Given the tagline at the top of this column, you might think I’m a diehard cord-cutting advocate. But while I personally abandoned cable TV years ago, and hope the trend of others doing the same will bring lower prices and more choice to everyone, I don’t think it’s the best solution for everyone.
In reality, cutting the cord will work better for some folks than others, but the good news is that it’s getting easier to take the plunge as new services and hardware options emerge. If you’re thinking about giving up your pay-TV subscription for an Internet-only plan, here are some questions to ask yourself first:
Are you a sports junkie?
Cutting the cord used to be nearly impossible for sports fans, as there was no way to legally get ESPN. Fortunately, ESPN will be part of the upcoming Sling TV service, which costs $20 per month and comes with 10 other live TV channels, as well as TBS and TNT (both of which occasionally show sports as well). Between these options and over-the-air NFL broadcasts, you could put together a decent patchwork of sports programming.
You’ll still end up with some holes, particularly from regional sports networks such as Fox Sports that require a pay-TV subscription. Standalone services like MLB.TV are an option for out-of-market teams, but local games are blacked out. All of this means that sports is still the biggest reason to leave the cord intact.
Are you cable news fanatic?
Do you wake up every morning to the soothing sounds of talking heads who would never question your own politics? If so, cutting the cord may be difficult. Although CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC all offer live streams of their cable networks, access in all cases require logging in through a pay-TV provider.
If it’s just news you’re after—and not just the viewpoints of one particular network—you’ve got some options. CBSN is a streaming website and app that offers round-the-clock news, and other apps, such as WatchUp, can string together a daily newscast from dozens of sources. They’re both free, and you can always turn to over-the-air broadcasts for local news coverage.
Any other channels you can’t live without?
One of the hardest parts of cord cutting is letting go of a particular channel or show that you really enjoy. But speaking from experience, this becomes less difficult over time, as you realize there’s no shortage of good stuff to watch through Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other online sources. And as more networks, such as HBO and Showtime, offer their own standalone services, it’s only going to get easier. You just needto rip the band-aid off.
To ease the transition, you may be able to buy individual episodes of your favorite shows shortly after they air, and chances are the cost will be less than what you would have paid for a full-blown cable subscription.
Does your provider bundle for cheaper anyway?
One of the arguments you often hear against cord cutting is that the cost of a TV and Internet bundle isn’t much greater than Internet alone. But whether this is true for you is entirely dependent on the market you live in.
In my experience with Time Warner Cable, I’ve never been offered TV for less than $30 above my current Internet service, and that’s for an introductory rate that doesn’t include DVR or multiple cable boxes. With just Netflix, various free streaming apps and over-the-air broadcasts, I’m still saving $240 per year, and I never have to worry about renegotiating with the cable company to keep my prices reasonable.
Can you mooch off a parent, friend or relative?
This gets into ethically and legally murky territory, but many networks now offer heaps of content online. All they require is a login and password from a pay-TV provider, which you could theoretically borrow from someone who knows and trusts you. The protections against password-sharing are usually pretty low, so if you don’t have a conscience about it, it’s a good way to fill in a few gaps in your streaming catalog.
Can you fulfill your entertainment needs elsewhere?
Tell me if this sounds familiar: Most nights, you’re hardly paying attention to the TV anyway. Instead, you’re playing games on your iPad, or scrolling through Facebook on your laptop. And when people want to watch something, often times they’ll just tune in through their own personal devices instead of the big screen.
This has certainly been the case in our house, as the rise of smartphones and tablets has made TV less of a necessity. There’s simply no shortage of other entertainment options, and for a fraction of the price.
Do you like just having TV on in the background?
The biggest blind spot for streaming video, in my opinion, is the idea of “passive viewing,” as services like Netflix and Amazon Prime always make you choose what you want to watch. This often means that the TV is turned off, as the process of finding something to have on in the background can be exhausting. The situation is improving through new apps and the upcoming Sling TV, but your options for passive viewing will be much more limited without satellite or cable.
How close are you to broadcast towers?
It’s hard to understate the importance of over-the-air broadcasts if you’re a cord cutter. They’re you’re ticket to prime-time network shows and live NFL games on Sundays. But before you go out and grab an antenna, check out TVFool.com. Plug in your address, and it’ll tell you how far away your nearest broadcast towers are and in which direction, so you can figure out which channels you’ll get. You should be fine with a basic $10 to $20 antenna if you’re within 20 miles or so of major network stations.
How tech-savvy are you?
Being good with gadgets and software isn’t a requirement for cutting the cord, but it can help expand your options. You might, for instance, want to set up a Plex server to stream downloaded movies and shows on all your devices, or build a Windows home-theater PC with a built-in tuner, or install a Tablo or HD Home Run for recording for over-the-air broadcasts. Or on a more basic level, you could set up a Chromebox to maximize your free Web video options.
Now what do you think of cutting the cord?
These questions weren’t designed to solicit simple yes-or-no answers. My objective was to help you understand the pros and cons of cutting the cord, so that you could make as informed a decision as possible. Cutting the cord gets easier every day; but as I said up to, that doesn’t mean everyone should cut the cord.
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.