Should You Drop Your Cable Company?

November 10, 2016
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At some point, you’ve almost definitely had the sinking realization that you’re paying for 200 channels and yet you have absolutely nothing to watch on TV. What if you actually did something about it?

A 2014 Nielsen study found that while U.S. households are subscribed to an average of 189 TV channels, viewers only watch 17 of those channels on a regular basis. With the rise of the internet, channel bloat has gotten worse and worse. As the price of monthly subscriptions continues to rise, dropping your cable plan may look like a smarter decision all the time. Here’s how you can save hundreds of dollars every year by breaking up with your cable company.

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What Is “Cord-Cutting”?

If you do a little research about how to sever ties with your cable company, you’ll undoubtedly see references to “cord-cutting.” Please don’t literally cut your TV cord; you might get a nasty shock. Cord-cutting is just a metaphor for a two-step cathartic process: extricating yourself from your cable company’s contract, and then replacing your cable plan with entertainment options of your choosing.

Cord-cutting is most popular among millennials, who are already used to alternative entertainment outlets like the internet, but the phenomenon is growing nationwide. One survey by Experian found that in 2014, 7.3 percent of all households had high-speed internet but no cable subscription, up from 4.2 percent in 2010. While cord-cutters are still a distinct minority, the rate of change is striking — it has almost doubled in just four years.

How to Cancel Your Cable Plan

Although the term “cord-cutting” makes the process sound like a snap, getting your cable provider to cancel your service might not be quite as straightforward as you would hope. Often, your phone call will be transferred to a customer service representative, who will try to persuade you to stick with the plan at any cost.

If you’re just interested in testing the waters in terms of cancellation, you can mention that you want to move to a streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu; the representative may try to entice you with a few months of free or discounted service. On the other hand, if you’re worried about spending a long time on the phone, you can try to provide a foolproof excuse, such as moving to a new location. Finally, if you get your cable and internet through the same provider, make sure that you won’t be canceling your internet too — you’ll need it in order to fill the void left by the departure of your cable plan.

How to Fill the Void

Now that you’ve freed yourself from your cable company’s steely clutches, you might be wondering, “What now?” After all, unless you’re planning on staring at the black screen of your television, you’ll still need a way to watch the shows and movies that you’ve come to know and love.

There are countless options available for cord-cutters, and the right answer here really depends on the type of media you want to consume. Are you a political junkie, a sports fan or a film buff, or do you just want to watch the morning talk shows?

Live TV

In the U.S., local broadcasting stations such as CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and PBS can usually be watched for free over the air with an HD antenna, a small device that you install next to your TV. To find out the stations available in your location and their signal strength, enter your address on the FCC website. In addition, even viewers without a television can watch CBS live online by subscribing to CBS All Access through the CBS website.

If you’re interested in more than just these basic channels, you have several options available. “Cable replacement services” like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue give you a variety of live TV channels that are streamed to your device via the internet rather than through cable. Although neither offers a truly “a la carte” service that lets you pick and choose which channels to receive, both have multiple plans at different price points that include a number of popular choices: Sling TV gives you access to ESPN, CNN, Cartoon Network, and the History Channel, while PlayStation Vue offers Nickelodeon, Fox News, VH1, and AMC.

Shows and Movies

To catch up on your favorite films and TV shows, try subscribing to one of the streaming media services offering monthly plans, such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. Each one has a distinct media library and reputation: Netflix and Amazon are known for their original series, while Hulu has the latest TV shows from NBC, ABC, and Fox.

However, even the best streaming sites today don’t give you access to everything, and their selections are unreliable due to the constantly changing positions of movie studios and TV networks. To fill in any gaps, you can purchase movies and TV episodes from media stores like iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and FandangoNOW.

Sports

Finding ways to watch your favorite sports teams live might be the trickiest part of cord-cutting. As mentioned above, you can catch the games in your local market for free just by purchasing an HD antenna for your TV. Streaming TV services like Sling TV let you watch ESPN and auxiliary channels like ESPN2 and ESPN3 live, although this might not always show the games that you’re looking for. Otherwise, major sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB all offer their own streaming packages that let you watch games live online for a monthly or yearly fee.

Summary

Although you won’t be able to replicate your cable experience exactly once you cut the cord, you can get as close as possible by following these steps:

  1. Install an HD antenna in order to watch your local networks.
  2. Install high-speed Internet in order to watch free TV stations online and subscribe to streaming services like Sling to watch some traditional cable channels.
  3. Buy a smart TV or convert a “dumb” TV with a media streaming device such as Roku or Chromecast.
  4. Watch movies and TV shows on-demand via subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
  5. Watch live sports via packages from leagues like the NBA, NFL, NHL, etc.
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