Cutting the Cord – Our Plan of Attack

Breaking up is hard to do, or so they say. Frankly a good email should do the trick but I digress.

After being DirecTV subscribers for about 15 years, Nicole and I are finally cutting the cord. As somewhat early adopters in general, we have been watching content via Netflix, AppleTV, Roku, and mobile devices since their initial inception. So why haven’t we switched yet? The primary reason for me was video quality! I happen to be a bit of a stickler for video quality. I haven’t played a Zelda game in years (one of my all time favorite series) simply because I can’t stand outdated graphics. And I absolutely abhor highly-compressed HD video! Thankfully in the last couple of years, the quality of streaming video has increased dramatically. Things that are labeled HD are actually starting to look HD. Not only that, but content availability is getting better by the day.

From what I have seen so far, cord-cutting is definitely not for everyone. If watching TV is one of your favorite pastimes, you’ll probably be frustrated by cord-cutting. It’s less convenient and requires more technical knowledge. You’ll have to cobble together content from various resources and in some cases, you’ll simply have to wait for a particular show to be available in a format you can acquire. While there are a few “must watch” shows in our house and I love watching football, our world doesn’t revolve around the TV. So watching shows a day late or waiting for a series to be released on DVD really isn’t the end of the world. For the monthly savings, it’s totally worth it.

Below you’ll find the gear and services we plan to use as part of our strategy. Hopefully this information will help someone. And if you are an experienced cord-cutter and have a few tips for me, I’d love to hear them.

TV Antenna
hd-antennaIt may come as a surprise to some folks that network television can be viewed in glorious HD for FREE via a simple HD antenna. We have a small TV in our kitchen with a little flat HD antenna from Best Buy that receives about 20 channels. If we can get that kind of reception in our kitchen, imagine what we can get with a full-size antenna on the roof. This antenna will simply use the old DirecTV wiring, sending over-the-air channels throughout the house. So we should be able to get all of our primary network stations without much trouble. Sounds almost too good to be true but I should mention there are a couple of catches.

If you don’t live close enough to the broadcast antennas in your area, you might not be able to get many channels. A great tool to find out ahead of time is AntennaWeb.org. After plugging in my address, I was told that I could potentially receive up to 52 channels from 24 stations.

The second catch is DVR functionality. One of the reasons we don’t have to think about TV all that often is because we know our favorite shows will be waiting for us when we’re ready. While I don’t have any specific recommendations, it does seem like there are some cool technologies available that answer this dilemma. The reason I haven’t delved into it myself is because I have a Tivo unit with a lifetime subscription that I haven’t used in years. I can simply connect that bad boy to the antenna signal and I’ll have full DVR functionality. Other options exist in this space and it seems like there are some cool things in the pipeline, including units that allow viewing throughout the home and on mobile devices and tablets.

Steaming Box – AppleTV
appletvIt’s hard to be a cord-cutter and NOT rely on at least one streaming device. AppleTV and Roku seem to be the most popular but many smart TV’s these days have similar features. AppleTV gives us access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBOGo, YouTube, and most importantly our own video library. We are a Mac family and we have tons of movies in our iTunes library. These movies are all “backups” made from discs so we can move to any platform we want, but the integration between iTunes and AppleTV is so good that we won’t be switching any time soon.

Services
netflixNetflix is a must-have in our house. Even with DirecTV, we spend have of our TV time using AppleTV to stream Netflix content. Netflix streaming service is incredibly cheap ($7.99/month) and gives you access to tons of movies, kids programming, and entire seasons of TV shows. Not to mention, Netflix is now doing their own shows and they are actually pretty damn good! Something to keep in mind is that the video quality of Netflix is not the same on every device. This might just be my personal experience, but the AppleTV consistently looks better than Roku, Playstation 3, and any smart TV app I’ve used. Netflix also has an excellent app for mobile devices.

Hulu is certainly something to consider, especially if you aren’t interested in going with an over-the-air antenna. Just about every sitcom we watch is available on Hulu Plus the day after it airs. They do insert commercials, but when compared to regular network TV it’s minimal. Hulu also has an excellent app for mobile devices.

amazon_primeAmazon Prime is an interesting beast. It started as a service that gets you free expedited shipping all year long. As people who shop on Amazon.com a lot it was no-brainer. Then out of nowhere, Amazon decides to give all Prime members access to their online library of content, which was something of a “Netflix-lite” at the time. Since then, the content library has grown and when Netflix loses a license for a particular show or movie, Amazon Prime might just have it. Amazon has apps for all major devices as well as an app on Roku.

Sports
This is usually a big sticking point for cord-cutters. The solution may vary depending on what sport you like to watch since some organizations are more generous with their online offerings than others. I can only speak from experience with reference to the National Football League. First and foremost, over-the-air broadcasts will cover my local Sunday games. It’s not NFL Sunday Ticket, but it does quench my football craving on a weekly basis. If I really need to watch my Giants lose another game, I can always pay $30 for NFL Game Rewind and watch any games I missed the next day.

This past year, the NFL did something unprecedented by allowing people who purchased the Madden NFL game (anniversary edition) to receive access to NFL Sunday Ticket online. So for the first time ever, you could get Sunday Ticket online features without actually having a DirecTV account. That means full access to every NFL game on mobile devices and computers. If you ask me, it sounds like their testing the waters for breaking this feature out into a stand-alone service, something I’d be happy to pay for every year!

Cable Networks and Premium Channels
twdShows that air on channels like Bravo and AMC can be a little tricky to track down. Sometimes you can simply buy the season in iTunes. Sometimes you can watch the shows on Hulu. Sometimes you can even watch the show right on their website after it airs. But it’s really a mixed bag. If there’s a show you really like, be sure to do your homework ahead of time to find out what your options are. Very few shows (at least that I’m aware of) are completely unattainable via legal means.

The Ethically Gray Area
Many networks have apps available for their subscribers to use on mobile devices and set top boxes. For instance, AppleTV alone as ESPN, HBO, Disney, PBS, ABC and a few others. People who have active subscriptions with participating cable/satellite providers can stream content from these networks for free. Yes, that means Game of Thrones and Monday Night Football. In some cases, you can even watch the channel live! This is a really nice bonus feature for subscribers, but it’s useless to the people who really need it: cord-cutters.

guilty-conscienceNow I’m not condoning this but I do feel I should make you aware of the fact that the option exists. If you have a friend or family member who subscribes to cable or satellite and they are willing to share their credentials with you, you can easily activate all of these apps in your own home. Keep in mind this is a violation of their terms of service and I’ll leave it up to you to decide how much risk there really is, but this is one loophole many people are taking advantage of as it fills in some serious gaps in the cord-cutter’s lineup or at the very least, makes things more convenient.

Final Tally
As you can see, the system isn’t perfect. But if you have a solid internet connection and you don’t mind sourcing your content from various places, it’s a great way to go. Here’s a breakdown of the monthly fees and how it compares to what we pay for television from DirecTV.

Hulu Plus – $7.99/month
Netflix Streaming – $7.99/month
Amazon Prime – $79/yr
—————-
Our new total is $22.56/month.
Current DirecTV bill is $129/month.
Over the course of a year, that’s a savings of $1277.

Since we already subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Prime, our actual monthly savings is $129/month or $1548/yr.

A few things to note. You don’t need Amazon prime. But if you’re a Prime member already for the shipping savings, it’s a nice additional bonus. Also, you may not even need Hulu if all of your basic TV needs are met by an over-the-air connection. If you really want to slim down, you could be looking at a monthly bill of $7.99!

Now keep in mind, it might be necessary to occasionally supplement your content buy a season of a show from somewhere like iTunes at the rate of $30-$40. But those purchases will be limited as most of the shows we care about are available via other means. And if you don’t mind waiting a while, you can always get the season on DVD via rental services. With a savings of $1548/yr, there’s plenty of buffer for the occasional odd purchase.