So we finally did it. We plunged in head first. After months of debating, I found the sharpest pair of scissors I could find and cut our cable cord.
Ok, not literally.
But for all intents and purposes, the result was pretty much the same. No more live TV in this household.
It happened a few weeks ago and was far from an impulse decision. I had read other articles about the advantages and disadvantages, and speculated about what we will and won’t be able to watch online. But when it was all said and done, there’s a lot to be learned from the decision and process. If you’re considering hopping into the increasingly crowded wagon of people leaving cable behind, here’s what you need to know.
Part 1: Free TV?!
Raise your hand if you knew there was a way to get local channels for free, in HD, sent directly to your television set.
Put your hand down you liar.
Most cable companies will charge you at least $15/month for local channels (plus whatever you have to pay to “rent” their cable box). But you can purchase a digital antenna that plugs directly into your TV and get the same channels with no monthly fee.
We decided to go with the Leaf Amplified Indoor HDTV antenna. Based on feedback and details on their website it seemed like a good fit.
One of the big advantages of the Leaf is (as seen above), it’s fairly easy to hide. It’s almost paper thin, and apparently can be painted to match the color of your walls.
I originally thought “I’ll just hide it behind the TV”…. Wrong. Placement of this thing really does matter.
At the moment, we only get 3 of the 20 channels that we’re supposed to get, and that was AFTER I moved the antenna around the room to find the best place to put it. I reached out to the company that makes the antenna to see if there was anything we could do, and I got the following response:
I did the reading of you location based off of the information provided and unfortunately you are not in a very good spot to receive OTA (over the air) signals. This is most likely due to a terrain issue (hills, slopes, elevations, etc.) between your location and the broadcast towers.
Sooooo, there’s that.
Now other people have seemed to have more success with the same antenna, so I wouldn’t discount it entirely. If you want to see what sort of channels you should get based on your location, you can check out this website (as recommended by the antenna company):
Yes, the website is called “tvfool”. Go figure.
There is a white knight off in the distance, a company called Aereo. They install their own antennas in cities and then stream live local channels to you over the internet. Granted, you need to have a membership with them ($8 per month) and they aren’t available in all cities yet. But they seem to be spreading quickly, and at $8 per month are still much cheaper than the $15 that cable companies are charging (plus the “fee” to rent their cable boxes).
Part 2: The new content provider: The internet.
Cutting the cord doesn’t mean that you can’t still watch your favorite shows on that fancy schmacy TV of yours. It just means that you need to find other ways to do it
There are a number of set-top replacements out there. We’ve been AppleTV users for a few years now, but there are other products on the market like Roku which offer similar experiences.
AppleTV, basically a box that’s a little larger than a hockey puck, plugs directly into your TV and connects to the internet (either by plugging it in, or via WiFi). It includes a number of “apps” that allow you to watch content from a variety of providers.
The top “apps” that we use for watching TV?
For roughly $8 per month, you get unlimited access to all of the TV shows and movies that are in their streaming library.
Pros: A pretty substantial backlog of movies, and they’re constantly adding new content. TONS of stuff for the kids as well. Some of their original series, like House of Cards and Arrested Development, are better than anything on cable. No commercials.
Cons: Want to catch a current TV season? You’re SOL my friend. Netflix seems to only make shows available once they’re available on DVD.
If Netflix is the king of movies, Hulu is the Queen of current TV. Hulu charges roughly $8 per month as well, and gives you access to a slew of TV shows, typically the day after they air on cable.
Pros: If you’re willing to wait less than 24 hours, Hulu provides “current” television shows with a fraction of the commercials. Considering you can start and stop shows, and pickup where you left off on mobile devices, it’s better than the majority of DVRs that are currently available.
Cons: Not all television networks are available.
Yes, that YouTube. Recent set top boxes make it easy to stream your favorite YouTube clips, channels, and concerts directly to your TV for free.
Pros: 50 inch cat videos!
Cons: 50 inch dog videos! Just kidding.
Apple’s Built in TV and Movie “Apps”
Thanks to its connection with the iTunes Movie, TV, and Music stores, you can instantly stream any purchases that you make directly to your television.
Pros: Bye bye DVDs. We now purchase new movies directly through our TV, and they’re always available to watch whenever we want. You can also rent new movies with a single click. Television “Season Passes” allow you to purchase an entire season worth of shows and they’re made available the day after they air on TV.
Cons: There’s no way to convert and store your personal movies in the cloud.
With these “apps” alone, 90% of what we’d typically watch on cable we can still watch at a fraction of the price.
Part 3: Play ball!
Or not! Live sports (or the lack thereof) are one of the biggest things that keeps people from cutting the cord, and cable companies know it. People may be willing to watch television shows a few hours later, or read their news online, but watching sporting events after they occur just doesn’t cut it. So how does one watch live sports without cable?
You may have noticed the “Watch ESPN”, “NBA”, “MLB” and “NHL” apps that are featured in the AppleTV picture above. Don’t get too excited (unless you’re a baseball fan).
ESPN requires that you have cable in order to use their app, and although the NBA and NHL apps offer to bring you “every game” as part of their paid subscriptions, they blackout local games if they’re being offered on cable. So as much as I’d be willing to pay the NHL to catch my favorite team, as long as their games are available to watch locally, I’m SOL.
The lone holdout appears to be Major League Baseball, who will apparently allow you to watch any game, whether it’s being broadcast locally or not. I wish other leagues would take notice and follow their lead.
But what about other sports like football, NCAA basketball, or football (the european variety, aka “soccer”)?
CBS has made some recent upgrades to their mobile applications so that more sporting events (like NCAA March Madness, the PGA Tour, and select NCAA football games) are available for free. Major League Soccer (MLS) also has an app that will allow you to watch all of the games on your mobile device (for an annual fee). And if you have an Airplay enabled device (i.e. if you have an iPhone or iPad) you can wirelessly stream content from your mobile device to your AppleTV so you can watch games on the big screen.
Otherwise, that’s it. There seems to be some recent pushback on the cable companies, so hopefully we see more sports content outside of their restricted plans very soon.
One can only hope.
Part 4: The numbers
So say that you’ve gotten through everything above and you’ve determined that either: A) it’s worth considering dropping cable, or B) you’d just like to save a little cash each month. How much cash are we talking about? I can’t speak for every situation, but I can speak for my own. So here it goes:
We had a plan with Verizon that included cable and internet and costed us roughly $120 per month. The advertised price was $99, but after fees and renting their cable box, etc we found ourselves at $120. Funny.
The trick is that you’ll need to have internet if you plan on streaming content to your TV, so we’re really only interested in dropping the cable.
I was able to get a price of $60 per month to retain the same internet that we have now. So right away we have a savings of $60 per month.
$120 (cable + internet) – $60 (internet alone) = $60 savings per month
Now if you factor in a monthly $8 subscription for both Netflix and Hulu, that brings our new savings to…
$60 (total savings) – $8 (Netflix) – $8 (Hulu) = $44 savings per month
So that’s $528 per year in savings!
Now say that there are certain TV shows that you and your family can’t live without, and you can’t find them on Hulu or Netflix. As I mentioned above, you can purchase full seasons of shows from Apple for roughly $30 per season. How many TV shows could you purchase from Apple and still pay less than what you would with cable?
$528 (total savings) / ($30 per television season) = approx 17 shows!
I find it hard to imagine that people watch 17 different shows on a weekly basis, IN ADDITION to what’s already available on Netflix and Hulu.
So there you have it. Even if you purchase a few seasons here and there you’ll still end up saving DRASTICALLY over what you pay each year for cable.
Part 5: Bargain with the Devil
Ok, so you’ve made it this far and you’re sold on making the switch. Now comes the fun part: dealing with the very people who will stop at nothing to keep you from switching: the cable companies.
One of the first ploys of the cable company will be to try to tell you that you can eliminate some of your channels, but because of your introductory package you’ll end up paying the same amount that you do now. Ignore them and press on.
The next ploy will be to offer you a reduced package, where you get the same channels you do now, plus some premium ones, all at a $10 discount. These discounts are only temporary and they won’t tell you how much you’ll ACTUALLY pay unless you ask them. Keep pressing on.
Another ploy will be to offer you an internet package that has “blazing speeds”. One quick thing about internet speeds, they’re mostly indicated by a “50/15” or “15/5” or something like that. The first number is how many megabytes per second you can download, and the second is how many megabytes per second you can upload. Most content providers only distribute content at 5 Mbps, so even if you have “15/5”, that means you could be streaming content to 3 different devices at the same time before you max out the 15 Mbps that you can download.
15 Mbps (download speed) / 5 Mbps (max amount per provider) = 3 streaming devices at a time
So what’s the lesson? You don’t need a download speed of 50 Mbps unless you plan on streaming content to 10 devices at the same time. Pick the cheaper option, and press on.
Their final ploy is to send you to their retention officers (or something like that). I got the impression that their jobs are to try to keep you as a customer no matter what, and they have the most flexibility in the prices that they can offer you. If you do your homework (as I did) and know what their competitors are offering, then you have the leverage in the negotiation. Once I told the “Retention Officer” the offer I received from their competitor, he put me on hold, and came back with a number that was slightly lower than that. Mission accomplished.
Granted, I still feel like I’m being taken in the deal, but I feel a little better about it.
Part 6: The fallout
So it’s been a few weeks since we pulled the plug. How’s it been?
Honestly, really nice. I know that sounds funny, but it’s true. We used to sit down and flip through the channels until we found something we could tolerate. Now, if we watch TV it’s with a purpose. It’s much more of a “I want to watch show X” and we do it. We’re no longer slaves to prime-time schedules.
That mentality has left us with a lot more free time to do other things that we WANT to do.
As for the kids, they haven’t noticed a difference. And that’s not an exaggeration. All of the shows that they watched on Disney, or PBS Kids, or Nickelodeon are all available on Hulu or Netflix. We’ve even discovered some new shows that they love, and old shows that we loved (Bobby’s World!).
Not having live sports is a bit of a downer, but we’ll survive. I’m banking on cable companies losing the battle in the long run.
That and the large wad of cash that I’ll be saving from now on.
What do you think? Have you cut the cord as well? Any suggestions for catching sports in real-time? Share your thoughts in the comments below.