Cutting the Cord: Yes or No?

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Bill Hendrickson is contemplating taking his Viagra through my Apple TV. I'm trying out Apple TV's mirror capability, so we can watch Amazon Prime video on our TV complete with audio! As cool as this is, are we ready to cut the cable? Photo: Patricia Vollmer
Bill Hendrickson (Bill Paxton) is contemplating taking his Viagra through my Apple TV. I’m trying out Apple TV’s computer mirror capability with an episode of HBO’s Big Love; so even though it’s not programmed into Apple TV, we can still watch Amazon Prime video on our TV, complete with audio! As cool as this is, are we ready to cut the cable? Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

There are some big changes going on in this GeekMom’s life. For starters, I’m starting full-time work later this summer. I don’t know how long the work will last, and I’m grateful for the flexibility in our kids’ child care that I can work for as much or as little as the Air Force needs me.

The other thing changing is my family’s television viewing habits. I’m watching our sons tap into our cable system’s “On Demand” options more often, and they are now well-versed in navigating Netflix and Amazon Prime video on our house’s Blu-ray players. More of our friends and family are foregoing cable and satellite and opting for the options that promote “binge viewing.” Guess what? Our family is now heading in that direction. Right now, we’re enjoying Netflix’s awesome programming, such as Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. In addtion, we are using Netflix and Hulu to play catch-up on television series we never got around to watching the first time. On my wish list is the UK version of The Office as well as 30 Rock.

We haven’t officially cut the cable yet. When we moved into our new house in Colorado last June, we took advantage of a promotion: $99 per month for 12 months. That was in late June. So we have a month left in this promotion before we actually make the cut without a penalty. In the meantime, I’ve been doing a bit of shopping:

1. HD Over-the-Air Antennas. For the first time, we have a clear line-of-sight view of our local television HD transmitters sitting on top of Cheyenne Mountain. I bought a couple of inexpensive over-the-air antennas from Amazon that simply plug into our televisions’ coax cable ports—and voilá! I have all of the major networks, including The CW and several Latino networks. $32 per television set; we have two televisions.

2. Netflix and Hulu Plus subscriptions. During our move between Florida and Colorado in 2013, we had turned off our Netflix streaming subscription. I ended up canceling it for nearly a year and just resuscitated it in March. That runs us about $8 per month. In addition, I recently started Hulu Plus, which is also $8 per month. We’ll see if we need to keep both services concurrently. We use Amazon Prime quite a bit, so the Prime Instant Videos are also available to us, but we admittedly don’t watch many of them. $16 per month.

3. Apple TV. I crowdsourced this one on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I asked, “Which streaming video player should we get?” While I had many simple declarations of “Roku!,” “Amazon Fire TV!,” and “Chromecast!,” I had to do a little digging to find out the features of each of devices. Guess what? They’re basically the same.  Apple TV was the winner, mostly because we have a house full of Apple products that can easily stream to an Apple TV device. I ordered an Apple TV device and it just arrived today. I’m looking forward to exploring its full capabilities. $92 one-time cost.

So after an upfront cost that’s still less than one month of cable, I’m thinking we can get our television recurring costs down below $20 per month.

What do you think? I know many families now go without cable; how has that been going for you? I’ve prepared a list of pros and cons here, although we’re pretty certain we’re going forward with the change, at least for now.

Pros of Cutting the Cord

  • Cost. We will be freeing up nearly $100 per month, which goes back into our family’s budget. I like that idea.
  • More deliberate viewing experience. My husband is a chronic channel-surfer. Until recently, he would flip through channels and simply rest on something that catches his attention. Recent changes to our Comcast program guide has made the channel surfing even less like the good old days. So now, we only have the TV on when we have something in particular to watch.
  • Less exposure to channels you don’t want your kids to see. This has always rubbed me the wrong way: paying for a large programming package when in reality, we don’t watch over half the channels we’re paying for. In addition, we end up with numerous channels we don’t necessarily want our children to be watching.

Cons of Cutting the Cord

  • Sports. This one will be very difficult for our family. Some GeekMoms testified that because of live sports, they need to keep their cable. We enjoy NFL, MLB, and NHL events, as well as NCAA football. Most online programming options for sports require an account with an existing cable and satellite provider. I’m not sure how well we’re going to do with this.
  • News and weather. Our Apple TV comes with SkyNews. However, even to watch CNN and FoxNews live broadcasts through my iPad, I needed a login and password for my existing Comcast account. As for weather, I’ve figured out how to broadcast WeatherNation through my iPad, which was nice.
  • Cable and premium programming. Similar to the sports and news issues, watching networks such as FX, AMC, and Showtime is requiring my Comcast account as well.
  • “Real-time” viewing experience. I have enjoyed watching favorite shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead as soon as it airs, but it’s okay if I don’t watch the shows right away. If I get the itch to watch it real-time, I can always invest in a series season pass through iTunes, right?
  • Is this going to blast through our unofficial home bandwidth limits? As far as I know, I don’t have a limit (we have Comcast Internet), but I wonder if we will see impacts—such as slower upload/download speeds—if we overdo things.

You’d think I was discussing swimming with sharks with how scary this is seeming to my family! Do you think our family is making a smart move?

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10 thoughts on “Cutting the Cord: Yes or No?

  1. We’ve not had cable for almost five years now and LOVE it. One of the best “pros” for us has been not having commercials for our young boys. The gimmies have been so much less since we’ve had only media we choose. Hulu Plus does have commercials, and more now than we we first started, but they do not have commercials with their children’s shows. We have the streaming trifecta: Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon, and both apple tv and Roku. We use the apple tv the most by far. Drawbacks are having to wait a day for any show, but I don’t mind spoilers. We are not a big sports watching family so I can’t help you there. We use websites to check news and weather. However my oldest son is wanting cable so he can watch The Weather Channel, he has a passion for weather and says the internet is not enough. Sorry for the novel but I really love being cable free!

    1. Thanks for the testimony Bonnie! I have to admit I will miss The Weather Channel also, even though (as I’ve mentioned in previous GeekMom posts) it isn’t nearly what it used to be. I still respect their severe weather and tropical weather coverage. I found a way to stream WeatherNation from my iPad to my Apple TV, and your son might find that a very good alternative. WeatherNation is like the old school Weather Channel programming. 24/7 weather forecasting.

  2. We are a mostly cable-free family. I say “mostly” because just last night I hooked up our new cable box and our television filled up with channels. We do this every four years. My husband likes World Cup soccer, and he watches the entire month religiously. Since this only comes around every four years, I support him by getting a cable subscription and a DVR. Four years ago, I was a little slow in cancelling, and we kept it all for nearly a year, paying more than we had intended, but this year I’m sure I’ll cancel before school starts. The rest of the time, we use an antenna with a digital converter, netflix, and hulu plus. We rarely watch shows as they air, because the commercial breaks are so lengthy. We watch them all on hulu the next day, when there are at least a lot less ads.

    Every so often we want a show that is only available on cable, like Doctor Who or Orphan Black. These we buy through Amazon Instant. I figure the cost of a season pass to one of these is less than a month of cable, and again, no ads. It’s a bummer to wait until the next day, but we’ve gotten used to it. I can’t stomach the way BBC America butchers shows to allow advertising–they even removed scenes from Broadchurch, which would have ruined the show.

    As you pointed out, sports are better on cable. It’s a good thing folks here aren’t really into sports most of the time, and no one misses cable. Every so often there’s a soccer match my husband would like to watch, but his interest in it isn’t equal to the amount it would cost to maintain a cable subscription, so he finds somewhere else to watch it, or goes without.

  3. Aereo. Solves nfl. Use Espn app and someone else’s cable acct. to authenticate. This works for Disney etc.

  4. One of the biggest pros I’ve found is the lack of commercials for the kids. Now that they only watch programs through Netflix, they aren’t bombarded with the constant stream of junk advertisers are trying to push on kids these days. It’s rather jarring now sitting with the kids with a normal set, and getting all those ads. On the flip side, streaming my favorite shows through Hulu or on network sites tend to have the same ads repeatedly, making the forced commercial breaks very annoying (networks — I don’t mind watching the ads when I’m not paying for content, but PLEASE don’t repeat an ad during a single show!)

    Sports was THE big issue for me when I cut the cord. I’m a huge football fan, and not being able to watch the local team was rough, to say the least. HD Antennas will pick up most games, but it won’t cover out-of-market games, and in my case, I couldn’t pick up most channels OTA. My solution came through wiziwig.tv, a website that streams sports from overseas, mostly through Sky Sports in England. It’s not always the best streams, especially with lesser, non-marquee matchups, but I didn’t miss a game. Even had access to the Olympics live in HD.

    Most of the time, there are solutions to your issues, but you just have to put a little effort and/or sacrifice, and it’s well worth the savings.

    1. Thanks for the tips DG. The sports issue will be a big one. I know we can get the networks on our OTA antenna, although we’ll have to deal with blackouts when our local teams (Broncos, Rockies, Avalanche) are playing.

  5. Although some premium programming may not be available to watch right away without a subscription, we’ll be seeing a lot more cord-cutting options from content providers in the near future. I work for Winegard, an OTA antenna manufacturer, and many of our customers are cord-cutters. Networks like Comedy Central are embracing this trend, and they even launched an app that delivers next-day programs of its hit shows. No need for a subscription! I also advise my customers to keep a journal of their TV viewing habits for a few weeks… many times they find that most of their favorite programs can be seen with an antenna or on a streaming service. Then cutting the cord is a no-brainer!

    1. Yes, I’ve heard of the company you work for. Thanks for the insight! We’re very happy to have such a strong OTA signal here. I just hope networks such as the ABC family of programming and FX will allow folks without cable/satellite subscriptions to watch their programming, even if it’s a week late.

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