A Lakewood Lens

For the first time in my life, I feel like my mother. She gets overwhelmed by having to press anything with buttons, including vacuum cleaners and microwaves. Like her, I stand in front of my TV now and mutter under my breath, “What in the heck does this thing do here?”

I am so overwhelmed by my television set that I barely watch it anymore. I turn it on, and I’m suddenly faced with a choice of 1,800 movies and another 1,000 channels. By the time I find the local weather, they’ve already moved onto sports. My television can rewind programs, fast forward through commercials and do somersaults, I think.

For many years, I was overjoyed with all of the choices and options that poured out of my television set. You can’t grow up with three channels and not be amazed that in these modern times you don’t have to switch antennas to watch Mr. Rogers. But I’m beginning to wonder if 2,800 choices gives us too much of a good thing.

What interests me lately is a phenomenon called “Zero TV” which points to a certain sector of the population that has (in case you haven’t guessed) zero television sets in their homes.

I’m sure that seems preposterous to some. It’s almost like living without a kitchen sink or a set of forks.

My daughter happens to be a proud member of this trend. After moving to California and overcoming sticker shock at apartment prices, she and her roommates decided they would live without cable. Instead, they use their computers to watch their favorite shows and no one seems to be suffering.

When you consider that the average cable bill has tripled in the last 10 years, and that half the households in America report some level of financial hardship, you can see why people are looking for alternatives. And here’s the truth: Cable companies can pretty much charge whatever they want, and the only thing that’s going to change that is more competition.

Who are these no-television renegades beyond poor college graduates? They’re people who are fed up with $100 a month cable bills, or have decided they can’t afford cable at all. They don’t even elect to have an antenna to get free signals over the air. They’re folks who are watching movies and shows on the Internet, and they tend to be younger and without children. The Nielsen Co. estimates there are 5 million of these residences in the U.S., and the number is growing.

The Zero TV trend is starting to worry broadcasters, who make money by relaying programming in traditional ways. They know that popular series and shows are available on iTunes and Amazon or HBO2Go, or ABC.com, and millions of people are electing to gain control over their own television viewing habits and catch their favorite shows when and where they want to. And rather than be empowered by 1,000 channels, these folks are empowered by the money they save by opting out of expensive packages from satellite or cable.

I’ve found myself watching more video content on my computer tablet or laptop, especially series that are released when a season has aired its last episode. “Downton Abbey,” the PBS series that enthralled viewers nationwide, was the bestselling TV series on iTunes last year, according to Apple. What that means is that a whole lot of people were purchasing and watching the series on their computers, smartphones or tablets rather than watching it on TV.

And if a computer screen is too small for you, don’t despair. Both Google Inc. and Apple Inc. sell boxes that bring Internet content to the TV, along with movies from rental services like Netflix, which charges less than $10 a month. TV makers are starting to build Internet access into their sets, too, and don’t rule out antennae’s which after purchase bring in plenty of free programming – including programs in high definition.

This all might sound a little daunting, but a good consumer is an informed consumer. It might be worth a little under-the-breath-muttering to save a little money and join a trend.