It's been a year since my wife and I made the terrifying decision to get rid of our cable package. As kids of the 80's and 90's, we had grown up with traditional cable TV, from rabbit ears to the evolution of premium channels and the expansion of channel lists. However, our cable bill always seemed to be increasing, and after ballooning to over $200 per month we had had enough.
We finally decided to invest the time and energy to research our options. Our main goal was to minimize our cable bill without losing too many of our favorite channels or programming. Although we expected to compriomise on some content, I wanted to avoid losing live local sports and news, my wife wanted to keep features like DVR, and we wanted to make sure we still had ample options for our kids. To achieve this, we landed on the following setup:
- Roku Express - One-time purchase of $30 per device (1 for each TV) - We started with the Roku after exploring AppleTV (restrictive technology and cost-prohibitive), Chromecast (poor UI/UX), and Amazon Firestick (restrictive technology and access). Roku was easy to setup and the UX was intuitive, as we were easily able to install and access any streaming services we planned on trying.
- Digital Antennas - $30 per device per TV - these devices allow us to get free local television networks.
- Playstation Vue Service - $55/mo for most channnels + HBO/Movies - We tested both SlingTV and Playstation Vue. Sling had a better UI at the time, but we chose PS Vue because it offered both local sports channels (NBC Sports Boston and NESN) as well as some other preferred channels. Overall many of the channel options were the same and the cost was similar as well.
- WiFi Modem - $100 one-time - We purchased our modem to avoid renting from the internet service provider.
- WiFi Signal Booster - $200 one-time fee - We purchased the WiFi booster since we were relying much more heavily on the in-home internet and wanted to make sure we were maximizing speed and service.
- 25 MBPS Internet at home - We are paying $30 per month for this service and it provides enough speed to stream with little issue.
- Netflix, Amazon Video - We had these services beforehand and have been increasingly dependent on them for our content.
Ulltimately, we paid ~$400 upfront for devices, and our monthly bill shrunk to under $100 for premium streaming cable, DVR, local digital TV networks (free) and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.
What I've Learned
After the initial learning curve of getting used to a new interface and resetting expectations around offerings and content, I'm extremely satisfied with my decision to cut the cord. Here are the main things I've come to realize one year in.
- We're saving a ton of money. After all was said and done, we were saving more than $130 per month on cable, without losing many channels.
- We don't miss much. The only channels we ever think about that we don't get at this point are Comedy Central and MTV (but, not really), otherwise our viewing habits have barrely changed. Ultimately, even if there were other channels we frequented before making the switch, behavior is easily changed once you find other content and adapt to new options.
- Live TV isn't an issue - mostly. One of our biggest concerns in making the switch was potentially losing out on live, local television. These fears were all but quelled once we bought the digital antennas, which provide live access to local networks, and the PS Vue which offers live sports channels. We also still have access to all ESPN channels as well as some interesting regional channels like NBC sports (regional), live eSports, NFL Redzone (necessary), and Fox Sports channels. There are a few small issues which have come up, including the inability to record some live network programming, the DVR experience for delayed viewing, the process of switching to digital antenna vs. streaming service can be a bit annoying, and some limited mobile phone access (some programs are device-limited). For the most part, however, our live viewing experiences haven't changed much.
- User Interfaces are Still Evolving. The user interfaces used by streaming services still leave a bit to be desired. They don't match the ease of navigation or speed of cable companies, and I find PS Vue to be glitchy which can be annoying. Is it annoying enough to pay another $130 per month? No way. I expect that the UI will improve over time with more use and feedback, and once you get the hang of where to go and how to use it, it's fine.
- It's all about your internet. If I were to potentially change one element of our setup, it would be to find a faster, more reliable internet service. With such a heavy reliance on home WiFi, it becomes much more apparent when service is slow or down, and with more devices in our home connected to the source, we sometimes run into issues when everthing is connected and in use at once.
- Cable is no longer the star. It had already been shifting this direction by the time we made the switch, but became more obvious after transitioning over, that cable channels are just one option in the great content pool. With Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and even standalone apps like ESPN Watch, not to mention online services like YouTube and Facebook, the cable services have much more to compete with to gain our attention.
After a year of streaming cable, I'm not planning on going back to traditional cable anytime soon. With more users making the switch, I'd expect cable companies to shift more toward the streaming offerings since they clearly have found a way to match - or even exceed - cable television services.