Have you ever been so mad at your cable company (who hasn’t?) that you just wished you could cancel your service and put the extra money to good use? Well, you’re not alone.
In fact, an increasing number of people aren’t just thinking about it, they’re actually going through with it. As of early last year, 4.2 percent of Americans—or as many as 5 million—cancelled their cable service altogether, and this number is expected to go nowhere but up.
Because of this quickly growing trend, and because we specialize in providing consumers like you reviews about a wide variety of topics—including technology—we thought this trend presents a great opportunity to help you become more informed about cutting the cord, and to give you the opportunity to see if it’s something that could fit within your lifestyle.
What Is “Cutting the Cord?”
As dire as the phrase may sound, “cutting the cord” simply means that you no longer have a cable subscription. This is something that has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years, and for good reason. According to this article, Americans spend an average of about $80 per month (nearly $1,000 per year) on their cable bills, which continue to increase about 5-6% annually. Not to mention that, based on data from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), there is a 7% downtime for cable subscribers. If this is true, it means that there are likely at least a couple of homes in your neighborhood right now that are paying for cable service but are unable to use it.
And really; do we even have to mention the huge inconvenience it is waiting for a cable technician to arrive at your home? Based on this 2010 article, the average wait for a cable technician is 4.8 hours, which ultimately cost each consumer about $210 of lost time per appointment. All totaled, “81% of consumers wait [a total of] two days per year,” 48% of whom call the cable company to complain about it.
Between long waits and extended downtime—and paying exorbitant amounts of money for the pleasure—more and more Americans are choosing to non-renew their cable contracts and to implement other methods of accessing digital content.
The Pros and Cons of Cutting the Cord
While leaving your cable company can provide you with a solid method of saving a sizeable chunk of hard-earned money, just like with most things in life, it doesn’t always present a perfect solution. With this said, let’s explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of cutting the cord.
Advantages of Cutting the Cord
First, let’s start with the good news: As we’ve already discussed, the biggest advantage to cutting the cord is the amount of money you’ll save. In fact, the author of this article slashed their bill by about 66% after canceling their cable subscription and obtaining their content through other avenues.
Certainly, there are some secondary advantages such as added mobility (e.g. you may be able to access content from smart devices such as phones and tablets), and more personalized content (e.g. you can choose what to watch and when to watch it), but the potential for big money savings takes the cake.
Disadvantages of Cutting the Cord
While saving a ton of money is no small feat, cutting your cable subscription doesn’t come without some sacrifices. So here’s the bad news…
First of all, you’re going to have to maintain an internet connection. This means that if you’re hoping to avoid ever having to deal with a cable company again, you’ll still be subject to internet contracts and the associated monthly rates. Also, keep in mind that if you have some kind of bundle savings with your cable provider (e.g. cable, internet, and phone), canceling your cable service may cause any remaining services to increase in price—sometimes drastically. As a result, this may be something you’ll want to thoroughly investigate before moving forward because any price hikes might negate the initial money you’ll save.
Second, you may want to think twice about cutting the cord if watching live sports is hugely important to you. Obviously, once you cancel your cable subscription, you’ll lose ESPN and related channels, but you’ll still be able to watch games on live television through your antenna (more about this in the next section). However, you won’t be able to pause or record the games, they’ll often only feature local teams, and they can be subject to blackouts depending on attendance. The upside is that there are a wide variety of apps (see the next section) that you can use to supplement your sports addiction, including offerings from networks like ESPN and FOX Sports, as well as league-specific apps, such as NBA and MLB.
Next, another potential negative is that you’re probably going to have to purchase additional equipment. Unless you already own a Smart TV, this means you’ll be adding more boxes to your entertainment center, more cables running to and from your television, and will have to keep track of even more remotes. However, these boxes are mandatory, because they house the applications that you’ll be using to access content.
Finally, unless you plan on watching a live program through your HD antenna, nearly any app-based service is going to present a delay in programming. In other words, if your favorite cable network show airs today, you may have to wait 24 hours to watch it. However, keep in mind that since these third-party companies have to pay larger sums of money for more popular content, it may never be available through one of your applications, and will have to be purchased separately.
How to Cut the Cord
Ok, you now fully understand the potential pitfalls of cutting the cord, but you’re super stoked to save a ton of money, and you’re ready to make it happen. Where do you go from here?
1. Choose Your Hardware
The first major decision you’ll have to make when cutting the cord is the hardware you’re going to use. As you’ll see, different types of hardware come with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Digital antennas, such as the Winegard Flatwave Air, Mohu Leaf, and Clear TV typically plug directly into the coaxial port on the back of your TV, and should work flawlessly—as long as your TV was manufactured after 2007 (click here for a quick video on how to attach an HD antenna to a television manufactured prior to 2007). Afterward, plug it in, power it up, scan for available channels, and you’ll be watching high definition television—for free—in no time.
While Aereo is currently the only mass-market provider of internet-based television, most insiders agree that this segment will drastically increase in popularity over the next several years, so we feel it’s important to include it here. In fact, numerous companies are currently developing their web-based television platforms (or are seriously contemplating it), including Sony, Verizon, Amazon, and more.
So while web-based TV might not currently be your first choice, it’s going to quickly become a viable option for cutting the cord in the very near future.
You’re saying to yourself: “I thought we were talking about cutting the cord? What’s that have to do with a box?”
Frankly, we couldn’t come up with a better name for this category. This is because nearly any type of modern electronic device that has the capability to connect to your TV also has the ability to run applications. Apps—just like the ones for your smartphone or tablet—allow you to do very specific things.
For example: the Playstation 3 is a video game console, but you can also surf YouTube, watch Netflix and Hulu videos, and even connect to Amazon Instant using its built-in applications. For some of the more robust apps, you’ll likely need a subscription (see “Pick Your Service” below), although they can also be free.
However, the good news is that it doesn’t just stop with video game consoles. Other electronics, such as Blu-ray players, DVD players, and “smart” televisions also have the ability to run apps, in addition to standalone boxes such as the AppleTV, Roku, and Google’s Chromecast.
As with most consumers who decide to cut the cord, you’ll probably end up using a combination of the above services to fit your specific needs. For instance, if you already own an iPhone and store the majority of your music, movies, and TV shows in iTunes, an AppleTV may make the most sense for you. On the other hand, if you travel a lot for business and need to access your content on the go, a simple subscription to Netflix and/or Hulu (mentioned below) could do the trick.
2. Pick Your Service
After you’ve chosen the hardware you’re going to use in your quest to cut the cord, the next step is to choose the software (e.g. applications, which you can think of like channels) you’ll be using. It’s no secret that Hulu Plus and Netflix are the cornerstones of the cord-cutting community, simply because they offer a ton of content, and can be accessed from just about anywhere with an internet connection. Take some time and do your research, though, because there are lesser players that can be just as beneficial, such as Amazon Instant, Crackle, and HitBliss.
The good news is that using app-based content to cut the cord means that you can often personalize your library to a greater extent. On the flip side, though, because each app typically addresses a very specific niche, this means you’ll likely have to download and try several in order to find the ones that match your needs.