Netflix, Apple TV and Hulu are some of the popular broadcasting services that encourage cord cutting. The cord cutting concept received a considerable amount of recognition beginning in 2010 as more Internet solutions became available. These broadcasters have convinced millions of cable and satellite subscribers to cut their cords and change to video streaming.
If you want—or need—to see a significant number of your local teams’ games, I’m going to stop right here. This is one area where streaming services can’t yet fully deliver. Local games are generally exclusive to regional sports networks, and you’ll still need cable for that. There’s also the issue of some online services being a little more unstable than die-hard fans might like. Dish’s Sling TV failed for many customers during this weekend’s NCAA Final Four action, leading the company to issue an apology.
We looked closely at the ratings and scores by Consumer Reports, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), and J.D. Power. Each of these groups rate cable companies on customer satisfaction, with some breakout categories like performance, value, communications, billing, and technical support. Companies that score well with these consumer resources are more likely to resolve issues, clearly communicate changes in billing, and consistently provide reliable television service.
Looking back, some TV executives express regret for doing business with an up-and-coming Netflix, and they struggle to justify their decision to do so. Had they withheld shows from the companies, TV executives might have been vulnerable to lawsuits by the Hollywood talent who have a financial stake in a show being sold to the highest bidder. Netflix frequently offered the most money.
There’s a good chance you won’t have more than two options for your cable TV service. Providers have limited competition by avoiding regions with existing monopolies. We favored cable providers with widespread available that were the most likely to be available to you. Local and more regional providers (like WOW! or Cincinnati Bell), score great in customer service but offer service in fewer than 10 states. If you happen to live somewhere with a local provider, it’s still worth considering.
You may still need cable or satellite: Access to some streaming channels require that you are also an active cable/satellite subscriber. What this means is that although some of the channels you enjoyed on your cable or satellite service are available via streaming for free, when you try to access some streaming channels, you may be required to provide verification that you also receive that channel via a cable or satellite service.
Is it better to go with a long term commitment or a “no contract” option? There are pros and cons to both alternatives. Typically, a long-term contract comes at a discounted monthly rate, so that you can save over time. Contracts may also come with perks like free installation, free equipment, or extra premium channels. If you know exactly what service you want and that you'll need cable TV for the next few years, the contract is worth it. However, for those that are unsure of how long they'll want TV service, a no contract option is the way to go. You might end up paying a bit more a month on average, but you'll be able to cancel whenever you want. Many providers will make you pay early termination fees if you decide to cancel your TV service before your contract is up. The easiest way to compare your contract options is to type in your zip code!
There are still some free streaming options, but they are limited, understandably. Hulu dropped its ad-supported free option in 2016, but the CW’s proprietary app still works on that model. CBSN and the upcoming CBSN Local are both free-to-view, working off of the reasonable assumption that no one wants to pay a monthly subscription fee for TV news these days. But given the widespread failure of online advertising, it’s not too surprising that paid subscriptions are the normal business model for most streaming content.
First, buy a dongle or antenna (or both) and connect to your television. Research and determine which device you want to use. Some people prefer to stick with a specific manufacturer because they have other products from the same place (for example, users of Amazon Alexa might prefer an Amazon Fire Stick while Google Home owners might prefer a Chromecast). Your budget and personal preferences should drive this decision.
Cable companies, of course, are freaking out: eMarketer says 22.2 million US adults cut the cord by the end of 2017, a trend that will continue for all age demographics below 55. In a November 2017 survey, Leichtman Research said that in the third quarter that year, the top six cable companies lost 290,000 subscribers, compared to 90,000 in Q3 of 2016. It's worse for the satellite providers Dish and DirecTV, which lost 475,000, while internet TV services (specifically via Sling TV and DirecTV Now) gained 536,000.
CBS All-Access is a good example of a single channel app that offers live television. However, CBS All Access doesn't contain CBS's complete library so don't go in expecting you'll be able to stream the entire Big Bang Theory series. Other networks, like HGTV, Smithsonian Channel, History Channel, etc. also offer varying degrees of access to content through their apps.
It’s a critical issue since Sling TV had more than 2.3 million subscribers as of the most recent quarter while DirecTV Now serves more than 1.8 million clients. AT&T recently launched an even skinnier bundle called AT&T Watch that appeals to viewers not interested in sports. Other companies including Verizon and T-Mobile may get into the skinny bundle business, which UBS expects to represent 25% of all pay-TV subscriptions by 2022.
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Along with each package, we’ve also included the amount of money the typical television viewer would save by cutting cable and switching to streaming. Greg Ireland, research director for multiscreen video at market-analysis firm IDC, estimates that the average cable subscriber pays $85 a month for video while receiving an effective $10 per month discount on internet service. That means for people with a “double play” bundle—cable TV and Internet in the same bill—canceling cable would save an average of $75 a month, or $900 per year.
Even so, no service we've reviewed is incomplete enough to discourage you from using it outright. If a service sounds like it might be a good fit for you, your best bet is to investigate which channels that service offers and see if it falls within your price range. Most of these services give you anywhere from a week to a month to evaluate them before charging you, and none of them require a contract. At worst, you'll be stuck with a service you don't like for a month.
Perhaps no one deserves more credit for threatening the old TV business model than Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings. As the driving force behind the world’s largest streaming video service, with about 130 million subscribers, he’s taught consumers to expect an abundance of old and new shows and movies, without the irritation of commercial interruptions, for just $8 a month.
For example, imagine what the science fiction fan of 2019 will need to do to keep up with the genre’s most prominent franchise content. Star Wars will live on Disney’s new proprietary service, but new episodes of Star Trek (both Star Trek: Discovery and the upcoming Next Generation sequel) are only available on CBS All Access. Meanwhile, The Expanse is exclusive to Amazon Prime. If fans want to watch DC’s superhero shows, as well, that’ll require a DC Universe subscription — although the CW shows featuring DC characters will only be available via the CW app — or, for patient fans who want a commercial-free option, Netflix. If they want to catch up on classic Doctor Who, they’d better have a Britbox membership.
As cord-cutting has picked up steam, many cable companies are offering their own "skinny bundle" packages with internet and a few channels for less. It seems counterintuitive, but in 2018, "cutting the cord" can still mean sticking with your current cable company. The important thing when comparing these services is to look at the contract requirements and extra fees. Even if a service price looks the same as many all-streaming packages, if you need to tack on an extra TV box or two the monthly fees will add up quickly.