'Cord Cutting' Revives Debate on Christians Viewing TV

Could a mini-trend in a sour economy change the way Christians approach television?

For decades, Christians have debated television's place in believers' lives. Positions on the subject range from strictly anti-television to those who embrace pop culture as a matter of Christian liberty. Many Christians are caught in the middle of these extremes. They remain uncomfortable with the sexual content and coarseness on television, but don't want to cut themselves off from the positive things television offers, such as family movies, educational and Christian television, sports, and news.

A new trend called "cord cutting" could provide a solution. Cord cutting drops cable or satellite subscriptions in favor of Over the Top (OTT) video alternatives such as Netflix. Informa Media research found 426,000 Americans canceled their cable or satellite services in 2010. Informa expects nearly three million cable and satellite subscribers in North America to drop their services by 2015.

In a poor economy, the savings from eliminating pay TV has fueled the cord-cutting phenomena. Cord cutter Lindsay Tipton told the Sanford Herald in North Carolina that replacing their cable TV with Netflix is saving her family $90 a month.

Additionally, she stated that cord cutting has changed the way her family watches TV. "We watch things we are actually interested in instead of just watching TV because it's on. And yes, it used to be on all the time. It's nice to have more quiet and more conversation now."

For Christians concerned with television content, the OTT services offer a mixed bag. The Hulu Plus service is relatively new and has few options for family viewing. Netflix has a wide selection of older and family programs available for online viewing and a large collection of Christian and Family DVDs, but also offers objectionable content.

In addition to these general services, a few do cater to Christians. ChristianCinema.com has its own DVD Rental by Mail program, which focuses exclusively on Christian and Family DVDs. SkyAngel, formerly a provider of Christian Satellite Television, now provides television service over Broadband, offering more than 50 faith-based channels. It optionally provides access to over 20 mainstream channels that Skyangel has identified as family friendly, such as Fox News and the NFL Network.

Free resources are available as well. Most public libraries offer a selection of DVDs. Also, several thousand family friendly public domain television shows, movies, and old time radio programs can be downloaded at no cost from the Internet Archive.

Cord cutting will not work for everyone. CNet.com columnist David Katzmeier experimented with cord cutting in late 2010 and only lasted for a month. Katzmeier missed the functionality of a DVR and found streaming video to be cumbersome by comparison. He was further frustrated by black out rules that made it impossible to follow his local sports teams through online video. Some of the television programs Katzmeier wanted to watch had to be bought off Amazon at a cost of $1.99 an episode, thus mitigating some of his savings from canceling his cable subscription.

Another factor to consider is that in many churches, there has been a focus of using pop cultural messages and images to communicate the gospel. What then of Christians who use new technology to limit the culture's influence in their homes? Will knowing less about the culture around them hinder their ability to communicate with non-Christians?

Some will point towards Paul's Mars Hill sermon in Acts 17 as proof that understanding the culture around you allows you to communicate with that culture. Others, meanwhile, will insist that there are ways to speak to common experience without having to appeal to modern Hollywood's excesses.

This will continue to be a hot topic in decades to come as new technology presents Christian parents new options on how to deal with this old question of the place of television in their home.