Just weeks away from HBO programming no longer being tied to a cable subscription, and like almost 10 million other Americans, our family will soon be dropping cable/satellite programming. My wife and I have been chatting about this for over 3 years, and in this post, I’ll share some of what I discovered that may inform others who are considering the same path.
First – cost is a no brainer. To keep multiple TVs with DVR and HD programming with most cable or satellite providers, many families are paying close to $100/month, and depending on your actual programming choices upwards of $150 or even $200 a month. That could be $2,400 each year, or as your financial advisor will tell you – almost half a fully funded Roth IRA every year.
Cost savings is a definite benefit, but I think the biggest reason we hadn’t cut the cord was just ease of access to content. I mean, what beats pushing one button on a remote control and having access to all the content in one place? Basically, our hold-up largely revolved around convenience.
Recently, the mediums to access programming have caught up with the content options making our convenience hang-up a thing of the past. The chart below shows my family’s favorite content and the mediums through which we can now access that content…LOTS of options!
The two game changers for me have been Google Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV. Funny enough, neither of these are new, but in my opinion represent the greatest intersection of available content and cost.
1. Chromecast is not an app or a content provider. It’s hardware that allows you to directly “Cast” anything on your Chrome Browser or smart phone/tablet/iPad to your TV through the HDMI Chromecast plugged into the television. It’s like plugging your computer into a television, but no cord is required. This means just about anything you can find on the Internet can be “Cast” on your TV for viewing. Google essentially made your browser the window to infinite entertainment options on your television screen.
Our kids use Netflix, YouTube and VUDU more than anything, so casting their content onto any TV is as easy as it gets with Chromecast. Computer, Chromebook, i-Pad, tablet, smart phone, etc – all work to “cast” your content onto your TV from your chosen device.
Cost: One time $35 purchase of the hardware to plug into your television. No monthly costs. Buy online or at any number of stores.
Note: to have the ability to “Cast” all your internet content on your TV directly from any computer, make sure to install the Google Cast extension to your Chrome Browser, which is free from the Google Chrome Store.
2. Amazon Fire TV has a more than adequate amount of programming, even if behind Roku and Apple TV for sheer volume. Content through Amazon Prime Video and Music is solid, but it also contains a ton of additional apps and games. The additional apps make access to a ridiculous universe of content extremely easy.
Fire TV is more of a platform than anything as you can easily use Netflix, HBO GO, HULU, Pluto, Sling and many other content driven apps. Additionally, navigation is very easy. With an extremely user friendly menu, and even voice controlled search – it’s unbelievably simple. In my opinion, Fire TV is better than Nexus, Roku, Apple TV or some of the other options on the market because its the most bang for the buck with Amazon’s offerings.
Cost: Amazon Prime Annual Membership ($99), but no monthly costs. You also have to buy the actual hardware to plug into your television for a one-time fee of $99. Fire Sticks are available for $39 if you need a smaller alternative.
Note: Amazon Prime annual membership gets you free shipping from Amazon in addition to unlimited access to Amazon Video and Music. Amazon Music is essentially access to every song you can imagine, and Amazon Video has adequate free programming along with rentable and purchasable movies and TV shows as well. It’s like VUDU plus Netflix in one place.
As noted in the chart above, my family already has multiple ways to access the content we want with smart TV’s making viewing easier than ever. Samsung leads the way with the most robust app options, but every type of smart TV offers access to the most commonly used apps.
Last but not least, don’t forget the big game systems on the market – Play Station and Xbox offer a number of these applications as well. In fact, Play Station was our primary method of accessing these apps for a while, and it doesn’t require any extra hardware or software to install if you already have the system.
Bottom line, mediums for access have definitely caught up with content. For my research, I simply looked at the content my family wanted and the tools we already have. Outside of our preferences there are seemingly endless options out there for both mediums and content that would serve any potential cord-cutter quite well.
For all the great news, there are a couple downsides to which the market hasn’t quite adjusted…
Multiple of the TV channel based apps limit content unless you have a login from a cable or satellite provider. So, I can get certain A & E content, but it’s limiting on the number of shows available and the number of full episodes unless you use a cable/satellite provider login. Of note – their websites seem to have more available than their apps, so Chromecast helps solve this problem.
Sports…oh, sports…still a problem to watch live sporting events. NBC actually broadcast the Super Bowl online this year for the first time, and there are subscription apps from MLB and others out there that provide some of this content as well. Watch ESPN has plenty of content, but is only really unlocked with the cable provider logins. Their web based display is a bit awkward using a rather clunky media player which is not Chromecast friendly, unlike their mobile interface which is and definitely preferred.
Sling is probably the best deal in streaming live sports since you can get the ESPN family of channels, TBS and TNT – all good places for sports – for a total of $20/month. For sports lovers, a service like this may be a must have.
The big networks (CBS/ABC/NBC/FOX) are still hesitant to offer a ton of live sports options. So unfortunately, sports lovers are still pushed over to the world of pirated broadcast sites far too often.
I have no doubt market demand, advertising dollars, subscriptions and the right revenue sharing models will continue their steady march towards web based content in even more seamless ways, but certainly the cable/satellite providers don’t have any incentive to make this process easy.
As for this family, we’ll be making the change when our current satellite contract period ends. We weren’t the first, but we certainly won’t be the last to cut the cord. Hopefully you found this little overview helpful. Cheers!