Spectrum is inching ever closer to competing in earnest with cord-cutting, although the company doesn’t seem eager to let people know about it.
With Spectrum’s TV Choice and TV Stream plans, which are available if you have internet service through the cable company, you can now add cloud DVR service for $5 per month. So far, though, the company hasn’t published any information about this service on its website. The only way to add it is to contact customer service and inquire about it on your own.
Still, cloud DVR is a big step forward for Spectrum, and it demonstrates how cable companies might try to fend off cord-cutting as they continue to bleed traditional TV subscribers. It also has some limitations, which serve as a reminder that you’re still dealing with the cable company after all.
Spectrum’s streaming DVR details
Although Spectrum’s PR department didn’t answer multiple requests for comment, I received the following cloud DVR details from two Spectrum customer-service reps (one by phone, one via online chat):
Price: $5 per month, with one charge covering all devices.
Storage: Save up to 50 programs, regardless of length, for up to 90 days. (Both reps initially said you can record “50 shows,” but later clarified that each episode occupies one recording slot.)
Device support: Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One, Samsung TVs, iOS devices, Android devices, and the web.
Out-of-home access: iOS, Android, and web only. (Spectrum’s connected TV apps don’t work outside the house.)
Ad-skipping: No limits on fast forwarding through commercials, and no restrictions on which channels you can record.
Compared to most live TV streaming services, Spectrum’s cloud DVR is on the skimpy side for storage. If you’re only recording half-hour episodes, you’d end up with just 25 hours on the DVR, and you’d still have a time limit for recordings on top of that.
Still, the lack of restrictions on ad-skipping and recording is nice. Hulu with Live TV charges $15-per-month extra for ad-skipping, and YouTube TV requires you to watch ads on CBS channels if an on-demand version of the program is available. PlayStation Vue prevents recording of certain local channels in some markets, and Sling TV won’t allow recordings on Disney and ESPN channels. Spectrum’s cloud DVR may be stingy, but at least it acts more like a real DVR.
The other major caveat with Spectrum’s cloud DVR is that it’s not available with all of the company’s TV packages. Currently, you can add it to Spectrum TV Choice, which offers local channels plus your pick of 10 cable channels, or Spectrum TV Stream, which includes locals and a couple dozen pre-selected channels. Both packages offer only a subset of the channels that are on cable, and neither include regional sports networks.
They are quite a bit cheaper than other live TV streaming services, though. Both Spectrum TV Choice and Spectrum TV Stream cost $25 per month plus a broadcast TV fee (which varies, but is $5 per month in the Cincinnati area), so adding DVR would bring the total to $35 per month plus tax. By comparison, the cheapest live TV streaming service that includes local channels is Hulu with Live TV at $45 per month, and most others start at $50 per month.
(One other note: Spectrum is launching another streaming package called Essentials, which includes dozens of non-sports channels, but no local broadcasts, for $15 per month. It’s similar to Philo’s $20 per month live TV service, but without DVR included. One rep told me Essentials wasn’t available yet, while the other said I could only add it without DVR.)
The future of cable?
Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is what it would take to declare that cable companies have adequately responded to cord-cutting. Some observers have argued that they merely need to improve their own set-top boxes, as Comcast has done, to more closely resemble the experience of streaming devices, with slicker interfaces, better search, and online video apps built in.
I think the right approach looks more like what Spectrum is doing. Instead of just trying to rent more of its own boxes, Spectrum is letting customers abandon them for cheaper streaming TV devices. And instead of promoting the same bloated cable bundles, Spectrum is offering cheaper, more flexible options. While I still have some qualms with Spectrum’s approach—most notably, the inconvenient cancellation process, the sneaky “broadcast TV” fee, and the way Spectrum’s apps sometimes list content that requires a pricier package—at least DVR isn’t a missing piece anymore.
Spectrum has a legacy TV business to uphold, though, which might explain the hush-hush approach to its streaming options. The company only mentions TV Choice to new subscribers who select internet-only plans—it still gives top billing to traditional Triple Play packages—and the only way I found about cloud DVR was from an April 22 story on Cord Cutters News, whose anonymous sources said the service would launch the next day. Spectrum never made an official announcement, but instead started quietly offering DVR service to customers who inquired.
Still, I suspect that Spectrum’s streaming options will become more prominent over time. Charter Communications, which runs Spectrum, lost 145,000 pay TV subscribers last quarter—compared to 112,000 lost subscribers the year prior—and it shed 287,000 TV subscribers in all of 2018. As those losses accelerate, Spectrum’s streaming TV packages will look less like a last-ditch attempt to prevent cord-cutting, and more like a standard part of its service offerings. As they should be.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.