Cutting the Cord: Will I Save Money Streaming Television?

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Every month the bill from the cable company has you saying, “Why am I paying for channels I don’t watch? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to ditch my cable TV and use the internet to get things to watch?” So-called “cord-cutting” is fashionable these days. Is it really as simple as telling the cable company you don’t want the super-jumbo-500 channel package-a-palooza?

The answer is: not exactly. Like most things technological in the second decade of the 21st Century, it’s complicated. The cable TV package you get now may be expensive, but everything is in one place, and it’s easy to find shows and movies. If you cut the cord, you have to put that entertainment package together yourself. There are a lot of ways to get parts of what you watch now on cable, but it can be confusing, and it may well be every bit as expensive.

First, what do you watch now on cable? If you say the local channels and network shows, then you have two options. First, get an over-the-air antenna and hook it up to your TV. The good news is these are no longer huge metal arrays on your chimney but can be the size of a dinner plate. The bad news is you may have to experiment by moving them around to pull in local stations reliably. Your second option is an internet streaming service that offers local channels, like YouTubeTV, DirecTVNow, or Hulu with Live TV. The downside here is that not all these services offer our local channels (just network affiliates in large cities) and they are all about $40 a month. These services also give you many of the channels you had on cable—ESPN, USA, HGTV, etc. As another option, the major networks may let you stream their most current shows, although not everything you can get over the air is free if you use the internet to watch it.

So, local channels aren’t important to you, but you do like to see new shows and movies? Then you should look into Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. For $10 to $12 a month, these services have a wide variety of original TV shows, older and less-than-blockbuster movies, and many other features. The downside (apart from cost) is that no one service has everything. Want all nine seasons of Seinfeld, get Hulu. Original series Orange is the New Black, get Netflix. Reruns of Downton Abbey are on Amazon Prime. You may end up spending another $35 a month to get this suite of offerings.

Apart from cost, now you have to navigate all these providers and services. Using home devices like Roku, Chromecast and AppleTV, you can stream shows and movies to your TV(s) from the internet. The web browser on your computer can also show you what you’re paying for. However, it can be difficult to remember that Breaking Bad is on Netflix, and Bosch is on Amazon Prime and Star Trek: Discovery is on CBS AllAccess. You may find yourself spending more time than you want going back and forth to find the right show.

So can you save money? Maybe, but not a whole lot if you want a wide variety of programs and movies. Can you pick and choose exactly what you want, and not pay for what you never watch? Somewhat, but you will pay for content you may not care about. And at the end of the day, you may decide that your cable bill is not as high as you thought it was. 

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