Cutting the cord

The following article and column appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 6 edition of The Sanford Herald.

Some saving money by cutting the cord
By Billy Liggett, bliggett@sanfordherald.com
SANFORD — She doesn’t get to watch “Good Morning America” or the “Today Show” anymore, but that’s about all that Lindsay Tipton misses about her cable.
Her news now comes from the Internet. Her movies from Netflix (hooked up through her Wii gaming system). And the time she and husband Ross usually spent hypnotized by mindless television in the evenings has turned into quality playtime with their 13-month-old son, Madden.
In other words, cutting cable television two months ago hasn’t been a bad thing for Tipton and her family. In fact, she estimates they’re saving $90 a month since making the change.
“Right now, the Internet offers enough entertainment for us not to miss TV,” Tipton said. “And if there was one thing I couldn’t have lived without, it would have been the Internet.”
What the Tiptons are doing is becoming increasingly popular throughout the nation. There’s even a name for it already — “cord cutting.”
Media researchers Informa reports that about 1.2 million people worldwide (426,000 in the U.S.) opted to “cord cut” in 2010 — a large number, but small relative to the number of people currently with cable and satellite TV plans. The 1.2 million is the equivalent of about 0.18 of a percent of the total pay-TV population.
It’s not enough yet to have media giants DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner or Charter close shop, but Informa and other analysts do anticipate cord cutting will increase in the next five years.
And for good reason. In addition to the $8-a-month phenomenon known as Netflix — which offers thousands of movie titles and full seasons of hundreds of television shows that can stream through a computer or gaming device — most networks offer streaming of their own newscasts, playbacks of primetime comedies and dramas and even live streaming of sporting events like the NFL and NBA.
A good high speed Internet service such as Charter cable’s 12 mbps (megabits per second) runs approximately $29.95 a month, according to the company’s website. Adding Netflix, before taxes, runs a family approximately $38 a month combined. Tipton didn’t disclose which service provider she used for television, but she estimates her family spent $150 a month for cable, Internet and phone combined. Without the cable and by adding Netflix, they’ll save $1,100 in the coming year.
“When we made the decision, it was about saving money,” Tipton said. “But there are other pros to it … With Netflix we watch things we are actually interested in instead of just watching TV because it’s on. And yes, it used to be on all the time. It’s nice to have more quiet and more conversation now.”
The Tiptons are new to cord cutting, but Lindsay’s friend Katie Thomas, also of Sanford, has lived six years without cable or satellite. For her favorite television shows, she’s come to rely on Hulu, which typically broadcasts shows the day after they air. And for movies, it’s Netflix streaming from the Roku she got for Christmas.
In all, that set-up typically costs anywhere from $28 to $38 a month, factoring in low- to medium-speed Internet.
“At first, I did it because I was just graduating college and was broke,” said Thomas, now a therapist in Sanford. “But oddly, it is less stressful to me if I don’t have as much choice … like having so many shows to keep up with.”
Thomas says one of the cons is she’s usually clueless when her friends have conversations about last night’s TV shows, and on many occasions, friends will have given away an ending in a Facebook posting before Thomas had a chance to catch the show on Hulu.
But she doesn’t miss being hooked to TV.
“Sadly, I would totally get hooked to reality TV,” she said. “So I’m glad it’s not there.”
Since she’s still paying student loans in addition to a mortgage, Thomas doubts she’ll go back to paying for television any time soon.
However, she and Tipton wouldn’t rule out an antenna, which in Sanford can pick up Triangle and even Triad television stations depending on quality. For a one-time purchase, antennas can pick up any station sending out a digital signal within a reasonable distance at no charge.

COMPARE THE BILLS
All prices are monthly, pre-taxes
Windstream (120 Dish Network channels, Internet, phone) bundle: $104
DirecTV (219 HD channels) and Internet (Windstream 6mbps): $80
Charter TV (100 channels, non-HD) and Internet (12mbps) bundle: $75
Internet only (Charter 12mbps) and Netflix subscription: $38
Light Internet (Charter 1mbps) alone: $20
TV antenna alone: $0
— mbps refers to Internet speed; all prices according to current local deals on websites

The following is a list of websites and devices essential to survive “cord cutting” without totally giving up on getting entertainment in your home (websites listed on lifehacker.com):

TELEVISION
Clicker: Shows you where your favorite shows are airing on the net. (Free)
Hulu: Popular streaming service offers the five most recent episodes of hundreds of television shows, plus archives of more popular shows. Has added Hulu Plus, which like Netflix, offers more premium programming for a small monthly fee. (Free with optional monthly fee)
CBS: Streams most of its primetime lineup, plus some older shows. (Free)
NBC: Very good about streaming primetime shows. The Office and Saturday Night Live are popular destinations. (Free)
ABC: Streams its primetime lineup and archives specials such as the Oscars. (Free)
FOX: Like its competitors, streams primetime shows like The Simpsons and Glee after they air. (Free)
Netflix: Full seasons of hundreds of shows, usually a year after they aired. A few shows like Saturday Night Live add episodes a week after they air. (About $8 a month)
iTunes: Download new episodes for replay on computers or portable devices such as the iPhone or iPod. (Typically $1.99 per episode)

MOVIES
Hulu: Full movies are free for download, but rarely are they new. Hulu is better suited for television. (Free with option for monthly fee)
Netflix: Subscription includes recent movies mailed to your doorstep, but the online streaming movies are less recent. Most appear a few months (up to a year or more) after they’re released on DVD. ($8 a month)
iTunes: Pay approximately the same amount for a movie as you would for its DVD or rent a movie for $3-$4. (Movies typically $15 each).
YouTube: Great for random clips of your favorite movies (but better for mindless surfing and videos of people getting hit in the crotch). (Free)
Redbox: Get in your car (gasp!) and head to a local Redbox machine (gas stations, grocery stores) and rent a DVD for a buck. Movie titles are typically new, but not as new as recent DVD releases. ($1 per rental).

SPORTS
MLB.TV: Baseball fans can watch every regular season game live or on demand, and more than 150 spring training games with no blackouts. ($79.95 a year)
NFL Network: Though this is actually the National Football League’s official cable channel, its website has a ton of post-game video footage for fans to check out. (Free, but to watch live games, you must subscribe via satellite)
NHL Game Center Live: Watch up to 40 live hockey games, including some of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with a subscription to this service. ($119 a year or $29.95 a month)
NBA All Access: Basketball fans can choose from two types of season passes: unlimited for access to all teams, or a league pass to follow only seven teams. ($64.95 a year)
ESPN: New ESPN3 provides free live streaming of some ESPN-televised games, such as Monday Night Football. (Free, provided you have Charter or Windstream as a provider)
NBC: Streams much of its sporting events, including NFL Sunday Night Football games. (Free)
channelsurfing.net: Up until two weeks ago, provided live streams of all games. But the site and many like it have been seized by the FBI. That said, if you search hard enough, it’s likely you can find the game you’re looking for. Just watch out for the Feds.

DEVICES
The following devices, like your computer, are compatible with movie streaming programs like Netflix or Hulu Plus. Devices work best (and some only work) in homes with WiFi connections:
Roku: The first Netflix device can now access Amazon Video-on-Demand and MLB.TV. ($80)
XBox360: Netflix and other streaming programs available but only with an XBox Gold Membership plan. Buyers also get to play XBox games (Starts at $200)
Wii: Nintendo’s Wii recently added Netflix capabilities. So now you can watch movies between your Wii workouts. (Starts at $200)
Playstation 3: A more expensive device, but one that can play Blu Ray discs in addition to your Netflix and Hulu Plus movies. (Starts at $300).

COLUMN: My decision to cut cord
I wrote in July that cutting the cable — or cutting the cord, as the media is calling it — would be a temporary thing. The plan was to go a month or two and save a few bucks, then jump back on the bandwagon for my beloved football season.
It’s February now, and I’m still pay-TV free. And I don’t know that I’ll be going back any time soon.
That was the idea behind today’s front page piece in The Herald — I wanted to talk to local people who’ve also taken the plunge. I wanted a family that recently decided to go cable free and people who’ve gone long periods without it.
I suppose part of me wanted to justify my actions, but I also wanted to share with readers two thing — 1) hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are doing this and 2) it does save money … something few of us can ignore.
I want to make it clear, however, that by no means was the article and this column a knock against Charter Cable, DirecTV, Dish Network, Windstream or any service provider. For my first three and a half years in Sanford, I subscribed to Charter for my cable. I still use Charter’s Internet service at home (and have very few complaints). At work, my company uses Windstream. Both fine companies.
But our cable-Internet bills were running us $100-plus a month, and with a toddler and a kid on the way, my wife and I found that we were watching less and less television and not really getting our money’s worth. Aside from sports and one or two shows I “had” to watch, TV was pretty much a time waster for me. It was background noise while I typed or played with our daughter in the living room.
Besides, I had found a way to feed my NFL fix. A website called channelsurfing.net was streaming NFL games for free. Of course, I never questioned the legality of it. It was advertiser-sponsored and had tons of followers. Oddly enough, just this past week, the “Feds” shut it down. Visit the site now, and you’re greeted by an FBI badge.
But in the course of this experiment, I’ve discovered there are other, legal ways to feed your TV fix. I am a fan of The Office, so I catch new episodes on Hulu or NBC.com a day after it airs. I missed Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes, but caught his whole routine — without commercials — on YouTube. ESPN has ESPN3 … a network that streams many of its televised games live.
And for $8 a month, we have Netflix. Thousands of movies ready to stream, new DVDs on our doorstep and hundreds of seasons of favorite TV shows.
Again, why did I have cable?
There are drawbacks. I’ll be watching the Super Bowl at a friend’s house, because even if I could stream it online, I want to watch it on a big TV with no possibility of “buffering” pauses. I do get my 24-hour news fix at work, but on the weekends, I’d be clueless if something huge happened (and I wasn’t online).
And there are times I just want to lay on the couch and veg out. But with Netflix, I actually have to pick something … which is work on days you want to be lazy.
Overall, we’re saving about $65 a month without cable television, and we’re not missing it. In a year’s time, that’s more than $700 … which can go toward much better things.
I think more people will get on board with this “lifestyle” and it will force the big companies to rethink their approach. I’d reconsider cable if it offered an a la carte package … like 20 of the channels I want (no QVC) for a small price a month. And we may not be totally without TV for long … I’m considering a digital antenna if I can guarantee it will pick up Raleigh stations.
That doesn’t have a monthly bill to it … for now, anyway.

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2 thoughts on “Cutting the cord

  1. Roku also streams Hulu Plus, as well as a lot of other things if you have the code for the channel. (I just googled roku codes and there were lots of neat options out there.)

  2. My co-worker just got Roku and super excited about it. I still have cable but I watch a lot more programing online then on my tv. Along with services like Hulu and Netflix I also use the website Frequency, which creates custom channels for web videos that my friends post online on different websites.

    Im sure eventually I’ll switch over completely. Probably as soon as I figure out how HBO Go works 😉

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