Is 2014 the Year Cord Cutting Becomes Viable?

Sections: Streaming, TVs, Video

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For hipsters, cord cutting has become a mark of being “with it,” but the question of how viable it really is for the average family has been a giant question mark. Solving the problem of linear TV, the “now” stuff like news, sports, or even your favorite program that you can’t wait another minute to see has been poorly addressed by most streaming solutions tied to television. Even apps like those from ABC require a cable subscription to view the stream, making them functionally useless to cord cutters.  So how affordable is  cord cutting compared to keeping the cable, really?

The first thing you have to consider is that virtually no one really cuts the cord. They simply eliminate the pay-TV subscription from their cable service package and usually stick with their cable company as their Internet Service Provider (ISP). This typically runs at least $50 a month for a decent speed that will reliably support HD streaming. Once you start lumping Hulu, Netflix, and/or Amazon on top of this, and some subscriptions to some cable shows on Amazon or iTunes (which can run up to $40 a year, each), and you can start seeing where cutting the cord becomes a lot less attractive.

So what can you do to actually save money? For this, we must turn to the ancient knowledge of our forefathers, who raised magical totems to the sky to catch the invisible messages from the gods. An antenna can be quite viable for anyone living within 30 miles of a major metropolis. In a large market, you can expect to pull upwars of 40 channels off the air when you count in all the subchannels. Sure, some of those might be your local religious broadcaster splitting their signal eight ways, but there’s actually some worthwhile networks out there like Antenna  TV or THIS that give you at least a decent facsimile of channels like Turner Classic Movies or Nick at Night. By coupling those with the aforementioned streaming services, you can stay reasonably current and up to date on scripted programming. Cord cutting isn’t just a thing for hipsters, either. Many seniors are cutting the cord to save money, and that digital antenna is a great option for them too.

At this year’s CES, we’ve already seen TVs from the manufacturers that make cross-platform searching a lot easier. For example, Panasonic’s new line of Life+Screen Smart TVs that premiered yesterday allow you to search keywords across any TV app, such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, etc. making Smart TVs the perfect option for the cord cutter–especially considering their ability to connect to the Internet where cord cutters get all their content in the first place.



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  • Ludicrum

    You really need to do some math. You talk the cost of buying a show from iTunes as if it is on par with paying for cable, when it is far from it.

    For starters, adding the cost of internet to the overall TV costs is ridiculous. You would pay for internet regardless of whether you’re a cord cutter or not, and no one uses the internet solely for watching TV content.

    The average cable bill is roughly $80-$100 PER MONTH, or roughly $960-$1200 a year. If we accept your figure of $40 per show, if someone were to pay for 10 such shows, that would add up to a cost of $400 for that year, which is a savings of $560-$800 compared to what they would have paid with cable.

    Even that is inaccurate, because much of the current shows one would care to watch would be available on Hulu Plus. Older episodes of many shows can be found of Netflix as well.

    If you’re talking about keeping up with a current show, in most cases you don’t have to pay a single cent. Many current TV shows are available for free, usually the day after airing, on the TV station’s website, or on Hulu. People often forget that Hulu can be used for free.

    In most cases it is possible to watch current TV shows without ever paying a dime. For more extensive viewing, a subscription to Netflix and Hulu is advised. So that is $16 a month compared to the $80-$100 a month one would be paying. That adds up to a savings of $608 – $1008 a year, assuming that the customer watches all their current programming via Hulu and/or the TV station’s website.

    Even if we add the previous numbers on top of that (10 shows purchased through iTunes at $40 a show), to the monthly subscriptions costs for Netflix and Hulu, the total would add up to $592 a year, which would still be a savings of $208-$608.

    Note: most real-world usage wouldn’t even go that far. The average cord cutter would not need to buy that many shows a la carte. What I described was an extreme case, and even then there was still substantial cost savings.

    • Jeff Kleist

      The people paying $80-$100 a month are loaded up with premium channels. Since internet is required for traditional cord cutting, its expense is included in my figures.

      If you are bundling your cable with internet, the savings are significant, especially if you wheel and deal with cable retention people, or switch companies. Right now I can get internet and cable as low as $80 a month, plus tax. If you use apps to watch cable, or use an HTPC, you bypass cable boxes entirely. I based my figures on someone who doesn’t just accept what they’re given, someone very much in the cord cutter mentality.

      Hulu Plus has a very limited selection, often on at least a week’s delay of cable programming. While I’m sure there’s more, wrestling is the only thing I’ve seen that posts next day, and it’s a shortened version. More and more companies are not allowing you to watch on their website the next day. Again, they either instill a hefty delay, or they force you to create a login that registers your cable account with them to do so, even on broadcast channels. Many shows, like Pawn Stars that used to be free now require such registration.The only things that really post reliably are the shows with little repeat value, like The Daily Show, or talk shows.

      So when you look at how shows like Breaking Bad, or Mythbusters are cut up (a season “ends” when a block of new episodes stop, but they charge the same as a network show). I’m sure success using your formula might work, depending on your tastes, but I’ll wager that many people are filling the gaps with BitTorrent a lot more often than subscriptions or website watching. Thanks for reading, and I hope you now better understand my reasoning.

  • Ludicrum

    I must still contest your addition of internet into the figures. You are referring to a multi-purpose utility that every modern home already has, and has had for some time. No one is having an internet connection installed just for cord cutting; it’s a case of people getting one more use out of the internet they’re already paying for.

    Your argument that internet should be included in the figures makes as much sense as saying that we should include the cost of electricity.

    The cable bill numbers, I must stress, are an average. We’re not talking about the lowest cost possible if you’re thrifty, but the kind of real-world usage that exists in the average home. In this case, the average cable subscriber also subscribes to at least some premium packages. We’re talking about how much the average consumer might save, not how much Jeff Kleist might save. It seems you’re running on the assumption that we should only consider people who share your particular mentality, and that’s a rather narrow assumption.

    Hulu does have limitations, but you’re exaggerating. I just finished watching the episode of Modern Family that aired yesterday, among others. You are correct that basic hulu (the free version) is limited, but Hulu Plus is not. Even among networks that require authentication (such as ABC or FOX), hulu plus subscribers are exempt from authentication requirements and, in most cases, get new shows the very next day.

    I make no claim to this system being perfect. There are shows that slip through the cracks. Hulu might not carry it, and it’s not on Netflix. In those cases, if you really must watch it, then a la carte digital purchases from services such as iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, or VUDU come into play.

    It all depends on taste. Some users will get all they need from subscription services, and others may need to buy them a la carte. Most likely it will be some mixture of the two.

  • Jeff Kleist

    I’m not talking about ABC, CBS,NBC,FOX etc. I’m talking about Discovery, History, TNT, TBS, SyFy, Comedy Central etc etc. Besides, yo ucan get all of those shows free with an antenna, which was definately part of what I’m talking about.

    Spike has a deal with Hulu (on a hefty delay), Daily Show and Colbert appear on Hulu day after. We’re talking about alternative access to cable programming here, and the only shows managing it are the ones who have hefty exclusive deals like Falling Skies on Amazon, and those are few and far between. Otherwise, you’re stuck dropping $20-40 a show.

  • LukeBK

    I think you need to do some more research. I started on Directv at $49 a month after 3 years it was $100 a month with NO premium channels. I pay for Hulu Plus and Netflix costing us $15 a month now. Every now and then we will buy a show on Amazon which I use Hitbliss to get the videos for free. Add in the 30 plus channels most people get from over the air and its a great deal. Even with buying a few shows we average $20 a month on TV or $240 a year. With Directv after taxes and extra fees it was $100 a year with NO premium channels costing us $1200 a year. Total savings 960 a year and we have yet to miss something we want to watch.

  • Jeff Kleist

    You’re an exception, rather than the rule on how most people watch TV. MYTHBUSTERS. And Breaking Bad alone are $40 EACH. If you were paying $100 a month to DirectTv, sans a DSL package or premium channels, , you needed to call them and start making threats to leave. It’s amazing what kind of deals materialize when you do.

  • LukeBK

    I’m not sure where you get your numbers from Breaking Bad on Amazon ranges in price from $12-18 a season. Far cheaper than the $40 you quote. Could you put some links up for these prices you are finding? (I don’t want this to look like a ad for Amazon.) Dexter a very popular premium channel show averages $18 a season on Amazon. (Not only that once you pay for it once you own it and can re-watch it when ever you want.) I did call Directv and cancel my account. The best they offered me was $10 off a month for a year.

  • LukeBK

    Every of Breaking Bad is on Netflix for only $8 a month. Why pay $100 a month if you want to see Breaking Bad?

  • Jeff Kleist

    When Breaking bad was live, they treated each block of 8 episodes as a season. You’re talking BluRay, not day-after downloads. I’m talking about actually subscribing to the show to watch like on Hulu. Most people don’t just want to see Breaking bad they watch a lot of other shows to. Top Chef for example can easily run $100 a year. It’s $25 a season, $38 if you want it HD. Two seasons per year plus Masters. My point is that it doesn’t take being a fan of many shows to make up the difference to where the hassle and what you’re losing isn’t worth it

    You’ve inspired me to do a piece on how to negotiate with your cable company. I’m going to do some reasearch and put it together.

  • WhoAreYou

    The average cost of just cable TV is about $100 a month with no premium channels, DVRs, etc. Subscribing to Hulu and Netflix is $16 a month and you get nearly the same content. For live news and sports such, as the NFL, you can watch those with an OTA Antenna for $0 a month. Lets say you are a hockey or baseball fan, that’s $12-$15 a month for each of those services, but you get EVERY game whereas with cable you only get a couple, if any, of the games.

    If you wanted the “sports” package on cable that’s another $20-$30 a month on top of the $100 a month cable bill so there really is no benefit to buying cable just to watch sports since there are streaming services available. If you are in your local broadcast market for your favorite team, get a $4/MO VPN or a free VPN. You are still saving $96 a month even after purchasing VPN access.

    To recap: Cable $100 a month and you have to watch it on their time and are limited to what they are playing while spending 30% of your viewing time watching ads.

    Streaming: $16-$30 a month for extreme cord cutters and you have full control over the content you want to watch, when you want to watch it, and there are no commercials so you get 30% of your viewing time back. Net savings annually are $840 to $1,008 annually.

    Seems like a complete no brainer to me for people to cut cable out since I know there is no possibly way I’m getting $840-$1,000 a year of entertainment from cable.

  • LukeBK

    Ok so lets use your model that one show would cost you $8.34 cents a month. That means if you get that show and the thousands of shows on Hulu and Netflix your total bill is still under $25 a month. Compared with the average cable bill of $90 a month. If your a hard core TV aditct and watch 9 hours of TV a day cord cutting may not work for you but I think post people who watch a hand full of shows each week would save a lot on TV. Maybe you should do some more research?

  • Jeff Kleist

    Very few people only watch one additional show. As I stated, if you’re spending $80-100 a month on cable and internet, it takes very few shows, legitimately purchased, before you go over the point where it’s worth it.

    There’s exceptions to every rule, but I’m casting a wide net

  • Shane

    Nonsense. My TV only cable bill runs at $80 per month. For that, I get a basic package. That’s it. Nothing extra of fancy. I also don’t use their set top boxes or DVR. My 12/1 Internet with a 150Gb cap costs another $60 per month. If I wanted all the premium channels, they have a package for that. It comes in at just over $180 per month.

  • Jeff Kleist

    Are you in a very rural area? There’s a lot of small cable companies who do jack you like that. Again. I’ll be writing a piece about negotiating with your cable company, though you have less choice if you’re rural. By basic, how do you define that? Because yes, without bargaining and using other tactics, fully loaded, $150 a month+ is not uncommon. But even in the sticks you still have options, though possibly not in broadband.