Giving Cable TV The (Not-So) Hard Goodbye: A guide to cord-cutting
Last week I finally pulled the trigger on something that has been debated, considered and argued over in my household for the past 3-4 years (my wife may say longer): We finally cut the cord on Cable TV!! While I don’t watch a lot of TV, I was always the holdout in talks with my wife about finally cutting the cord.
I’m not the easiest at embracing change, so as a defensive mechanism I often would make excuses like giving an expiration date on our TiVo service commitment a bit further out than it really was or put a lot more stock into a show that I was mostly indifferent over.
However, continued negotiations for HBO pricing with our cable provider and routinely changing fees and service charges I was more ready to make the change now than I was 2 or 3 years ago. After all, things aren’t quite the same as they were back when cord-cutting started to pick up momentum with customers and some of our friends. So while this isn’t anywhere close to being an innovative or even new and exciting guide, this is more or less what I’ve discovered a week into cutting the cord.
Streaming Channel Apps
This is the harbinger to the end of set top boxes and perhaps physical DVRs. Dish Network’s Sling TV, DirecTV’s DirecTVNOW, Playstation’s Vue and upcoming services by YouTube and Hulu all allow a no-contract streaming package. For $20-$40 monthly you can get 30 or so channels that you can stream live to your devices or to a TV device such as a Fire TV or Chromecast. There are a few differences between these plans such as lineups and some will offer a Cloud DVR and others currently will not. The perk of course, is no equipment is needed such as a dish or a cable box. The downside is you’re just paying for cable still if you really think about it but with less fluff and at maybe at a cheaper price. Fortunately, they all seem to offer a free trial period to try before you buy, but like all free trials, you’re going to want to make sure you cancel ahead of time. Some do also offer a streaming device like a Chromecast or a Fire TV stick if you forgo the trial and pull the trigger and pre-pay for a month, so it might be worth paying what you would for one of those devices and get a month of channels at the very least. Otherwise you can utilize devices you already own like a laptop, phone or tablet to use the services.
Netflix, Prime and Hulu
Largely Netflix can probably be thanked for the cord-cutter movement. Amazon has gotten into the game as well and Hulu Plus has started working on original programming, this is probably what 90% of those looking to cutting the cord are subscribed to. Over the last few years, Netflix has shifted from a video store replacement to having a rich library of original programming. Shows like Stranger Things, Jessica Jones, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and more have been binge-worthy for me over the last year.
Amazon’s Prime Library may not have the rich library that Netflix does but a subscription to Prime is now starting to go beyond free 2-day shipping to having some great content as a perk. The Grand Tour was one of 2016’s most talked about (and pirated) shows. Other offerings such as The Man in the High Castle and upcoming shows like a live-action series based on The Tick show promise. If you shop online the annual $99 price tag pays for itself by countering shipping fees…or you can look at it as paying a little under $10/month but with paying upfront.
Hulu is more network-based but shows like The Handmaiden’s Tale is getting some attention so I expect them to ramp up the original programming sooner than later. Subscriptions will vary by service and options.
The one Achilles heel that kept many chained to their cable package has overwhelmingly been the lack of being able to watch sports without a TV subscription. Fortunately that has changed in recent years.
With the fail-safe of catching Football with Over The Air (OTA) on Sundays, it looks like users can now get their Monday Night Football fix with ESPN becoming available on some of the streaming channel services above and there’s been some indication that ESPN may eventually offer a monthly subscription without cable. Other services are available to watch sports vary by league.
Amazon also reached a Thursday Night Football deal with the NFL to stream the Thursday Night Football games for Prime subscribers. So what once was a hard “Con” on the Pros and Cons to Cord-cutting, it seems it’s starting to look less like a problem.
Al la Carte Channel Apps
HBO released HBONOW last year and for the first time made HBO available without having a cable subscription. Their prior app HBOGO allowed streaming of their programming and the movies they currently have the broadcast rights to but you had to log in with a TV provider account. Fortunately now for $15/month you can get it without a subscription. In addition, Sling and DirecTVNOW has options to add it onto their service (DirecTVNOW currently offers it at a low $5/month). Other channels may start going this direction as well. StarzPlay and WWE Network offers a similar option and some channels like CBS All Access have a low monthly subscription (which I *might* try when Star Trek Discovery finally comes out in a few years but $5/month is kinda pointless just to watch a episode of Big Bang Theory that’ll be in syndication reruns forever).
Some channels are semi-there such as Comedy Central which will allow you to watch recent episodes of Daily Show and South Park without a subscription but a TV provider log in is required to watch other shows like Drunk History or Nathan For You. Others are fully locked out or just reduced to clips without a sign-in from your TV provider. I suspect that these may eventually go the route of HBONOW or WWE Network.
With Friends Like These…
Probably the CHEAPEST and possibly easiest way to really cut the cord and get everything is via the buddy system. Shared passwords for services from a friend or family member can cost anywhere from splitting a fraction of their bill to just hooking them up with a free beer or dinner once a month (or just trading access like Prime for Netflix). Some apps like Sling will set a screen limit while others don’t currently have any sort of enforcement in place. This could hypothetically be the cheapest route to ending the monthly cable bills.
Mindless TV Streaming & DVR
During the week there’s some days that I’m just going to be unproductive AF. I find even a 10 minute dinner to make to be a large pain in the ass. I just want to unplug. So mindless TV has been a comforting atmosphere for those long workdays and picking a title on Netflix just didn’t have the same feel to it. Fortunately there are a few free apps like PlutoTV that looks and feels like an alternate TV plan but it streams internet channels ranging from SkyNews live feeds to music videos, old pro wrestling PPVs, or stand-up comedy. The free live streaming apps are mostly news, but that’s a start. There’s always OTA which depending where you live and the location of your antenna, you may get anywhere from the 4 network channels to 20+ channels in HD.
The DVR on the other hand was probably the sole thing that kept me with our cable and was probably the hardest thing to let go of. Having been a TiVo supporter for 12+ years, I opted to use their DVR rather than what came with my cable subscription. TiVo as well as some other companies do offer a OTA DVR with no monthly fee, but the one time cost of the device is nearly $400. In addition as a last save option the cable provider did offer me local channels for $12 with no antenna and I could have kept my Tivo plan at $15/month to retain the DVR but it would have cut my saving gap in half and save for maybe The Goldbergs , Bob’s Burgers and Agents of Shield, there’s really no conflict in watching those shows and they appear on the Network’s app to watch free. So unfortunately that was the end of the DVR for us, however like mentioned above some of the streaming “cable plans” like Sling and YouTube TV will have a cloud DVR (Hulu is still TBA on details but is expected to release in May).
Taking that first step to cord-cut is a little bit of an adjustment to do. I’ve had cable for most of my life so it’s kinda like not eating a food that would be in a weekly or biweekly rotation in your diet. It’s a change but maybe for the better. Technology has changed a lot ways things are done. Video games went from slumber parties to online multiplayer sessions, Internet no longer gets knocked off if someone picked up the land line phone, and now you don’t even need cable or satellite to watch TV! Plus, if I ever “miss” TV, there’s now an app for that without any boxes! There’s also some areas I haven’t explored like Plex where I could even eliminate my DVDs…but I want a library so that’s all talk. Overall what I’ve experienced thus far, I am pretty good with our choice. I’m also glad that our monthly bill is much more predictable and about $50 cheaper now as well.
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