Cutting the Cable Cord

I've been wanting to cut the cord for a couple of years now, but have been putting it off because there are still some things for which cable TV is more convenient. Live sports, Olympics, and events like the Oscars and Grammys and are just easier to watch on cable. Even though cable boxes are terrible pieces of technology — channel guides have brutal lag and ugly user interfaces — it's still really easy to flick on the TV and sit down on the couch. 

But there's a pretty big cost to keeping cable. I have an excellent "retentions" cable package that I got by threatening to cancel, but it's still almost $80 per month after tax. I pay over $900 per year for a service that I rarely use and don't even really like. I don't watch commercials if I can help it. My DVR only has two tuners and not nearly enough capacity that I don't have to end up prioritizing shows that I want to keep or delete to make room for a new recording. I also pay $8 per month for Netflix and $5 per month for Unblock-Us, on top of cable. 

Can I get everything I want to watch without cable?

Sports is my big thing, and yes, you can get pretty much all the sports you need through the various leagues' streaming services. MLB offers MLB.TV, which may be the most advanced product of the "big four" leagues in North America. They also have a great iOS app. The NFL offers Game Pass, the NHL has GameCenter, and the NBA has Game Time (see a pattern?). Most of them can be watched on your smartphone, tablet, computer, Apple TV, Roku, etc. and with Unblock-Us, you can pretty easily get around local blackout restrictions. I'm reading that NFL Game Pass might be a little more challenging on a mobile device, and to get it on your TV, you may need to use Plex or a similar service. That's where cutting the cord really becomes inconvenient. If you're not a technically savvy person, some of the workarounds you need to do can be confusing and discouraging. I'm confident that will change in the next couple of years, but for now, cutting the cord either means not watching any TV, besides Netflix and purchased content, or it means running a patchwork system of apps and services.

How much can you save by cutting the cord?

Let's say Netflix and Unblock-Us are a wash because you're going to have them either way. So, after that, if you're a sports junkie like me, you'd have to buy the streaming packages for the four major sports leagues. That's going to run you about $600 total for a full season of each. But, keep in mind, that you will get every game with all the league "passes". With regular cable you likely only get a couple of games per day or per Sunday (NFL) to choose from. To get all the games for all the major sports through your cable company (in Canada), you need to pay another $30 per month on top of your cable bill for some kind of "super sports pack" or whatever your cable company calls it. I'm guessing, that for someone who isn't on a retentions cable package, and has subscribed to a pretty normal cable package, plus the super sports pack, their bill is probably about $140 per month. Let's call it $1600 per year. 

So, by cutting the cord, you can get the same amount of sports content through streaming league "passes" and save about $1000 per year, or $80 a month. With that $80 a month you could then purchase television episodes of your favourite shows off of iTunes or Google Play. At about $3 per episode, you could supplement Netflix and streaming sports with about 15 "new" television episodes per month for about $50 and still be $30 a month ahead. I really wish Apple was able to secure a deal to rent TV episodes. You really don't have any need to buy an episode, and $3 is pretty steep for an episode that you'll only watch once. I think 99 cent rentals would be a great idea if they can get the networks to agree. You could also go the pirate route and download television shows and movies using torrents or newsgroups, but I wouldn't recommend that. 

Now, I haven't included any costs for hardware that you might need, but I'm assuming that you already have a computer and a device that lets you stream Netflix to your TV. Apple TV's cost $85 on Apple's refurbished store. Even if you had to buy a piece of hardware, you're still way ahead financially, but it's going to take a little effort. I think it's only that effort, and a lack of knowledge that is keeping most people subscribed to cable. Cable companies are very fortunate, and maybe planned ahead very well, that they are generally also the ISP for most of their cable TV customers. So, although many people hate their cable company, get poor customer service, and pay too much, they are likely still going to retain most of their customers in the long run. We'll see. 

I'm definitely going to cut the cord sometime in the next year, but when I'll officially pull the trigger on that, I'm not sure yet. I'll keep you posted on when and how it goes.