Thanks to new technology and an array of streaming services, there are now many alternatives to cable TV out there. So it’s tempting to cut the cable cord as so many people have already done. But make sure cutting the cord is right for you before you take the leap. If you change your mind, reactivation fees and new contracts can get expensive. Our cord-cutting guide will help you decide whether it’s really the right time to say goodbye to your cable box.
What Does It Mean to Cut the Cord?Cutting the cord means canceling your traditional TV subscription and using only internet-based streaming services instead to access the kind of content that you used to get from a cable or satellite service. Cutting the cord gives you the freedom of choice. But it’s not a simple snip. You need to learn what is the best equipment and what is the best internet service for getting the TV services and channel lineup you want, and getting it as cheaply as possible. Here’s the approach we suggest.
- Make sure. You may need to speak with a few people before canceling your cable subscription. You don’t want to rush a decision on this.
- Prepare to bargain. If you get your TV and internet from the same provider, go to their website and check out the internet-only rates for new subscribers. This is the rate to ask for when you chuck the TV service.
- Explore other options. Are there any other internet service providers in your region? If so, you may get a better deal by switching providers.
- Prepare for resistance. Your service provider doesn’t want to lose you as a TV customer. So they will probably offer bundle deals, free months of premium channels, and other incentives. If and when this happens, ask when the deals elapse and what the rate will be then. You don’t want to end up paying even more a few months down the road.
- Remember the savings. No matter what your TV service provider offers in a bid to keep you as a customer, don’t forget how much money you’ll save by cutting the cord. You can just pay your internet fee and own a streaming-service box outright.
Why Cut the Cord?To cut or not to cut, that is the question. Here are the top reasons why you should hack away.
1. You’ll Save MoneyCable TV prices have grown exponentially in the last decade. Indeed, in many households, cable is now the most expensive utility. According to DecisionData, the average household cable package in 2020 was $217 per month, more than the $205 per month spent on all other utilities combined. Considering that an entry-level Netflix plan costs only $9 per month, traditional cable is a service that many households can do without. Perhaps yours too. Even better, you can cut the cord without paying any subscription fees at all. Many networks broadcast their channels on YouTube and other video sites. So you have access to many free channels.
2. ConvenienceCutting the cord is also convenient.
- Live streaming gives you 24/7 access to all the content you need, and from just about anywhere.
- Some live streaming services give you the extra benefit of a digital video recorder (DVR) that lets you save content on an online platform.
- If you’re going to be traveling without access to Wi-Fi, you can download content to a smartphone or tablet and watch it later.
3. Personalized OfferingsAlthough satellite and cable packages come with hundreds of TV channels, you probably watch only a slice of these offerings. Streaming services provide more personalized suggestions about what movies and shows to watch next, based on your previous choices. Moreover, some of the best-rated shows these days are original content produced by the streaming services and available exclusively on their platforms.
4. Live SportsIf you are a sports fan, cutting the cord may give you a better experience. Live streaming sports services let you watch your favorite events and teams at a fraction of the cost of your traditional TV service. You’ll never miss any NFL or NBA games.
5. Local ProgrammingYou don’t have to lose access to local programming when you make the switch to streaming TV. One thing you can do is use your streaming service in combination with an over-the-air antenna so that you receive local broadcast channels for free. A wide range of inexpensive, easy-to-install antennas are available.
Quick Tips for First-Time StreamersIf you’re a first-time streamer, assessing all the options can be daunting. What works for your friend may not be the right combination of services for you. These tips will help you decide what you need.
1. Get great internet.First things first. You can’t enjoy a solid streaming experience if you don’t have the right kind of internet connection. If you don’t want Netflix videos to look choppy and blurry, make sure you have a great internet package. Internet speed is typically measured in megabits per second (Mbps). You need at least 5 Mbps to stream HD video; realistically, you need 8 Mbps to ensure a smooth stream. But being limited to this capacity doesn’t leave you much leeway to do anything else on the internet. You’ll probably want at least 10 Mbps if you’re the only user, 20 Mbps or more if you are part of a family that is streaming to multiple devices. Internet providers offer different tiers of service. Different providers also make different suggestions—usually available on their websites—about the minimum requirements that enable you to view their content sharply and smoothly. Things can get more complicated if you’re bundling your internet with cable and perhaps also a cellular plan. Most communication companies have spent years developing and marketing systems designed to retain customers by combining a several services into one convenient bundle. So before you cut the cord, do some comparison shopping to identify the right ISP for you and the right accounts to replace your current bundle of phone, internet, and cable services.
2. Get a smart television set.Cutting the cord may mean upgrading your television set. Owning a TV with up-to-date technology helps you find content and expands your ability to pause a stream and pick it up later on another device. If you’re buying a new TV, be sure to adjust the picture quality. Out of the box, most sets display images that aren’t as bright as they should be or with colors that are too garish. Consider paying a professional if you’re unsure how to tweak the settings. The fancier your television, the faster your internet connection should be. The recommended minimum of 5 Mbps to stream HD video is inadequate for most 4K and 3D content. To view denser content, you’ll probably need to upgrade to a higher speed tier. Television manufacturers are now developing so-called smart TVs that connect to the internet and enable you to directly access one or more streaming services. The selection of apps on a set varies based on the licensing agreements that the TV manufacturers has made with providers of streaming media. Some smart TVs give you only Netflix; others accommodate a host of services. Not all of these TVs let you plug in and get a smooth, cable-like experience without any other hardware. The technology and interfaces will certainly improve over time, but for now you may need a few extra dongles for the set.
3. Get the right devices to replace your cable box.Although smart TVs often come with built-in software that lets you stream from various popular services, their search and navigation interfaces tend to be a pain. You have to navigate a confusing cluster of listings, or, worse, use your remote to type search terms a laborious letter at a time. One error and you’ve got to start the drill all over again. If you’re serious about replacing your cable box, consider investing in a set-top box or dongle for your smart TV. Smart TVs are great, but the pace of technology will render the smart functionality antiquated in no time. You don’t want to replace your TV every other year. Some of the best set-top boxes include:
- Roku. Although Amazon and Apple are popular household names, Roku prides itself on having offered the first popular streaming device. Roku supports a wide range of streaming services, and its gadget works with almost any service or television. You can buy Roku in the form of a small key-like device or a more powerful box.
- Google Chromecast. Google Chromecast devices plug into the USB or HDMI port of your TV to offer an impressive library of applications and a great streaming experience.
- Amazon Fire TV. Like Roku, Amazon Fire comes in both stick and box formats (Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Cube). It runs on the Amazon Fire OS. You can access Amazon’s app store and ask Alexa to find a show for you. The most expensive version of the Amazon Fire Cube includes an HD antenna tuner to help you pick up free local broadcast signals. You must purchase the antenna separately.
- Apple TV. Apple TV is a great option for Mac devices, letting you sync programming between iPads, iPhones, and Apple laptops. Using Apple’s voice assistant, this box can run hundreds of applications.
4. Subscribe to streaming services.Unlike traditional cable and satellite TV, most streaming services won’t require more than one month’s worth of commitment (an exception is Amazon Prime). Most also provide free weekly or monthly trials with no obligation to subscribe; but you’ll have to provide your credit-card information. Don’t subscribe to more than one or two streaming services. If you do, you’ll quickly end up paying more than you were paying do for traditional cable TV. Here are some of the top players:
- Netflix. Netflix takes the lead as the subscription streaming service that produces the most must-see original content. Its lowest pricing tier offers standard-definition streaming on one screen at a time. The mid-tier adds high definition; the top tier adds 4k streams on up to four screens at a time.
- Amazon Prime Video. With respect to movies, Amazon’s streaming service is the twin of Netflix. Amazon doesn’t offer the largest collection. But combining it with Netflix gives you access to a very wide range of movies and shows.
- HBO, Starz, Cinemax, and Showtime. These premium cable networks also provide streaming versions of their offerings for the cordless world.
- Other options. Other streaming services to explore include Vudu, Crackle, Hulu, and Sling TV.