Last summer I joined the ranks of the “cable cutters”, a small but growing group of people who have decided to terminate their cable service in favor of streaming media. My change was instigated by an unexpected price increase from Verizon, which came at the end of a two year contract. But I will confess to a simmering dissatisfaction with cable, driven by the lack of a pay for consumption model, the absence of competition, and the steady price increases.
Here is my six step guide to cutting the cord with cable:
#1: Confirm You Don't Have Contract
Most cable providers offer discounts by driving their customers into bundles that include television, phone and internet. The contracts are generally two years in length, and include penalties for terminating early. If you are unsure, call your provider to confirm you are not in a contract.
#2: Select a Streaming Media Player
There are a number of options for streaming media to your TV today: IP-enabled TVs, game consoles (e.g. XBox, PS3), and standalone devices (e.g. Roku). We started with a $60 Roku for our primary television, but eventually settled on using the boys’ PS3 (note: you’ll need a remote). I highly recommend having a wired connection to your player, especially if you plan to stream HD.
#3: Sign Up For Streaming Services
The list of streaming services continues to grow, with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon being the most popular. Most services are priced per month (e.g. $7.99 for Hulu Plus), while others such as Amazon and iTunes, are pay per rental or purchase. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you already have access for free to a content library (note: which serves as a gateway drug for hooking you on the rest of Amazon’s on demand video service).
#4: Get a Digital Antenna
Everything went fine after cutting the cord until the Patriots were in the Superbowl. While we could watch the Superbowl via streaming media, the halftime show was only available on regular television. The result: a near riot at my house. My advice: invest in a good digital antenna to pick up local television. While you may not watch local channels often, you'll be happy you have it for some events. Also, the number and quality of the channels may surprise you.
#5: Wait a Few Weeks
I recommend giving yourself a few weeks overlap with cable before officially cutting the cord. This will give you time determine if you are really ready to make the break. It will also allow you to identify gaps in your content. For example, I completely overlooked a solution for watching Major League Baseball (thank you MLB.TV), which my rapidly growing Red Sox fans cannot live without.
#6: Call Your Cable Provider
Now you’re ready now to make the call. Be prepared for your cable provider to not understand what you are doing. I actually had an in person visit from a Verizon representative asking why I was no longer using cable.
Living Cable Free
Cutting the cord with cable is not a perfect solution. In many ways, it feels like digital music in the 1990s: usable but a little messy at times. The benefits though are self-evident: reduced monthly bill, watch what you want and when you want it, access to specialized content, and viewing mobility.
One of the unexpected effects of cutting the cord for us is the change in how we think about video content. Before cutting the cord, the thought of paying $1.99 for watching the latest episode of a series was unthinkable. Now we put a value on the content we view, and often competitively shop it before making a purchase. I also enjoy taking my "cable" with me to the gym, back yard, and on business trips.
Now if only there was Steve Jobs for the television industry. Oh wait, that is supposed to be Apple TV. ;)
Note: Just like the music industry in the late 1990s, the cable providers have woken up to the threat of streaming media. The New York Post recently reported Hulu is under pressure from cable providers to prove an active cable subscription in order to use the service. More restrictions are likely on the horizon.