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Cutting the cable: More switching to online-only TV viewing

Katie Spooner of Fargo got rid of her cable television service and now does all her television watching on her laptop. Chris Franz / The Forum

FARGO - Katie Spooner was always busy when her favorite TV shows aired.

"I would always end up watching them online anyway to catch up," the 23-year-old says.

So about a year ago, finished with college and tight on funds, she got rid of her cable television service.

Spooner now does all her television watching on her laptop, paying $8 a month for Hulu Plus, a subscription service to the website, which offers on-demand streaming video, as well as for a Netflix subscription.

"It's so easy online," Spooner says. "You don't have to wait for a certain time. Before, I kind of made sure I was home in time for 'Grey's Anatomy' or made sure I was home for 'Glee.' "

Now Spooner can watch these shows any time day or night, though she says she's had a hard time waiting a week for episodes of Fox's reality series "So You Think You Can Dance."

Spooner says her TV-viewing habits haven't really changed since cutting her cable, and she still describes herself as "so addicted to TV."

"I watch just as much TV. I guess it's on less in the background," she says. "Before, I would just have the TV on for background noise. Now I just won't put the TV on for noise. I find shows I want to pay attention to and watch."

Spooner embodies a growing trend among adults ages 18 to 34, according to a first-quarter 2011 report by The Nielson Company: Those who watch the most content online tend to watch less TV.

However, not all people are willing to make the leap to all streaming - also called over-the-top - content like Spooner has. The Nielsen report found 91 percent of households still paid for a TV subscription.

But a report by research firm SNL Kagan found paid TV subscriptions fell for the first time ever in the second quarter of 2010, as cable and satellite companies lost 216,000 customers. Analysts at SNL Kagan pointed to economic factors like high unemployment more so than over-the-top content.

Scott Geston, general manager of CableOne in Fargo, says he hasn't seen people canceling subscriptions due to increased streaming options like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and network websites.

"We're seeing more of a static universe," Geston says, noting that cable subscriptions have stayed relatively flat while the data and telephone portions of the business have been growing.

He also says TV networks have started realizing the value of the original broadcast and are not offering the most recent offerings online.

Fox broadcasting recently said only paying subscribers of Hulu or Dish Network Corp. will be able to watch new episodes of its shows online. Nonpaying viewers must wait eight days to see them on free websites.

Tom Simmons, senior vice president of public policy of Midcontinent Communications, also says that the cable, Internet and phone provider hasn't seen a lot of cases of customers canceling their cable service.

"People are still very much interested in receiving the programming in a timely manner," Simmons says, describing streamed content as "ancillary."

And both Simmons and Geston point out that their companies offer the sort of broadband Internet needed to watch this sort of content.

Spooner does miss some things about traditional TV - commercials advertising movies and local businesses and being able to stumble upon local news broadcasts. And now she and her boyfriend have to seek out shows they both like instead of watching whatever's on.

Joe Ketterling, a 27-year-old personal trainer from Fargo, stopped paying

for cable about two years ago when he switched apartments. He watches Hulu Plus and Netflix programming on his television using a Roku video-streaming receiver box.

"The times I miss (cable) is when there's a good Twins game on," Ketterling says. "That's what radio's for, I guess."

But all in all, Ketterling loved the switch.

"I watch more of the shows I want to watch instead of doing the surfing thing," he says.

One recent weekend, Ketterling watched the fifth season of "Dexter," a Showtime series that will debut Season 6 in October.

"I watched it on my time versus when it was scheduled to be out," Ketterling says.

He says it doesn't bother him to wait for programming to show up on Netflix or Hulu. Though he says he does tend to watch movies more now than TV shows.

"On weeknights, I can go out and do something," he says. "It no longer became TV dictated my schedule. I dictated the TV schedule.

"You can start and play it whenever you want."

And he adds, "You don't have to pay the super-expensive cable fees."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556