One of my first tech articles was “How to Cut Cable TV Without Regrets,” published eight years ago. A DIYer’s guide, the story provided a guide to the equipment you’d need, free internet streaming options and a nod to Netflix. At the time, cable customers could expect to save around $250 per year. Today, cord cutting continues to accelerate.
Almost 60 percent of Americans have canceled their cable TV packages, with only 12 percent affirming they’re fine with continuing to pay traditional cable companies for TV, according to a survey of 5,000 Americans released earlier this year by business consulting firm West Monroe Partners. Another 29 percent said they’re close to canceling their cable subscription and going all-in on streaming. Sounds like bad news for cable companies, but I believe the tide is turning. So if you’re part of the minority that still has cable, you might want to hold on to it — here’s why.
Streaming services have become more expensive — Netflix raised all its tier prices this year — and the choices are rapidly expanding as studios such as Disney prepare to launch their own services, while pulling content from Netflix. Disney Plus will debut this November for $7 a month ad-free, and includes all of the beloved Disney classics, along with all of the Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar films. Similarly, AT&T/Time Warner and Comcast/NBCUniversal will launch their own services later this year and will no longer share some of television’s most popular shows, including “Friends,” “ER” and “The Office”. It’s only going to get more difficult to find one streaming service that offers everything you want to watch.
To make things even more complicated, consider the hybrid services such as Hulu with Live TV. For $45 a month with ads or $51 without, you receive live broadcasts from around 60 channels including your local news, ESPN and Discovery Channel, along with Hulu’s TV show and movie inventory. For now Disney Channel is also included, but that could disappear once Disney Plus is available. (Yes, Disney owns Hulu, so the company will control what products are available on each of its platforms.) Hulu with Live TV also allows you to record live shows and watch them later. And at $45 a month, you’re are in the ballpark of TV services from your cable provider.
However, entertainment studios are not pulling their content from the cable companies. As the number of streaming services increase, and exclusive content becomes the norm, the decision to subscribe to cable TV or rely solely on internet TV becomes much tougher.
Consider three things: your current viewing status, your viewing habits and favorite shows and your budget. First up, your status. You are likely to be either a current cable or satellite subscriber, or you use streaming apps and the internet. Current cable and satellite subscribers should review their plan and shop the competition if available in your area. Bundled internet and TV packages will usually save you money. And if you’ve had your subscription for several years, call your provider and ask for a deal — I did this and cut my bill in half.
But new cable customers should beware because there are all kinds of add-on costs such as installation, modems and taxes. That $80 package can easily double for the first month. Also, read the fine print before you sign a cable contract. Most are 12-month contracts at an attractive initial price, but then soar after the first year. I have heard instances of long-time cable customers who called to cancel their subscriptions and were then offered a deeply discounted rate.
Second, your viewing habits. If you like all of your options in one place then a cable/satellite solution or one of the new hybrid live TV with streaming service will be better than having to jump from one streaming service to another. Frankly, I often forget which movie or show is on what service, and searching multiple services on a smart TV can take forever. On the other hand, if you’re happy with the line-ups on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video or others, you can save a bundle by sticking to just one or two choices.
You can still save money as a cord cutter, but you’ll have to be a lot more selective about the streaming packages you buy. And as the streaming options grow, cable starts to look a lot better than it did eight years ago.