Streaming TV companies are not your friends anymore.
Not that they ever really were, of course, but as streaming services push for profitability, they’re finding new ways to squeeze customers for more cash. From Netflix’s password-sharing crackdown and Disney’s relentless price hikes to HBO Max’s stripped-down catalog, it’s getting harder to watch what you want without blowing through your TV budget.
It’s time, then, to embrace a scrappier approach to cord-cutting. As streaming becomes the default way to watch TV, the objective is no longer to end the tyranny of cable—per this column’s original mission statement—but to push back against the streaming services themselves. That means learning to game a system that’s increasingly stacked against you, and treating streaming savings as a kind of sport. Call it Cord-cutting 2.0.
How to save on streaming in 2023
Let me give you an example. As of January 2023, I’ve yet to pay a penny for Apple TV+, despite having watched the entirety of Ted Lasso, Severance, and every other show that’s piqued my interest.
Here’s how I’ve done it:
- To start, Apple gave the service away from its late 2019 launch through July 2021 for anyone who bought an iPhone or other Apple device. I believe my qualifying purchase was an Apple TV 4K.
- After that, I took advantage of Target’s three-month Apple TV+ trial, which is available to both new and returning subscribers with a free Target Circle membership. As always, I canceled the service immediately after signup to avoid being auto-billed after the three-month trial period.
- My wife then redeemed the same trial on her Apple account, giving us both another three months thanks to Apple’s Family Sharing feature.
- Best Buy launched its own three-month promo last year, so my wife and I repeated the process for another free six months of service.
- Those freebies will eventually end, but I’ve used PlayOn and Channels DVR to record the shows I haven’t had a chance to watch yet, giving me access to them indefinitely.
This kind of approach applies to more than just Apple TV+. I’ve written at length, for instance, about using monthly coupon codes to enjoy endless Paramount+ (and now Showtime as well), and I’ve covered all the ways you can get free or discounted streaming services through your wireless carrier.
Savvy cord-cutters also know that the best way to save on streaming is to relentlessly cancel your services, even right after signing up. Not only will you avoid wasting money on services you don’t regularly use, you’ll also be eligible for comeback deals and seasonal discounts when they inevitably arise.
From there, you can get even scrappier. I already mentioned PlayOn as a way to record shows from streaming services, but it’s also useful for skipping through commercials on ad-supported content. As more streamers introduce ad-supported tiers as an excuse to raise prices, this type of workaround will become even more valuable.
There’s also no shame in using masked email addresses for deals that only apply to new subscribers, or wielding limited-use credit cards to protect yourself against surprise price hikes. You’ll see me cover more of these craftier approaches to cord-cutting in response to dirty tactics from streaming providers.
Get mean, get lean
To those who are new to cord-cutting, this might seem like too much effort, but it’s really just a return to how things used to be.
When I ditched cable nearly 15 years ago, Netflix’s streaming catalog consisted mostly of TV reruns and old movies, and you still had to rent DVDs to get your money’s worth. Hulu, meanwhile, actively thwarted attempts to access its free service on television devices, the only workaround being to plug a computer’s video output into the TV. Pretty much everything else that cord-cutters now take for granted—from news and live sports to the most talked-about shows—weren’t available to stream at all without resorting to piracy.
As cord-cutting has become easier, saving money has become harder. It’s all too tempting to subscribe to every conceivable streaming service, and streamers are hoping you won’t put up a fight as they raise prices, introduce ads, shrink their catalogs, and crack down on password sharing.
They are, in other words, banking on inertia, just as cable and satellite TV companies have done as their prices continue to rise. While you can still to come out ahead in this new age of cord-cutting, it requires a more aggressive stance against the companies that freed us from cable to begin with.
I’ll do my best to help.
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