Why There's Never Been a Better Time to Cut your Cable or Dump your Dish

Why There's Never Been a Better Time to Cut your Cable or Dump your Dish

We got rid of satellite TV a few months ago, and we don't miss it a bit. Not only is there extra wiggle room in our budget now, but we've got a content library that's easier to access and less choked with (though not completely free of) commercials. We're also better able to choose shows we enjoy watching, instead of just seeing what's on. Best of all, we don't have to deal with DVR snafus when sporting events run long.

I remember when this was enough. (photo: Beige Alert / flickr)

The 2014 "Cable Box"

If you get rid of your pay TV service, what you do next will depend on what you want/"need" to watch, and what equipment you already have in place. If you have a video game console, it's probably compatible with quite a bit of streaming media. There are also plenty of dongles and boxes to attach to your TV for streaming: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and a new $50 stick from Roku - to name just a few. A smart TV, which is already configured for streaming without additional hardware, is another option.

What's On?

Most of the devices that plug into your TV have small content libraries of their own, some free, some for a fee. Unfortunately, all content sources aren't compatible with all devices. Netflix works with most devices - you just need the streaming membership in addition to (or instead of) any Netflix DVD membership you have. All these prices will be increasing by $1-$2 per month for new subscribers soon, according to Netflix. You can also avoid a device by plugging a laptop directly into most newer TVs via an HDMI cable. This is a quick and simple option, if somewhat unwieldy.

Broadcast tower (photo: woodleywonderworks / flickr)

An over-the-air antenna (your newer TV may have one built in) also offers access to most of the major networks, plus any additional subchannels the major networks choose to broadcast. I checked AntennaWeb, which said our geographic area has access to 68 channels from 26 over-the-air providers. We didn't pursue the antenna option because we don't watch much network TV. Plus, many prime-time network shows are available on network websites soon after they air. You may have to click around a bit on the website to find your show - check Shows, Video, Episodes - each network has a slightly different arrangement.

Spoiler Alert

Your viewing experience without cable or satellite won't be exactly the same as it was before, and you might miss a few shows, particularly if you're fond of original programming on premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime. We don't mind this, because every good TV show can eventually be bought, rented or downloaded (and binge-watched). Spoilers aren't that hard to avoid if you don't work in TV.

Whatever your household's wants and needs are - gritty cable dramas, dancing puppets for kids, sporting events - most of them can be met for less money than you're paying for cable or satellite right now. Before disconnecting, it's worthwhile to map out the “must” shows of everyone in the household to determine what content services you’ll want to subscribe to, and how much you’ll be paying once you get rid of your cable or satellite service.

Making it Work

Initially, I planned to just replace pay TV with our existing DVDs and, well, other activities. I used an HDMI cable to connect my laptop to the TV, so then we had Youtube, Hulu, and as many recent episodes as the major network websites had to offer. We switched our Netflix membership from 1 DVD to streaming only, with no change in price.

Soon after that, we added Amazon Prime. Since we buy a majority of groceries and gifts on Amazon, the membership paid for itself with the free shipping and Subscribe & Save. It also gave us a decent amount of free streaming TV: kids' programming, entire runs of many of our favorite shows for free, and the chance to buy most current shows at under $3 per episode. (You don't need Prime to buy episodes on Amazon, but you do need to be aware, they add up quickly if you don't keep track of them.) Our monthly payment for TV dropped from around $100 to under $20.

A Hulu Plus membership raised our total a bit, but it also brought necessary closure to the plots of the shows I was in the middle of watching. Once the current season ended, membership was very easy to cancel or put on hold for up to 6 months via the website. With our viewing preferences, we found that Hulu Plus was mostly redundant with Amazon Prime, and the free version of Hulu had us covered for super-new episodes, as long as we watched them during the short window of time they were available.

The best $30 I spent this year (photo: Google)

The Cheapest

In order to get back the laptop attached to our TV for my own use, I bought a Google Chromecast on sale for $30 (shipped free from Amazon). Chromecast is the least complex of the current available streaming devices, and for this reason, some people find it annoying. Currently, it works best with Youtube, Netflix, Google Play, or (if you clear your cache and adjust the resolution to the lowest setting) Hulu. It doesn’t work with Amazon streaming video at all, which makes sense now that Amazon Fire TV is available.

Personally, I find Chromecast gloriously simple and hassle-free. We were already using a fast home Wi-Fi and had a good router in place, so all I had to do was plug the Chromecast in and quickly download the setup application to my laptop. Essentially, it made the TV part of our home Wi-Fi network. Once you "cast" something to the TV from your phone or laptop, you can do other things on that device. You can even close the window/tab, but this makes you unable to pause or adjust anything you’re watching.

I won't say Chromecast is perfect, but it fills our need. Most of the TV shows I stream now are sharper than with our dish service (because HD was an upsell I turned down). Sometimes with YouTube playlists, an ad will bump the content out of sync (because the ads don't transmit over Chromecast). When this happens, I stop and restart the casting to sync everything back up.

Sports fans can buy yearly memberships, each of which offers different access, rules and blackouts at sites like MLB, NBA Leaguepass, NFL GameRewind, and NHL GameCenter. And if you're a movie buff, find everything you need to know here.

What About the Children?

If you have kids that aren’t old enough to hide in their rooms all the time, I believe that getting rid of the cable/satellite is a no-brainer. Streaming gives you better knowledge and control of what the kids are watching, plus a welcome reduction in commercials that tell them to tell you what to buy. I've been able to keep my son's TV almost 100% educational, which makes me less worried about rotting his brain. I can also watch my beloved murder police shows on my laptop instead of the family TV, and keep them away from his impressionable eyes and ears.

Not quite wireless yet (photo by the author)

Are You Ready?

I like this interactive "are you ready to quit cable" guide (although it's missing the info that Netflix now has the full run of House, MD). You can enter your viewing preferences and see what setup makes sense in your home. Another good reference is this TV Guide-like site, which can be adjusted to reflect various cable and satellite services, so you can take a peek at other options if you’re not ready to abandon pay TV entirely. It can also serve as a good worksheet when listing the household’s “must” shows.

It's Not A Bargain if You Don't Want It

You can also contact your cable or satellite company and try to re-negotiate your rates, if you're not ready to give it up completely. For best results, call in the morning, be nice, know what the competitors are offering, reference your loyalty, and be ready to take/leave benefits like the DVR and premium channels. Although this method gets talked about a lot, I personally got next to no argument from my satellite company when I left. (They asked me if I wanted to put my service on hold. I said no. They said okay.) So ask immediately for Customer Retention, and state your desire to pay less and your willingness to go elsewhere.

Note that your service may lock you into lower rates for up to 2 years, during which you can't reduce your service or cancel. A lock like this may actually protect your bill from a few rate hikes, but during those 2 years, you're also probably going to see at least one new alternative you'd rather have.

Have your bill in front of you when you call. Figure your total with taxes and fees (for example, if your rate is $80/month but you pay $100/month after taxes and fees, add an extra 25% on top of whatever new price they quote you.) For good measure, find out if you have a period of time to cancel your new arrangement if it turns out not to be what you want. And don't be too quick to bundle - there are probably plenty of services in those dense collections that you don't want or need to pay for.

"Progress" (photo: mets-trading-diary.blogspot.com)

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