Thinking of getting rid of cable? Here’s what it’s going to take.
Last summer, I became a statistic. As a new TV cord cutter, my decision was, and will continue to be, be cited in a limitless number of articles. But we didn’t do it because it was trendy, we did it because it finally made sense. My wife and I came to the realization that we didn’t really need our cable package anymore. Between Netflix, Hulu, and various sports packages, most of what we wanted to watch would be covered. The allure of ESPN was minimal (SportsCenter is essentially useless in a YouTube world, and their live sports choices very rarely involved teams I was interested in.) So we decided to save the money and get rid of cable.
I’d like to say that we don’t miss it at all, cord cutting was long overdue and/or I recommend it for everyone. But I don’t. If you enjoy watching TV, filling that need as a cord cutter requires a labyrinthian hydra of devices, subscriptions and work-arounds.
But it does save a lot of money and break you away from the 500-channels-but-nothing-to-watch stranglehold you’ve gotten so accustomed to. And, going back to those hot hot statistics I mentioned earlier, people continue to cut the cord every day, so there must be some non-insignificant allure.
I thought I’d share the lessons I learned to help you out on your cord cutting endeavor if you, like me, decide to become a statistic in a trend piece.
1 | Pick the right media streaming device
The main options are Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, or your Xbox or PS4. I never had much luck with the Chromecast; I always found the stream quality was quite bad, and, more cripplingly, it made it tough for me to play games on my phone while I watched TV. Because obviously I can’t just watch TV anymore, that’s not enough stimulation, I also have to be multitasking.
All of the streaming devices have at least one disparate tragic flaw — lack of apps, screwy interfaces, and so on — but we eventually settled on the Apple TV. Despite some crucial apps missing (Spotify, Amazon), it seemed to work the smoothest of the bunch. It’s especially good if you’ve bought TV shows or movies on iTunes. Amazon Fire was our runner-up, and it’s good if you want to use Prime streaming or you’ve bought TV shows or movies on Amazon. Roku has the best selection of apps. Chromecast… um… puts nice naturescapes on your TV when you’re not watching something.
2 | Hulu, Netflix or both?
Hulu and Netflix have, over the past few years, settled into quite different lanes and now serve entirely different primary purposes. Netflix is an original programming juggernaut and, to a much lesser extent, a repository of old seasons of lots of TV shows. (Oh, and original Adam Sandler movies. They’re churning those out now at an Awesom-O rate.)
Hulu is best for watching current TV shows from ABC, NBC and FOX right after they air, plus old seasons of lots of TV shows that Netflix doesn’t always have. Their original shows usually tend to be a marginal value add at best. I think Hulu is much more expendable, since its niche is really just: Do you like enough major network programming that you NEED to watch it within 24 hours of its original airing? That said, we have subscriptions to both.
3 | Resist the channel bundles
DirecTV Now, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, and a growing list of others are now offering bundles of cable channels (and sometimes networks) to cord cutters. I’ve never understood the appeal. Didn’t you cut cable to get rid of a sizable monthly fee for a bundle of channels, most of which you don’t want? If you’re going to pay $40-a-month (or more) for one of these, it’s probably worth it to just stick with cable where (1) you’re not dependent on Internet speeds and reliability (2) you have more developed DVR options and (3) you have reliable access to all of the broadcast networks.
4 | Make a battle plan for cable shows you can’t get
Hulu can get you broadcast shows 24 hours after they air, but next-day cable shows are virtually nonexistent. So if you want to watch shows on networks like AMC and FX as a cord cutter and not wait until their full seasons hit one of the streaming services almost a year later… well, it depends on how nefarious you want to get. On the most extreme end, there’s piracy. Two steps more legit than that is borrowing a friend or family member’s cable password to watch on the network’s streaming app. And then there’s the ultra legit way of purchasing the episodes from iTunes or Amazon. There’s no ideal option here. You may just wind up waiting.
5 | Say goodbye to CBS
CBS isn’t on Hulu and, even if you get your hands on a valid cable login, CBS still won’t always let you stream its shows. CBS is not exactly in the business of bending over backwards to accommodate young, tech-savvy people. If you want to watch (not live with an antenna), you need to pay for a subscription to their All-Access app. But it’s REALLY hard to justify paying a subscription fee to CBS when services like Netflix and Hulu provide SO much more stuff. In other words, now that you’ve cut the cord, you’ve watched your last episode of NCIS: Los Angeles.
6 | Put your antenna in the window
Cord cutting is an odd mix of cutting edge trendiness supported by comically antiquated equipment —
specifically, the rabbit ears you thought you’d never see again after 1985. Over-the-air antennas are good for getting the broadcast networks under one MAJOR condition: You’d better find a good spot to put that antenna. Do you live in an urban area and have your antenna positioned high up in a window? You’ll probably be able to pull almost all of the networks without too many technical issues. Do you have a situation that doesn’t match 100 percent of those conditions? Yeah, don’t expect to watch much stuff with the antenna.
We live in an urban area (good) but we never ran a long piece of coax to get our antenna high up in a window (bad) — and therefore, we can get CBS, sometimes NBC, a weird channel that plays classic episodes of Let’s Make a Deal, 17 different Spanish and Korean networks, and maybe ABC as long as no one moves in the living room and it’s not windy outside.
7 | Make a list of shows you want to binge watch
It’s great when my wife and I pick a show we want to binge watch. But then the season ends and we enter this horrible loop of endlessly scrolling through Netflix and Hulu looking for something new to watch. Overwhelming choices but, just like with cable, we can’t pull the trigger on what to watch. It’s the cord cutting version of the recurring 35-minute marital argument over where to eat and/or whether to go get frozen yogurt afterwards. So — as dumb as this sounds — I’d recommend sitting down, making a list of 11 or 22 shows you want to watch, and sticking to them.
8 | Pick a “just throw it on” show
You don’t realize it until cable is gone, but it’s pretty common to just throw something on TV in the background — whether it’s sports or a Food Network marathon or Jeopardy. As a cord cutter, it’s much less seamless to just throw something on, since every viewing is a more directly conscious choice. So it’s good to have a few ideas of what you can just put on when you want background noise or something to watch for 10 minutes on the couch. Old sitcoms you’ve already seen work well. Shows were people are screaming at you — in other words, everything on every news and sports channel — are less alluring.
9 | Expect sports on a delay
It’s surprisingly viable to watch sports as a cord cutter, but you’re getting a healthy delay. Like, to the point where, during last year’s baseball playoffs, I couldn’t look at Twitter because it would spoil what I would see 30-45 seconds later. Not the end of the world, but a concession.
10 | Be wary of throwing a viewing party
My wife threw an Oscars party and planned to rely on the antenna or streaming via the ABC app. But with all those people in the room, our crappy antenna couldn’t hold the ABC signal… and with all the other people streaming on the ABC app, we had major buffering issues. Our friends were magnanimous about all the problems, but it’s fair to say they’ll all mysteriously have excuses if we try to throw an Oscars party next year.
11 | Get ready for a weird moment of missing commercials
Yes, really. They provide a nice, natural moment to get up, go to the bathroom, grab something, whatever. With streaming, you have to decide to press pause (at which point whomever you’re watching with will roll their eyes). Watching TV isn’t supposed to be about making proactive decisions.