Closer to Cutting the Cord

More and more Americans are dumping their cable services, and I’m getting close myself.

I pay DirecTV about $70 per month, and I don’t watch a whole lot of television. I don’t have any of the premium channels, and I don’t pay for DVR service thanks to a lifetime TiVo purchase about ten years ago. The Wife will watch some shows on the educational channels to kill time, but most of the TV time is for the kids. $70 a month just for TV? Kind of a rip.

So once again I’ve found myself evaluating the online options. I have a few ground rules, though. First, I don’t want to mess with torrents and piracy. If a show like Sons of Anarchy can show their viewers are shifting to online services and not just abandoning the show, then they’re going to be able to keep up production. If viewership drops because people are downloading freebies, then the studio cancels the show. Second, I want it to just work. I don’t want to be messing with a lot of messy conversions, or troubleshooting for the Wife or the Rugrats when they want to watch something. Ideally, they’ll be able to turn on a device, click a few buttons on a remote, and watch their shows.

For a while, there weren’t a lot of options. Now, there are several services worth looking at.

First and foremost, Netflix is awesome. We easily stream enough movies to make up for the $8 package, and we have no problem waiting for movies that are DVD-only. To us, this replaces both premium cable channels and rentals, and it beats watching older flicks with commercials on networks like FX or TNT.

Hulu Plus is very interesting. They’ve just announced an $8 plan for streaming television shows, which is the cost of a month’s worth of a single television show’s episodes purchased off of Amazon Video on Demand (more on that in a moment). It can be streamed directly to devices, which solves the “make it easy” requirement. I’d just have to do some research to see which of our shows make it to the service.

For the shows that don’t make the Hulu cut, both Amazon Video on Demand and iTunes offer episode downloads or even season purchases at a discount. I’d pretty much need an Apple TV for iTunes shows, but I’ve learned Amazon Video on Demand is available on a Roku box. Amazon appears to be about a dollar cheaper per episode (at least for shows like Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead), so it has that advantage over Apple. Plus, they’re showing up on more devices, even if they’re not on my PS3 which is already set for Netflix and Hulu.

Those services solve about 95% of our television viewing. The final hurdle? Local news and sporting events. An investment in an over-the-air antenna may be in order, assuming we don’t just decide to go without for a while. Of course, I have to imagine the major sports leagues see the writing on the wall and will be inking deals with Hulu and other services to stream games not just to web browsers but through the Internet to televisions.

My original intent for this post was to get feedback from other people who have already made these decisions, but now I’m thinking I may have just convinced myself to do it. The winter cable season is winding down, so SoA, The Walking DeadTerriers, and The Ultimate Fighter will all be done in just a few weeks. I’m fairly certain my two-year obligation to DirecTV for my move and HD upgrade are over, but if not, I’ll just drop back to a bare minimum package and still save money.

Even though an Apple TV is small and gives me some flexibility in bringing video, photos, and other content down from my computer, the Roku may be my best option because of the extent of its services. I thought TiVo might be a better idea so I can still record local programming and sports from the antenna, as well as the online services, but the only problem is they have a $20/month subscription fee. I keep that up, I’ll be right back up where I started with DirecTV before I know it.

To sum it up: $78/month for DirecTV and Netflix, or $16/month for Netflix and Hulu Plus, with some wiggle room for purchasing shows that don’t make it to Hulu. Yeah, I’d say that’s a no brainer. The Roku purchase would pay for itself within just a few months.

I’ll follow up once I get it all rolling.

UPDATE 1: I activated a one-week trial of Hulu Plus today (Monday, 11/22) and the Wife and I took it for a test drive on our PS3. The streaming worked like a champ, so maybe time of day was a factor (as in, my neighbors weren’t home to hose up my cable Internet connection). However, we only found one show that we actively watch, and were completely unimpressed with its offerings, particularly the lack of Disney or Nickelodeon for our youngest and the kids we babysit. We’ll probably dump Hulu Plus at the end of the week.

Also, Netflix today announced a streaming-only plan, and the other plans’ pricing would be increased by a dollar. You know, I’m completely cool with that. I’m happy to spend $9.99 and keep one DVD out at a time.

UPDATE 2: Closer examination shows Amazon Video on Demand and iTunes charge the same for streaming episodes. The confusion came because iTunes pushes HD, and you have to click separately to get standard def. So, for Sons of Anarchy, for example, standard-definition shows are $1.99 and high-def shows are $2.99 in both services. iTunes may have a slight advantage for season purchases, as they want $21.99 for the full SoA season and Amazon’s total comes to $24.57. However, Amazon has a cancel option so you can bail on a TV show if it jumps the shark mid-season. I’m not seeing that option in iTunes.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

7 comments

  1. Scott Cederlund says:

    The one thing I like about iTunes over Amazon VOD is that you’re paying fir a downloaded file when you buy an episode rather than just streaming the file, which is how I think VOD works.

    • Mike says:

      I’m cool with that. I’d just as soon leave it on the cloud so I’m not filling up my hard drive and my Time Machine drive with backups of TV episodes.

  2. David Price says:

    Thanks for writing out your thought process on this, Mike.

    We’re still with cable (Cablevision), but we’re not premium subscribers, so no HBO, STARZ, SHO, etc. There are channels I can do without, but we’re happy with the setup so far. Netflix streaming comes through the one TiVo we have in the house at the moment, or we can watch it through the Blu-ray player.

    I haven’t really considered renting or watching episodic television through iTunes or Amazon, but I think about it a little more as the weeks go by.

    • Mike says:

      How much are you paying for Cablevision? It kills me that I’m paying $70, and the only real “extra” we’re paying is for HD. We’re not paying for premium/pay channels, we don’t have extra receivers, and if I didn’t already have my lifetime DVR, it would be another $13/month. I could go to a lesser plan, but we’d lose a couple of channels we actively watch.

      Meanwhile there are at least 50 more I wouldn’t miss at all. Until they find ways to do the a la carte (which has been rumored for years) or bring their costs down, they’re just going to keep losing customers. Hell, I know a few people who switch from DirecTV to Dish and back every two years because the promo deals are far better than any deal they’ll give existing subscribers.

  3. Carl Tyler says:

    Forget Hulu Plus, if you have a PC running in the house install Playon from playon.tv

    It gives you access to all of Hulus shows, ESPN, Comedy Central and tonnes of others.

    The setup I have been running for over a year is PS3 with Office PC running Playon.tv, Netflix and OTA

    Works really well, and lots of quality stuff to watch.

  4. […] first talked about cutting the cord back in November, but I’ve dragged my feet since then. Some of my favorite shows were just […]