Looking to go cable-free? You’re not alone.
Roughly 8.2% of us cancelled our cable subscriptions last year, which was an increase of 1.3% over the previous year. In fact, even among those who decided to continue paying for cable, a whopping 45% reduced their service!
This is why streaming services like Netflix gained more than 12 million subscribers over the past year! Cutting the cord is clearly big business.
But breaking up with your cable company is a two-sided coin. On one hand, you’ll be able to save a ton of money each month and stop paying for hundreds of channels you probably don’t even watch.
On the other side of the coin, you have the convenience factor to consider: Cable providers offer easy access to all your favorite programs through one simple box, whether they air on premium or broadcast networks. And once your subscription ends, it’s up to you to figure out how you’ll get them back.
And based on dozens of reader comments we received with our original Cutting the Cord article, it’s this “content crisis” that seems to be the biggest obstacle holding most us back from cancelling our cable subscriptions.
But HighYa’s here to the rescue!
To help you overcome this obstacle (and many others you might not be aware of yet), we felt this was the perfect time to give you an updated look at exactly what you need to know. Welcome to our 2015 Guide To Cutting the Cord!
To kick things off, let’s review what you’ll need in order to successfully cut the cord.
What You’ll Need To Cut the Cord
When it comes down to it, there are three primary parts involved in cutting the cord:
- Internet Connection +
- Hardware +
- Software =
Note: We covered some of this in our original guide, but based on reader feedback, we decided it’s important to provide a much more in-depth look here. Plus, a lot has changed over the past couple years, and we’re focused on keeping you up-to-date!
Part 1: Your Internet Connection
With a cable subscription, all your content is delivered through a dedicated cable or satellite dish. But once your subscription has ended, the only way to regain access to this content is by streaming it over the internet.
Here’s the thing: Streaming content over an internet connection requires a lot of bandwidth (i.e. how much information can be transmitted at any one time), which is typically measured in megabits per second (Mbps).
Many streaming content providers (more about this in Part 3) generally recommend a connection speed of about 5Mbps for their services, but in most instances, this probably won’t be enough. Why?
Because this is the minimum recommended speed, not the ideal speed. In other words, if you have a 5Mbps connection, you’ll likely experience frequent lag and buffering, which can completely ruin your viewing experience. So, how much speed is right for you?
This depends on your specific circumstances, but most professionals recommend purchasing the fastest package you can afford. Two big factors to consider are:
- Does your internet download speed fluctuate throughout the day? This can occur during peak times (6pm to 10pm) as thousands of other users in your area log on each evening. You should be able to check your speed throughout the day using software provided by your internet provider, or you can used a third-party site like SpeedTest.
- How many users are in your household? If it’s just you, then you might be able to get by with a lower speed. But if there are others in your household, you might find that your connection suffers if everyone’s watching content at the same time. The more users there are, the faster speed you’ll need.
Perhaps the easiest option would be to call your internet provider directly and discuss your situation with them. At this same time, you can compare prices and find out if any current discounts or specials are available (don’t worry, we have a whole section dedicated to costs below!).
Alright, now that you’ve got your internet connection optimized for cutting the cord, the next step is choosing the right hardware.
Part 2: Your Hardware
Remember that big, bulky cable box you used to have? Well, it was responsible for processing signals from the cable coming out of your wall, and turning them into the picture you saw on your TV.
Now that your cable box is a thing of the past, you’ll need to replace it with something similar. Except that instead of processing a signal from a cable, your new hardware will house the apps that allow you to access different services (we’ll dig into this in the next section). These devices are known as media streamers.
There are literally dozens of media streamers available today, including set-top boxes like Roku 1, 2 and 3, AppleTV, and Amazon Fire TV, and even “stick” devices that plug directly into the back of your TV like Roku Streaming Stick, Amazon Fire Stick, and ChromeCast.
Truth be told, in today’s marketplace, most of these devices operate similarly and give you access to pretty much the same content. The main differences are:
- Their interfaces (e.g. menu design)
- Their speed (boxes tend to be faster than stick devices)
- Additional apps/content they offer, outside of must-haves (again, more about this shortly)
Which Hardware Do You Need?
So, which of these is right for you? It’s all based on your specific needs.
Are you a hard-working singleton who only watches TV a couple times per week? A stick device might offer the most bang for your buck. Are you an avid watcher with lots of other users in the household? A top-of-the-line Roku or other set-top box might be your best bet.
Alternately, is most of your content already in iTunes? Do you also like to stream pictures and music through your TV? If this sounds like you, an AppleTV might be the way to go.
Or, are you a technophile and want top-of-the-line technology? You might opt for a brand new smart TV.
Pro tip: You might not even need to purchase a separate device in the first place. Why?
If you own a late model Blu-ray or DVD player, or a newer gaming system (e.g. Playstation 3 or 4, Xbox 360 or One), you’ll have the capability to access streaming content through different apps.
If you don’t own one of these, you’ll be able to access this content on your iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire, or other tablet device—and even your smartphone!
Don’t Forget Digital Antennas
If you had a cable subscription long enough, you might not have realized that antennas were still being made. But with so many people cutting the cord, they’ve seen a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. Why?
Due to the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005, all broadcast TV stations (e.g. NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, etc.) were required to begin transmitting digital (versus analog) signals as of February 17, 2009.
Unlike antennas of old, which picked up analog signals, digital antennas pick up these new digital signals floating around in the air, convert them into a picture, and send this picture to your television. And for the most part, the picture quality is much, much better.
We’ll talk more about this in the next section, but if most of the content you watch (especially live sports) is on major networks, a digital antenna—like the Mohu Leaf or Winegard Flatwave Air—is a must-have.
Whew! You’ve got a lot of options, so if you’re struggling to make a choice, we’d recommend visiting your local electronics store and asking an associate about any concerns you might have.
Now, let’s talk about the biggest factor in determining which content you’ll have access to: different streaming services.
Part 3: Your Streaming Services
Regardless of which device you pick, the service you choose is ultimately what determines the content you have access to. And each service comes with their own set of pros and cons.
- Netflix – Netflix offers a range of content, from classic and recent TV shows and original programming, to a variety of popular movies and documentaries. If you’re looking for the latest movies or most recent TV episodes, Netflix might not be your first choice. Why? Because there can be a fair amount of time between when a TV show airs or a movie is released and when it’s made available.
- Hulu Plus – If you plan on being an avid TV watcher after cutting the cord, Hulu Plus is probably your best bet, especially if you enjoy programming from major networks. In most instances, Hulu Plus makes their TV shows available within three days of airing.
- Amazon Instant – In our minds, Netflix and Amazon Instant cover much of the same territory, including classic and modern TV shows and movies. In our experience, though, Amazon Instant seems to have a greater overall selection of content, especially when you factor in their inexpensive rentals.
Keep In Mind that Nothing’s Perfect
When deciding on a service, this is perhaps the most important thing to remember: Regardless of which ones you choose, you almost certainly won’t find a perfect solution. What do we mean?
Remember when we discussed some of the most popular services above? These are independent companies who sign agreements with other networks and production studios for each and every piece of content they stream.
For example: Hulu Plus might have a contract with FOX for their 10 most popular TV shows, but nothing more (we’re not saying this is the case; we’re only making a point). So if your favorite FOX show isn’t among them, you’ll be out of luck.
Another example: Netflix might have only the last four seasons of your favorite sitcom, but nothing prior to that. Or, they might offer all available seasons, but only the first five episodes of each season.
Pro tip: Until recently, if your favorite shows were on cable-only networks like HBO, HGTV, TNT, etc., you were pretty much out of luck after cutting the cord. However, Sling TV is a relatively new service that can give you access to many of these channels—even ESPN!
Let’s talk more about sports.
Who Can Forget Sports?
Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, badminton, or anything else, most of us can’t imagine a day (much less a week or month) going by without watching sports. And since ESPN and all their spinoffs are only available with a cable subscription, this was a huge obstacle to overcome for most sports fans when cutting the cord.
Pro tip: Did you know that more than $6 of each person’s cable bill goes toward ESPN? And that among the top 10 most expensive cable channels, four are dedicated to sports programming?
Sure, ESPN and other sports broadcasters had apps for different set-top boxes and other streaming devices, but you had to have a cable subscription in order to use them!
This is where Sling TV really seems to be breaking new ground by giving customers small-bundle sports channels at a reasonable price. In fact, they’re really your only option for getting ESPN content without a cable subscription.
Speaking of price, is cutting the cord really a cost-effective option?
How Much Money Will You Save by Cutting the Cord?
Remember when you opened gifts as a child and tore into them with reckless abandon? You we’re super excited and couldn’t wait to get your hands on something new.
Well, you might have this same feeling when you first cut the cord. After all, you’ll be saving money, buying new equipment, and trying out different services all at once, so the excitement can be overwhelming.
But if you don’t monitor what you’re spending, you might find that you’re quickly in over your head and paying more each month than you were with cable—the exact opposite of what you want!
So, to help put the situation into perspective, we’ve run a few simple numbers so you can realistically gauge how much you might save each month. But before we get to that, keep the following in mind:
Budgeting & Unknowns
First, it’s likely that your primary reason for wanting to cut the cord is to save money, so you should use this as a starting point. In other words, we’d recommend taking a look at your current cable bill, determining exactly how much you’re looking to save each month, and then choosing your services accordingly.
Second, we’ll only cover long-term costs in these examples, but not immediate costs like set-top boxes, stick devices, or digital antennas.
To help you save money right out of the gate, you might try accessing different streaming services on devices you already own, like smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers. Then, if you decide that watching content on your actual TV is important, you can purchase the necessary hardware.
Also, we can’t know several intangibles that might affect how much you save, such as if you’ll be cancelling your cable contract mid-term (and paying the associated fees), how much your internet subscription will go up if you’re part of a bundled plan, etc.
Finally, keep in mind that some subscriptions might help you save more money in the long run. For example, Amazon Instant subscriptions also include a Prime membership (and vice versa), which offers free Ground shipping on all orders. So, if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper, this might have a big impact on your decision.
With all of this in mind, it’s time to crunch some numbers!
You monthly cable bill is exactly the national average of $123.
You already have the fastest internet connection through someone other than your cable company, so cancelling your subscription won’t impact these costs: $0.
You watch a lot of network TV, so you go big and choose Hulu Plus’s new No Commercials plan, as well as their SHOWTIME Premium Add-On. Total cost: $20.98 per month.
HBO and ESPN are also must-haves for you, so you opt for Sling Television’s HBO Access and Sports Extra packages. You’re an amateur chef, so the Cooking Channel would be wonderful, and your children definitely would like their own shows. Add the Kids and Lifestyle Extras. Total cost: $50 per month.
Since you order most of your arts and crafts supplies through Amazon, you already have a Prime membership, which includes access to their Instant streaming service. Total cost: $0
In this scenario, you’d be paying a total of $70.98 per month—saving you $52.02 per month over your cable bill, or more than $624 per year! And you’ll still be able to access much of the same content.
Now, let’s say you’ve already whittled your cable subscription down to the bare minimum at $100 per month.
You also have a mid-range internet connection of 20Mbps, for which you pay $20 per month (based on a package bundle). But with four other people in your household, you know you’ll need to max this out, so you choose a 50Mbps plan at $65 per month. Added cost: $45 per month.
With your basic cable subscription, you didn’t have access to HBO or any other premium channels, so these aren’t important to you. But you do enjoy many of the other channels, like HGTV, TNT, etc, so you chose Sling TV and their Lifestyle Extra package. Total cost: $25 per month
With so many users in your home, you also feel it’s a good idea to maximize the amount of content available, so you choose Hulu Plus’s No Commercials plan, and also sign up for a streaming-only Netflix plan. Total cost: $20.98
In this scenario, you’d be paying $91 per month after cutting the cord, which is only $9 less than your old cable subscription.
Sure, if you’re pinching every penny, saving $108 per year is nothing to sneeze at. But compared to the first example, you’re not saving a whole lot of money, and you’ll lose access to a fair amount of content in the process. As such, the value just might not be there.
Where does all this leave you?
What’s the Bottom Line about Cutting the Cord?
As you can see, whether or not you’ll save money by cutting the cord isn’t so cut and dry. But the good news is that after reading this article, you’re well on your way to figuring out if it’s right for you.
Our recommendation? Try dipping your toes into the cable-free waters before making the big leap. How?
All of the “Big 3” streaming services offer free trials (Netflix, Amazon Instant) or free basic accounts (Hulu), so this is a great way to try them out without making a financial commitment. Just be sure to cancel your trials on time, or they’ll roll over to paid monthly subscriptions.
And to reduce your initial expenses even more (as we talked about previously), you can watch these services on devices you already own!
Going this route, you’ll be able to test out which services you like beforehand. Then, only if you find them useful, should you cancel your cable subscription and purchase any additional hardware.
Here’s to your cable-free journey!
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