Cut the Cord, Cut the Bill

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Okay, that title’s a little misleading.  Since we’ve been married, Rachel and I have never even had the cord.  We decided early on in our relationship that there just wasn’t that much incentive to sign up for cable.  I should mention that I wasn’t always comfortable with the idea of not having cable.  Before I met Rachel, I lived with two other guys from my church in a ridiculously large apartment.  We had TVs in every bedroom, one in the living room (unless we had people over, then we would bring out one from a bedroom to watch multiple sporting events on), and one in our downstairs rec room.  The “cord-cutters,” in my mind, were Luddites, only slightly above the smugly primitive “oh, we don’t have a TV, we read books” types that always made me feel so uncomfortable.  I just couldn’t understand how someone could honestly say out loud that they didn’t need cable without trying to suppress extreme pain with a forced smile.  So, what changed my mind? 

Here’s an organized, condensed version of what Rachel and I discussed:

  • There’s Just Not Much To Watch – Despite having hundreds of channels available 24/7, and a DVR to use whenever I wanted, the only things I found myself watching repeatedly were Duck Dynasty and Jersey Shore.  Yes really, and no, I don’t know why.  We all have our issues.  Rachel was kind of in the same boat, though with slightly better-quality shows, and we didn’t feel that the monthly bill was worth the brain rot.
  • It Doesn’t Fit in Our Budget – Speaking of that monthly bill, ouch.  Even before we had a proper budget, we knew cable had no place in ours.  I think the cheapest option we had when we were looking at utilities for our apartment was $80/month, and I know it’s only gone up since then.  Would you pay $80 every month to watch Snooki roll her drunk self around the boardwalk?  I wouldn’t either.
  • We Have Better Things to Do – Wait, wait, wait, this isn’t where I get all holier-than-thou.  This was where we realized that we were wasting time that we should have been using better.  Entertainment in general had too strong of a grip on our lives, and we’re not getting any younger.  We decided we wanted to leave more of a mark on the world, and not just in the form of our butts on the couch.

Don’t get me wrong, the people who have no TV still freak me out a little.  But I was able to move from a home with 5 to a home with 1 just fine with the help of the magical interwebs.  The cost savings alone was more than enough to convince me.  Of the websites I could find a price on for just cable in my area, it’s around $65 every month for the basic channels.  Ugh.  Want to join us in this magical land of no cable bill?  You’ll need two things: a set-top box/stick and a streaming service (or two, or however many you want to pay for).  Once you’ve picked out a box, plug it in to your TV, sign up for some services, and watch away!

Set-Top Boxes

  • Roku – A true hipster in the cord-cutting space, Roku was offering cable-free entertainment before it was cool.  They have an everywhere, all the things approach that makes it virtually impossible to have a setup they can’t work with.  Their cheapest offering is a $30 streaming stick; a device the size of a flash drive that you plug into the back of your TV and forget about.  It comes with a remote, but if you use their free smartphone app instead, you get some cool extras like the ability to do voice searches, listen through your phone’s headphones (great for insomniacs apartments!), and watch the movies/pictures you have on your phone on the big screen.  If you’ve got a little more cash to spare, their most premium product is the $110 Roku Ultra.  It adds nice details like 4K 60fps video, a headphone jack on the remote for private listening sans app, and a digital optical audio port.
  • Amazon Fire TV – You’d better believe that the company that’s in everything wants to be in your TV, too.  They also have a set-it-and-forget-it stick option for $40, and their version comes with a voice-enabled remote, powered by Alexa.  If you need a little more power, you can get their 4K-enabled box with twice as much memory as the stick for $90.  If you’re a Prime member, the Fire TV offers some deep integration with Amazon Video and Amazon Music, giving you easier access to the material you’re already paying for as part of your membership.
  • Apple TV – Originally labeled a “hobby” from the world’s most valuable company, the Apple TV is becoming quite the powerhouse.  True to Apple tradition, these boxes run a little pricier than the rest of the kids on the block, starting at $146 for the 32GB model, and there’s no stick option.  You get a Siri-enabled remote, access to Apple’s App and iTunes stores, and Apple Music if you’re subscribed there.  Built-in AirPlay capability lets you watch whatever’s on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, no cords required.  And for all you tech goobers out there, Apple TV serves as a hub for all your HomeKit-enabled fancy lightbulbs and thermostats.  Apple TV also supports certain gaming controllers for those nights where Angry Birds sounds more appealing than binge-watching yet again.
  • Google Chromecast – While not technically a streaming box in and of itself, the Chromecast enables you to “cast” almost anything you can get to on your phone onto your TV.  Running right down the middle of the price road between Roku and Amazon at $35, it also plugs into the back of your TV and gets out of your way.  Chromecast doesn’t really have it’s own interface, relying on your smartphone to do anything useful, so you’ll need one before this becomes a viable option for you.  Once it’s set up, though, watching content is as easy as hitting the “cast” button in whatever compatible app you want to stream.  You can also have multiple users at one time on a Chromecast, which makes for awesome YouTube binge parties!
  • Game Console – If you have a game console, you can skip buying an extra device just for streaming.  PlayStation 3 and 4, and Xbox 360 and One are all compatible with most of the services that I’ll outline below, and even the Wii U gets in on some of the fun if Nintendo is more your style.

Services

Alright, you’ve gotten a box (or stick).  Now what?  You use it, that’s what!  Here’s how:

  • Netflix ($7.99+/month) – If you haven’t heard of Netflix, I’d love to come out to whatever island you live on some time.  The media giant is available on everything except your toaster, and I heard they’re working on that.  With the recent addition of downloadable content so you can watch without a connection, Netflix is one of the most versatile services you can sign up for.  They also have a larger budget than HBO’s for their original content, meaning there’s something for everyone.  And a recent agreement with Disney means awesome content like Star Wars and Marvel films are available almost as soon as they hit stores.  Their plans are based on how many screens you want to watch on at a time, and start at $8/month for 1 screen in Standard Definition and go up to $12/month for 4 screens at once in Ultra High Definition.
    • Compatible Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, PS3/PS4/PSVita, Xbox 360/One, Wii/Wii U, iOS/Android/Windows Phone
  • Hulu ($7.99+/month for streaming library only, $39.99+/month including Live TV) – Netflix’s original competitor, Hulu is starting to differentiate themselves with the recent addition of Live TV to their offering lineup.  Their streaming library has more current and popular TV shows than Netflix does, though that capability comes with a catch: commercials.  The $7.99 plan has commercials mixed in to shows just like on regular TV; the $11.99 “No Commercials” plan gets rid of most, but not all, of that headache.  If you’re more into streaming live TV, the basic live package has access to over 50 channels.  You get access to two streams at once and a 50-hour DVR, with the option to add premium channels and an enhanced DVR for an additional cost.
    • Compatible Devices (Live TV + Streaming Library): Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, iOS/Android
    • Compatible Devices (Streaming Library Only): Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, PS3/PS4, Xbox 360/One, Wii/Wii U, iOS/Android, Windows/Web Browser
  • Amazon Prime Video – ($8.99/month, included w/Prime Membership) – The third of the biggest three streaming video offerings, Amazon Prime Video tries to keep you in their ecosystem as much as possible.  The content between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video is going to overlap quite a bit, with the differences being due to licensing agreements and original program development.  If you’re already an Amazon Prime member for the free shipping, access to Prime Video is included with that.  If you’re not, $9/month will get you 4K streaming, offline video, and the option to add subscriptions to other services like Starz and Showtime for an extra fee. The full Prime offering is available for $10.99/month, or $99/year, which saves more than $30 over the monthly option. If you’d like to try Prime, you can sign up here for a free 30-day trial!
    • Compatible Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Roku, PS3/PS4, Xbox 360/One, Wii/Wii U, iOS/Android
  • VidAngel – ($7.99/month) – Alright, parents, this one’s for you.  We all know TV shows and movies have violence, sex, bad language, and all sorts of other things that we don’t want our kids exposed to, right?  Up until now, your only real option was to screen everything that came into your house to see if it lined up with your family’s values before gathering the kids around for movie night.  Enter VidAngel.  After connecting it to your other services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, you can set up filters that block sex scenes, cussing, even the scene with the monster in an otherwise kid-friendly movie if you don’t want that 2 a.m. “I’m scared” knock on the bedroom door.  VidAngel is currently in the midst of some legal troubles from none other than Disney for trying to make movies more family-friendly, but they seem to have great reviews from the families that have used them.  There’s a one-month free trial if you want to see how it works before doubling your Netflix cost.
    • Compatible Devices: VidAngel is device-agnostic, it works through the services you already have.
  • PS Vue ($39.99+/month) – Possibly the biggest surprise in this bunch comes from PlayStation.  Yep, the same PlayStation responsible for Mountain Dew-fueled all-nighters of Call of Duty.  For the $40-a-month Access plan, you can get a pretty full-featured streaming TV cable replacement, complete with a cloud-based DVR and channels that keep most people chained to their traditional plans like ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and CNN.  PS Vue has a grid-style TV guide just like you’re used to, so finding something to watch or record for later is a breeze.  You get access to five streams at once, so everyone in the family can watch whatever they want without fighting over the remote.  Additionally, you can create up to five user profiles, each with their own DVR and recommendations.
    • Compatible Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, PS3/PS4, iOS/Android/Web Browser
  • Sling TV ($20+/month) – Still clutching your cable remote, but you know you’re paying way too much for all those channels you don’t watch?  Sling TV may be what you’re looking for.  With Sling, you’ll choose a base package, either 28-channel Sling Orange or 44-channel Sling Blue for $20 or $25 respectively, or $40 for both.  Both packages have cable staples like AMC, CNN, Comedy Central, Food Network, and History Channel.  Orange has ESPN/2/3, Disney Channel, and Freeform, while Blue has Fox Sports1/2, NBC Sports, Nick Jr., SyFy, and USA.  After you’ve picked a base, you can add all kinds of extra channels a la carte.  Need something for the kids?  $5 extra a month will get you Disney, Disney XD, Disney Junior, NickToons, TeenNick, Boomerang, and a couple of made-for-Sling channels.  News junkie?  $5 adds BBC World News, CNBC, MSNBC, HLN, The Blaze, and a few other world news channels.  If you really only watch a few channels on one TV (Orange only supports one stream at a time, Blue supports three), Sling might be a great replacement for your cable subscription.  Be careful, though, as those extras can add up, and you might be paying the same amount as your traditional bill.
    • Compatible Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox One, iOS/Android, macOS, Windows
  • DirecTV Now ($35+/month, discounted to $10/mo. if you have a qualifying AT&T cell phone plan) – The first big provider to wake up and smell the coffee, DirecTV is offering a standalone service for people that don’t want dishes in their yard or contracts in their mail.  Their cheapest plan has 60 channels, offering a little bit of everything from the major networks to basic cable channels like A&E, Animal Planet, Discovery, ESPN, Food Network, HGTV, and SyFy.  They also offer some of the local channels you’d normally be able to get over the air with a regular antenna.  If you’re looking for regional sports, you’ll need to go at least to the 2nd-tier “Just Right” plan for $50/month, which also adds two more ESPN channels, News and U.
    • Compatible Devices: Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, iOS/Android, Web Browser
  • YouTube (free for basic, $10/month for premium Red) – YouTube is the undisputed king of homemade videos, but there’s also some professionally-produced stuff on there, too.  If the endless sea of cat videos, prank compilations, and bad lip readings isn’t quite enough for you, they’ve also started rolling out YouTube Red, which offers uninterrupted music, ad-free video, and original content.
    • Compatible Devices: Everything you have, I promise
  • Pluto.TV (free) – Not super picky, just want something to watch?  Pluto offers 75+ always-live channels, with some you’ve even heard of!  Most of Pluto’s lineup is comprised of quirky, original channels like Internet Gold, After School Cartoons, and Flicks of Fury.  They do also have a few more popular offerings, though, like CBS News, Cheddar, MSNBC, The Onion, and my personal favorite, an entire channel dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies.  There’s no on-demand aspect and no DVR (although on the web browser, you can rewind to the beginning of some programs), but the price is hard to beat, and the content is actually not half bad most of the time.
    • Compatible Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, iOS/Android, macOS/Windows/Web Browser
  • Crackle (free) – Owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, Crackle is like a light version of Netflix, charging nothing but some of your time in the form of commercials.  They have TV shows and movies that are refreshed monthly, along with some original content that appears for a bit longer at a time.  Since they’re owned by Sony, the majority of Crackle’s content comes from Sony’s family of studios, though there’s also content from Lions Gate, MGM, Disney (older stuff, don’t go in expecting to watch Moana), Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox.
    • Compatible Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, PS3/PS4, Xbox 360/One, iOS/Android/Windows Phone
  • Network/Movie Channels (varied) – If you’re really only interested in one channel’s programming, you might be able to get just a subscription to that channel.  CBS, HBO, Showtime, and others have been warming up to the idea of a la carte subscriptions, and are now offering their content in app form directly to the unwashed masses, no middleman required.
  • Rentals and Individual Purchases (varied) – Does the idea of a subscription make you sick, no matter what the price?  Blockbuster may be a thing of the past, but rentals are still around!  iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play all have rentals available for just about any movie you can think of, and many of them are now becoming available before their DVD releases.  Rentals average about $5, with sales and special promotions bringing that down to as little as $0.99.  Normally, the way a rental works is that once you’ve rented a movie, you have 30 days to start it.  Once you start it, you have 24-48 hours to finish it, depending on the service.  Once that countdown is complete, the title is automatically removed from your device, no late fees to worry about.  And if you’re like me and only really care about one or two shows a season, you can get season passes from iTunes, where you pay for the season up front, and get access to new episodes as they come out.
  • Bonus: TV Antenna! ($20+, one time) – Gather ’round, boys and girls, Grandpa Kyle’s gonna tell you a story… Did you know that regular old TV is still a thing?  You don’t have to have any of the above things to watch TV shows!  You can still buy TV antennas and instantly get local news, sports, weather, and network shows for free!  And they’re not the rabbit-ear kind anymore, either.  Some of them, like this Mohu Leaf Metro, can even be painted to match your walls, making it almost invisible.  Seriously, over-the-air TV has come a long way since you last watched it, and the digital signals that are now being beamed right into your house every day are super clear.  If all you need is local news and some network sitcoms, don’t even mess with all this other stuff.  Old-school antennas are the way to go.

Have you cut the cord?  What services do you use to fill the void, or are you doing something else entirely instead of watching TV?

14 thoughts on “Cut the Cord, Cut the Bill

  1. Great rundown on cutting the cord! We cut cable a year or so ago, choosing to go with Playstation Vue after testing out several services. We’re currently paying $34.99, but that goes up in another month or so after our grandfathered price extension runs out. (goes up to $39.99). We love Vue mainly because of the DVR functionality that not a lot of other services have, great interface on Fire TV (which we use), we can get our regional sports networks, and the fact that we can cancel at any time if we choose to, no long term plans. After the price increase we may shop around again, we’ll see.

    We also do Antenna TV and we have a Tablo Over-The-Air DVR that allows us to record all of our favorite broadcast shows. Honestly I could probably get by with only antenna TV, but my wife likes all of the cable reality shows, and I do enjoy watching my Minnesota sports teams.

    1. I hadn’t even thought about OTA DVRs and cable cards and the like! Maybe a round 2 of this post should be in the works, haha. Since you use the Amazon Fire TV, do you guys have Amazon Prime? Or what made you choose that over a Roku or other streaming stick?

    1. Thanks, Jen! How do you like Sling? I’ve heard some complaints about their reliability, but that was back when they first started out, and I figured they’d gotten those issues sorted out since then.

  2. We do NetFlix and Amazon Prime here. I watch a lot of YouTube videos on minimalism, solar power, and whatever project I’m working on. I’ve always hated appointment television. It never worked for my lifestyle. That lifestyle was one of actually living.

    Those folks who had to be at the tube to catch The Cosby Show or whatever just made no sense to me. And the folks who would pay $75 to watch a boxing match made even less sense. Luckily for me, I have no interest in what’s on cable. Interestingly, however, in order to pretend that we are “subscribers”, our local fiber internet provider bundles in television with their high bandwidth internet service. I’m sure it’s killing our bill in some way, but we still never watch it.

  3. We use Netflix for about 2 months during the long Winter months. Many years ago, we did have Direct TV but would put it on vacation mode for 1/2 a year. Even with that, I felt it was still too expensive for how little we actually watched. We eventually paid to get out of our contract.

  4. Cut the cable to the dish on the roof 5 years ago. And found other things to do like start a business. Consumes about the same amount of time as Jersey shore but pays way better.
    Netflix and free YouTube have been our go to for entertainment with the family. I still can’t help my self when the direct TV person at Sam’s asks me who we use for tv. Sometimes I’m nice and other times I play the we don’t believe in tv card. They squirm but get the point.

    1. Haha, love the starting a business idea! You’re right, it’s way more productive than watching the television equivalent of a Twinkie.

  5. I couldn’t get any clear channels with the OTA antennae I tried earlier this year. I’m gonna go with PS Vue I think in October when our cable contract ends. The fact that it has the cloud-DVR makes it stand out above the other options for us.

    1. Yeah, that is the one drawback about an antenna: if you live in an area with a lot of trees or buildings, OTA signals can be a pain to get to come in clearly. PS Vue is really well done, I think you’ll like it! My dad used it for quite a while and had no complaints.

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