Is Cord-Cutting (Or Cord-Shaving) Right For You?

Five years ago, the idea of a household without a cable TV subscription was practically unheard of. But, increasingly, “cord-cutters” are becoming the norm. In July 2016, a quarter of all US households didn’t have a pay cable subscription, and the pace of people dropping cable is only accelerating. But how do you go about cord-cutting, and is that what you want out of TV?

Why Cut The Cord?

In America, we buy our TV in bulk. The problem is, we’re buying more and more, and getting more channels, but we’re still watching the same stuff. A 2014 Nielsen analysis found that between 2008 and 2013, the number of cable channels went from 129, on average, to 189, but that Americans were still watching just 17 channels total. And remember, the way your cable bill is constructed, you pay for each channel as part of your bill whether you watch it constantly or not at all.

The cost of all that TV you don’t watch just keeps going up. The average cable bill, in 2012, was roughly $65, and it rose a whopping 39% on average between 2011 and 2015, eight times the rate of inflation. There’s no sign that’s going to stop, either. Leichtman Research, which tracks cable rates, reported the average cable bill crossed the triple figure mark in 2016 at $103. And that’s not adding in taxes, fees, and equipment rental, like the cable box.

Most people cut the cord because it’s cheaper. When I cut the cord five years ago, Netflix cost $8 a month, Hulu $8 a month, and Amazon Prime, then just a young pup of a streaming service, cost $80 a year, which I was paying anyway for the free shipping. In other words, I was paying about $22.50 a month for streaming, compared to about $80 a month for cable. Since then, the price of Netflix has risen to $10 and Prime to $100 a year, although to be fair Prime pays for itself and then some if you know how to use it, so now I’m paying roughly $25 a month. It rose about 2% a year, while my internet costs stayed largely the same.

But all three services have rapidly expanded their libraries with both classic shows and movies and their own original productions. So even as the cost has risen modestly, what you get from streaming services has vastly improved. Still, it’s a fair point streaming services don’t have everything, and there’s another option: Cord-shaving.

Cut The Cord? Or Shave It?

While Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu all have deep libraries of both original series and movies — ranging from Hollywood classics to horror movies you used to find on the back rack at Blockbuster — there are some trade-offs to cord-cutting. For any shows you can’t catch the day they air, you have to wait until it uploads to a service, which depending on the show and the network could take months. Nowhere is this more glaring than sports, where a mix of cable rights deals and broadcast schedules can make it tough to stay on top of games if you’re a hardcore fan.

If there’s a show that’s appointment TV for you, and you can’t get it elsewhere, cord-shaving may be right for you. Cord-shaving is the practice of cutting down your overall cable bundle, such as accepting basic cable and an internet subscription. Some cable companies offer packages that are just one or two premium channels, like HBO, a basic channel package, and internet. Similarly, there are several live-TV streaming services, including one offered through Hulu, that cut down on the bill while offering a range of channels, usually a basic package for $20 to $30 with “add-on” packs of channels or the ability to subscribe to individual channels. You can subscribe to Showtime and Starz through Amazon Video, for example, usually for around $8 or $9 per channel.

The best way to figure out which is right for you is to make a list of the shows you absolutely have to watch, and then use resources like CanIStream.It to figure out which services they’re on. You might be surprised by what turns up; Hulu has a deep library of TV classics that’s growing all the time, for example, while Netflix has quite a few foreign series and other cult shows. Don’t forget that some networks, like SyFy and the CW, will stream the most episodes of their shows off their websites for free.

The Tools To Cut The Cord

To cut the cord you’ll need:

– A reliable, stable internet connection. You might want to upgrade your overall speed if you’re switching to streaming only, diverting some of your cable bill to a better quality of internet. Expect to pay between $10 and $25 more depending on how fast you want it to be.

– A streaming box, such as a Roku ($50 to $100), a Blu-Ray player with streaming features ($100 to $200), or even in some cases a smart TV. Here the sky is the limit. For example, if you still have a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays, you might consider investing in a game console like the PS4, about $250, or a Blu-Ray player with streaming extras. The one point to be aware of is that some boxes will have restrictions: For example, if you buy movies through iTunes, you won’t be able to watch them on an Amazon Fire. Look where you buy media from, and see what boxes support which companies. As a rule, expect Google and Amazon to have more support than Apple.

– Streaming services, if you haven’t already signed up. Netflix is $10 a month, Hulu is $8 ($12 for ad-free), and if you already have Prime, then you have Amazon Video.

– An antenna ($10 to $30). Remember, everything you get via basic cable, like the broadcast networks, is given away for free over the air. You can easily get a cheap antenna off of Amazon and experiment; depending on where you live, you might also want to pay for a signal amplifier ($30) in order to ensure your antenna doesn’t keep cutting out.

– A Chromecast ($20) and Google Chrome on your phone or laptop. The Chromecast is a dirt cheap addition that will let you stream shows from your laptop or phone straight to your TV, opening up even more streaming options.

You might also consider getting a standalone DVR, like the Terk HD, to record live TV off an antenna. Once you get the box connected to your TV, and the antenna hooked up, you’ll be all set. Now just pick out some shows and start streaming, as your wallet sighs in relief.