Living without the dish: our family’s video-on-demand experiment

Two months ago, my family moved house. Our satellite dish was left on the roof of the old house. Since the move, we’ve been living without a dish, resulting in a purely video-on-demand lifestyle.

So how important is TV for you and your kids? And what happens when conventional satellite TV is absent?

Every family is different, of course. And no two family members are alike. When it come to TV, I am the wrong person to talk to. For almost a decade now, my average TV time has not exceed an hour a month, if not less. That doesn’t mean I don’t watch DVDs or other video content on YouTube, Ikbis, Facebook and so on. It’s just I don’t watch conventional TV.

Things are different for my wife. She too is not a TV freak. But she watches more TV than me.

As for the kids, well, it’s different. They do watch a good amount of TV programming, although video games and online games have been part of their entertainment for years.

So what happened when the dish disappeared.

A few month ago, I got the family an Apple TV. I hooked it up to our aging (non LCD) TV. With an account provided by my brother who lives in Germany, I downloaded a couple of seasons of old TV shows (from the 1970s actually, one of them is what we know in Arabia as Zeina wa Nahhoul) and also subscribed to a couple of video podcasts: a science/invention show targeted at kids and another science/discovery/common interest show targeted at general audiences (our family is Arab/German bilingual, so these shows where in German).

Another key thing I did was to hack the Apple TV to run an amazing media center application called Boxee. This application not only brings a wealth of web video content to the living room, but also streams videos from the computers hooked up to the home network (preferably over a wired ethernet network and not over wifi, which also works but is less reliable).

Needless to say, we have a pretty large collection of children DVDs (and you know that kids watch their favorite movies a hundred times!).

What happened was quite remarkable.

My kids enjoy watching the science and learning podcast daily. They watch some of the downloaded episodes several times. They do that unassisted (lead by my 11 year old son). In the evening they come and tell us all kinds of stories: How knives are manufactured. How pizza was invented. Hygiene measures in swimming pools and on and on it goes.

My eldest son even watches some TED Talks with me, which I watch on Boxee. (If you don’t know TED Talks, it’s just the most inspiring content on the planet!)

For myself, I have a small library of high quality TV shows downloaded on my harddisk (Grand Design, an AMAZING show about people who build extraordinary houses. Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares) as well as some movies. Streaming them from my laptop to the TV screen with ease, via Boxee, is just a great experience.

My wife and I follow the news via the daily newspapers and the web of course.

YouTube is also a source of entertainment and information for the whole family. Recently my kids got into making folded paper airplanes and they’ve watched a lot of videos telling them how to make them

The bottom line: no one really missed satellite TV. The quality of video content my kids have been consuming is enriching their knowledge. I’ve been using the TV set more than before to watch my favorite content (and not the arguing heads on Al Jazeera!).

I even watched the Michael Jackson memorial thing.. Live! On the New York Times’ website!

The only downside was that we ran out of internet bandwidth as we consumed the 20GB cap on our 8Mbit Orange connection.

After reading about this experiment, you might be surprised when you know that three new satellite dishes are being installed on our roof as I write this! My father in law decided to get them installed for us as a gift :-) And I think my wife doesn’t mind. I too foresee the need to have satellite TV for following major sporting events (World Cup, Olympics, Uefa Cup basically) and the occasional news broadcast.

Once I get a flat screen TV and an HD receiver some time in the future, the dish on the roof would also make some sense.

Nonetheless, this experiment was an eye opener. Once satellite TV is back, I really want to make sure that my kids continue to watch useful content on the Apple TV. And Boxee will remain my best friends for the months and years to come.


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14 Responses to “Living without the dish: our family’s video-on-demand experiment”

  1. Heba Says:

    We actually did the same experiment 3 years ago when we moved to our new house and our family survived without a dish for 8 months!!
    The results were amazing, our kids started watching DVDs occasionally instead of staring aimlessly at kids channels one program after the other!
    We had more time together, kids started spending time drawing painting and simply playing!
    and as you said it was an eye opener to all of us, you feel the whole aura and energy of your house is transformed when TV stops becoming the center of the house and the main pillar of the family’s activities.

  2. yeah Says:

    i’ve been thinking the exact same thing: “conventional TV” is a dying thing.
    i used to watch some TV before, at least an hour a day. then i moved to London, did not get a TV but, i stream most shows online. although i would think that products like Boxee can be more practical, but i do my own internet search and can find almost anything i want with okay quality. Youtube is one source but now you can find many streaming websites, from the Simpsons, CSI, Family Guy and Frasier, to CBS 60 Minutes, Brainiac and even Aramram.
    i like this tv-free life style. in fact, last week a friend visited me from Jordan and he was staying in a fancy hotel in an Arab area of London (the most luxurious areas) of course his work paid for it, anyway, he had his TV on and i couldn’t stand it, six months wthout it made me think its too,, hmmm 3ajga, although the volume was low, but it made me uncomfortable. now i like the quietness of no tv and the ability to choose what you want to see..
    in my opinion, broadcast TV is out..

  3. Omar Says:

    I’m a jordanian university student studying abroad. I can honestly say that not watching T.V as much as I used to back home directly affects you and your outlooks. Instead of being a couch potato and watching T.V I know spend part of my free time reading or watching inspirational/educational videos online, mainly from ted.com It’s quite funny how watching T.V can have such an effect on you.

  4. Mohd Khawaja Says:

    Interesting & valuable experience to share!

    I think Satellite TV is no longer adding value to our kids.. There should be an external resource to empower their brains instead of the content of “Junk TV” displayed on Satellite channels !

  5. kinzi Says:

    We’ve never had traditional TV in our home. In the evenings, we do what your kids did, watch DVDs of old favorites (even Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie, Bill Cosby, National Geographic Specials, plus the movies)and a lot of projects from the internet.

    They play LOTR Risk, a rail road strategy game, card games, and are getting Axis and Allies for Christmas (don’t tell)

    (Project Boy has been eating up those paper airplane instructional You Tubes, too, coincidently).

  6. Basem Says:

    Since i moved back to Amman, i lived up to what i’ve been preaching a TV-less home (almost). I have a net-top (an ASUS EEE-Box), a Nintendo Wii and a PS3 as the only providers of “content” to the TV set.

    The premise was to have the net-top as a hub for all our family photos, home videos and the ocational streaming from Youtube, the solution is clunky at best, and it is with no comparison with Apple TV; as maneuvering menus with wireless mouse and keyboard is not that easy!

    The Youtube part was solved as i updated the Wii Opera browser, which now supports flash and enables Youtube; a lighter version of Youtube that fits the Wii’s “light” browser… it’s perfect.

    As for the PS3, i bought it for the sole reason of watching Planet Earth in HD, and ended up becoming an action-adventure game junky, but after getting over the buzz, i discovered that I can use the machine as a hub for all the stuff that i have! It sniffs anything from a networked media server (including the 3 laptops at home and the poor net-top) and it’s also coming about nicely.

    And if you have a Barny-obsessed kid, that basically renders all the above obsolete, because that’s what you will be watching over and over….

  7. Andrew Kippen Says:

    Ahmad, marhaaba from San Francisco and Boxee’s West Coast HQ (which consists of just me).

    I’m glad to hear your experiment went so well, and these are exactly the kinds of experiences we’re trying to enable at Boxee… one where you’re in control of what you watch and it seems like you’ve actually stumbled across an interesting use case – restricting what your kids watch based on the apps you install for them.

    We’ve been working hard to add really unique content to Boxee recently and given that you love TED talks, you should check out the FORA.TV app on Boxee – lots of interesting speeches, lectures, and panels on every topic under the sun.

    I spent time last May in Amman, Petra, Jerash, Wadi-Rum, and the Dead Sea with a good friend of mine from Amman so I’m glad to hear that Jordanians are using Boxee : )

    Now we just need to talk to Orange and get that bandwidth cap eliminated…

  8. Ghassan Yonis Says:

    That’s one subject I’ve been very interested in since a long time!

    1. As you said, one thing, is the internet bandwidth, which is effecting the whole concept of video on demand from taking over traditional TV, on a wider level at least.

    2. You have to search for every thing, while with TV, every thing is provided to you on a silver plate, provided you watch them commercials (or pay the fees in case of paid TV channels).

    3. Other than searching for what you want, with VOD, you’ll get overwhelmed with many options to choose from, sure, you’ll get the same issue with TV now a days with hundreds of satellite channels around, but you can choose few “favorite” TV station to provide you with selected shows of your liking.

    I do believe VOD is the future, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes as popular as regular TV.

  9. shalabieh Says:

    Ahmed, Ive been living without TV for four years and its the best thing that Ive done. Ive found myself enjoying more books, doing different things and going out more and meeting people.

    I really think that TV sucks the life out of you and numbs the mind.

    Congratulations on taking control over the situation and choosing what your kids see.

    Happy demanding :)

    S.

  10. steve austin Says:

    I agree with that living without dish is not possible for a person who has important of tv and entertainment in his life.
    A true post.

  11. Mustafa Says:

    I tried living this experience few years ago when i was living in Jordan but i had to give it up because of the low bandwidth cap.

    Now I’m living where there are no bandwidth limits, i get to enjoy this experience again and Boxee is making it more natural and accessible.

  12. ameen Says:

    Lovely post Ahmad. Enjoyed learning about every detail of your “experiment”.

    Shame, though, that with the current download quota this remains an option with very limited potential.

  13. tero Says:

    orange to remove the caps??? keep dreaming
    you guys propably understand english, but for me i cant watch movies without arabic subtitles :D

  14. tero Says:

    by the way i heard a new ISP called Stream will open in jordan.
    they have same orange prices same speeds, and no caps. but im sure they will put caps once they have more costumers and traffic.
    we all know the TE Data story.

    more info:
    http://www.stream.jo

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