxee; PlayStation 3 playing BitTorrent content, podcasts.

Quote: "I spend less than $30 a month on content, and it's all stuff I decided to watch (and not just 'what was on' or 'what I remembered to record on my DVR'). I also have Boxee on the Apple TV installed, which lets me access lots of public and free podcasts or web shows that aren't available on Apple TV (all free and legal)."

Hulu + laptop

Who: Carla King, author and tech editor, Pt. Richmond, Calif.

Setup: Laptop watching Hulu; uses projector for some movies on Netflix or iTunes.

Quote: "The availability of content of all kinds on the Internet is a terrible distraction for me from tasks at hand and health in general. Whereas before I could cancel my magazine subscriptions and choose not to buy cable TV to keep myself on task with personal and professional goals, I find that today I need to develop my willpower to the utmost."

What's Missing

For many people, the biggest barrier to canceling cable is the loss of live sports. While MLB.com has a package of games you can stream online, and CBS has offered a popular March Madness on Demand stream, many other leagues have been slow on the uptake. Plus, there are often restrictions and blackouts with some online season pass deals. For example, the NBA League Pass Broadband does not include nationally or locally televised games. So if you're living in Boston, you won't be able to see Celtics games online if they are also on TV at the same time (whether they are home or away).

Leo Prieto.jpg

The same goes for other live events, such as awards shows. "Mainly, live TV content is impossible," said Leo Prieto, who gave up cable in 2005. "And most of that live TV content isn't available to download on iTunes later. For example, the Oscars or some sports event. In that case I have to go to BitTorrent and get the show afterwards. I would love iTunes or YouTube to offer live content."

Multimedia reporter Sean Mussenden is also living the cable-free life, and says he believes TVs will eventually come with direct Internet capabilities. He had an interesting take on how his discovery of programs changed without cable.

"When you rely on cable, the easy access to thousands of shows tends to limit your willingness to explore further," he said. "But there are far more options for informative and/or entertaining content beyond cable. Not having having cable has made me more willing to explore. For example, at the moment I'm really enjoying watching talks on Ted.com and MIT's OpenCourseWare. I don't think I'd have discovered either of them if I still had cable."

In many cases, people who have canceled cable still get to see their favorite TV shows, but often much later than those with cable. If they can deal with being a bit behind, and don't mind the tech hassle of setting up a Net-to-TV connection with gear, they're often happy to save money and watch what they want.

More Reading

If you want to read more about cutting the cable TV cord, check out these sites and stories:

CancelCable.com

Cable Freedom Is a Click Away at NY Times

You Don't Need Satellite TV When Times Get Tough at News.com

Cancel Cable and Save with Free Internet TV at Digital Trends

Ways To Watch TV Without Paying An Arm And A Leg For Cable Or Satellite at Bible Money Matters

Turn On, Tune Out, Click Here at WSJ (paid subscription required)

Cancel Cable TV by Paul Kedrosky

Cable TV's Big Worry: Taming the Web at NY Times

Who Will Win the Cable Wars? Not You. at Slate

Broadcast TV Networks Want Your Money at The Atlantic

More Fees For Broadcasters Could Hurt Cable Networks' Growth at Dow Jones

Why the Roku Netflix Player Is the First Shot of the Revolution at NY Times

Netflix Agrees To Warner's New Release Delay In Exchange For More Streaming Rights at PaidContent

*****

Have I missed any important elements to cutting the cord? Have you cut the cord and if so, what's your setup? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and I'll update my story with any gear or services I missed.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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