Yesterday we joined the ever-growing ranks of the cord-cutters, those people who are finally fed up with paying too much for hundreds and hundreds of channels of crappy entertainment. Over the last few years we watched our Comcast bill go from about $95 per month up to $175 per month with no appreciable change in service.
To add insult to injury we also learned that a number of advertised “Xfinity” features that Comcast offered to most customers were not actually available to customers in our area due to our local branch office using older equipment. The features we did have worked sporadically or failed spectacularly. Our kids cried more than once when an on-demand video suddenly stopped playing or wouldn’t start. After our DVR crashed for the third time in three years we learned to watch anything we recorded within 24 hours of it airing or we risked never seeing it.
These frustrations, coupled with the plethora of other entertainment options meant we were not watching nearly as much TV as we might have a few years ago. For the past several months we found ourselves watching, at most, an hour or two of “live” TV per month. Everything else was streamed, rented or purchased.
We have no other true TV options. We live in the most densely populated state in the nation, but Verizon hasn’t bothered bringing FiOS to our area. There are no other cable companies available to us. I’ve never known anyone who was all that happy with their satellite TV service.
Our monthly cable bill was about $175 per month with $100 of that being taken up with TV services, taxes or fees. The other $75 covers upgraded broadband internet. So I called Comcast and cancelled my TV service.
I know, you want to hear about how they tried to talk me out of it or wouldn’t let me cancel my cable TV. But it wasn’t really that bad, which means that Comcast knows it’s being watched pretty closely. I did have to sit on hold for about 30 minutes before I could talk to someone, but I figure that’s by design. Long telephone wait times force those “passionately angry” customers to cool down by listening to some smooth jazz that is regularly interrupted by a recorded voice tell them that their call is very important to someone.
I don’t remember my customer service rep’s name, but he sounded like a Martin, so I’ll call him that. The process was, overall, pretty simple.
Me: “Hello, I’d like to cancel my cable TV service but keep my internet service.”
Martin: “Okay, can I ask you why you want to drop your TV service?”
Me: “We don’t watch it much.”
Martin: “Well, I certainly can’t argue with that…<lots of silence filled with key clicks>… If you want to cancel your service it’s perfectly okay and we’ll do that immediately… but just so you know if you went with a basic package your monthly bill could be about $5 lower.”
Me: “Oh yeah? Okay, I’ll bite… ”
They had a deal, of course. Martin gently tried to work out a deal that would keep us with TV and internet but I decided it would probably be a good experiment to see how well we all survived without the cable box. I cancelled the service and dropped the box off at our local office about an hour later.
Video Entertainment Without Cable
It has been 24 hours without cable and there have been no screaming riots, no crying fits and no one has been suffering from separation anxiety. My son has pointed out that he won’t be able to watch one or two of his shows on demand anymore and I won’t be able to easily watch a few of my shows this season, but there are options.
Netflix: This is the most obvious choice for entertainment and though it doesn’t have the most recent episode of most shows, it does have a pretty extensive backlog of TV shows. The down side to Netflix is the way they drop videos from their library from time to time. I recently discovered the The Regular Show at about the same time I learned that it was going to be dropped from Netflix at the end of this month, which means I’ll need to plan out some viewing time.
Hulu Plus: Hulu is kind of the New Jersey of streaming video services. It sounds good on paper, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a strange mix of B-rated movies, newer episodes of network shows and has some things you won’t see anywhere else. Hulu always makes you think, “This was good… but I wish they had more…” We signed up with Hulu just last month to see if we could use it to catch the new shows that we want to watch without depending on cable TV. The selection on Hulu is… perplexing. Sometimes they have shows, sometimes they do not. Some shows have full episodes, some seem to have clips, some have just one season from years ago. Yes, all their shows have commercials. It costs about the same as Netflix (about $8 a month) but it has new episodes, so it’s something we’ll probably keep it for a few more months.
Amazon Prime: We have been Amazon Prime members for years for the free two-day shipping. The streaming video and music services are simply icing on the cake. If you work out the price it’s about the same monthly fee as Netflix and Hulu Plus. It has a lot of free episodes on past TV shows, but here’s where it’s the winner: You can purchase episodes of the latest season of a lot of shows. The purchase price is, generally, reasonable ($1.99 to $3.99).
Here’s an example of why Amazon Prime is so great for customers and networks: Let’s say you love three different TV shows. You simply must see them but you just got rid of your cable box. On Amazon you could simply buy the whole season. Let’s say each of those seasons cost you $25. The episodes are released as the shows air (or the day after) the shows air on regular TV.
You just spent $75 on three TV shows. Sounds like a lot, but that’s still less than a single month of cable TV. The networks probably make much more money off purchased episodes than free ones with advertising and you get to pay for only the shows you want.
Amazon Prime Streaming Video is a la carte cable TV. It gives you the option to watch (and pay for) only the things you want. Apple’s iTunes also gives you this ability, but their selection of free shows is severely limited (unlike Amazon) and they require you to buy the Apple TV hardware for $99. I’m able to play Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Streaming Videos on my PS3, my iPhones and even my android tablet without purchasing any extra devices.
Doing The Math
Assuming I didn’t have any streaming services before dropping cable TV there’s still a lot of money to be saved. Let’s use some rounded numbers to see how this will work out:
|Cable TV & Internet||$175|
|Remove Cable TV||$-100|
|Add Hulu Plus||$8|
|Add Amazon Prime Streaming||$9|
|Total Monthly Expenses||$101|
We went from $175 per month to $101 per month, which means we have a savings of $74 per month or about $888 per year. In reality we’re saving even more because we already had Netflix and Amazon Prime anyway. With that $888 per year you could, in theory, purchase 35 full seasons of your favorite TV shows from Amazon Prime.
This isn’t the whole story, of course.
First, by dropping cable TV I also gave up my DVR which was handy when it worked, though it may not be needed if I can manage to watch recent episodes on Hulu Plus or buy new episodes on Amazon Streaming Video.
Second, there are a lot of other video entertainment options out there. I didn’t even mention Roku, though I may eventually pick one up. We didn’t really explore Apple TV or building your own media server or Sling TV or even purchasing an affordable HD antenna.
Third, we didn’t talk about sports or other live television events. No one in our family watches sports so that wasn’t even a consideration.
The remaining last challenge is a bit of a “false” problem. The problem is that after dropping cable TV we simply cannot get new episodes of every show we like. I would like to catch up on the latest season of American Dad but it’s now on TBS. TBS won’t allow you to stream videos from their website unless you have… wait for it… a cable TV subscription. I’d be willing to pay for new episodes of American Dad but, nope, they aren’t available anywhere that I can find them. That leaves me thinking about using BitTorrent or simply not watching the show at all. Either option hurts TBS more than it hurts me.
The landscape of video entertainment is still rapidly changing and new services and devices are cropping up all the time. For our family the benefits we realize by dropping cable TV far outweigh the few inconveniences. What will the future of TV viewing hold? We’ll just have to wait and watch…