Cord Cutting 101: How To Cancel Cable And Still Watch Your Favorite Shows

So you’ve heard about people “cutting the cord” but what does it really mean?  At its most basic definition cutting the cord refers to cancelling a traditional cable or dish television package and using newer, alternative ways to watch TV and movies.  The entire world of cord cutting can be both confusing and exciting so we’ve put together an extensive primer to help out.  We’ve broken it down into five, easy to read sections:

I.   Why People Are Cutting the Cord
II.  How To Do It
III. Pitfalls to Avoid
IV. Further Reading
V.   Glossary and Acronyms

I. WHY PEOPLE ARE CUTTING THE CORD

Why the sudden popularity of ditching cable TV?  It’s really a shift in consumer mindset aided by today’s technological advances.  And while cost may be the biggest factor for a majority of people, there are others that are worth noting:

Cost – Traditionally the cost of cable keeps rising and end-users are forced to pay more.  However, all of the blame can’t be placed squarely on the shoulders of the cable and satellite companies themselves.  The cost of programming is always increasing from content conglomerates such as Disney (ESPN, Disney Channel, ABC Family) and Discovery Communication (Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet).  Cable companies traditionally pass these directly on to their customers.

Lots of Supply, Little Demand – Have you ever actually counted how many channels you have in your cable TV package?  It usually numbers in the hundreds but how many of them do you actually watch?  For most people, it’s usually only a handful, maybe a dozen.  It’s kind of like leaving every light on in your house but only using 1 or 2 rooms.  This directly correlates to the cost of cable and dish packages: why pay for it all when you only want to watch a few things?

Timeshifting of Content - Years ago television shows were events.  You either saw it right then or you probably never saw it unless you bought the show years later on DVD or (gasp) video tape.  While DVR technology has been around for more than a decade, it really only has become commonplace in cable and dish packages in the last 5 years.  Now consumers are conditioned to watch a TV show or movie on their own time, when they want.  Additionally, with the surging popularity of services like Netflix, more and more people are watching entire seasons of shows all at once as opposed to each episodes week-after-week.

Availability of Broadband Internet – This may be the most unpublicized reason that individuals cut the cord but without it, most of the alternative ways to watch TV wouldn’t even be available.  High speed internet used to be a luxury and only available to those living in densely populated areas.  That is no longer the case and broadband internet is available in cities and towns of all sizes.  If you are really lucky then you may also have the option of choosing between multiple broadband providers.

Multiple Devices – It used to be that television was watched on just that: a television.  While TV’s are still the primary device for consuming content, there are more and more individuals watching movies and TV shows on computers, tablets and mobile phones.  Recently cable and dish providers started offering more of their content on these devices, such as Comcast’s Xfinity app.  The good news for cord cutters is that most alternative ways to watch are built from the ground-up to work on multiple devices including televisions.

Cord Nevers – Termed by Greg over at CordCutterGuide.com, cord nevers are those who have never signed up for any type of cable or dish service and simply use alternative services from the start.  As younger generations move out on their own, they are conditioned to seek out alternative options that offer the same type of content that is available through traditional cable plans.

II. HOW TO DO IT?

So now you’re excited and ready to make the leap yourself…SLOW DOWN!  You’ve probably heard the saying “plan your work and then work your plan” - this definitely applies to cord cutting.  Follow these simple steps for optimal success:

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Traditional media companies are moving painfully slow in making their content available via new options over the internet and through mobile devices.  This is due to a number of factors, too many to go in detail here.  Because of this you might have to make  sacrifices and be unable to watch some TV shows the way you were used to doing it.  We don’t cover the “gray area” or just plain illegal ways of how to watch that content but CordCutters sub-Reddit is a good place to start for that.

STEP 1: Inventory What You Watch – This is probably the most important step because the answers to this affects every other decision you make in regards to your new setup.  You don’t have to necessarily sit down and write out a list of every TV show, but just knowing what network they are broadcast on is half the battle.  Make sure you do this for who watches TV in your household.

STEP 2: See What Content Is Available On What Services – Now that you have an idea of what shows you can’t live without and where are they broadcast, you need to find an alternative way to view them.  We recommend using a resource like Clicker.TV or CanIStream.It to see which of your shows are available on services like Netflix or Hulu Plus.  Keep in mind that some shows you watch may not be available as they air and you may now have to view them as they are released on DVD (i.e. Breaking Bad on Netflix).  It is extremely important to note that most network programming (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) can be obtained for free via a traditional television antenna.  Once you have a good idea of what streaming services you will use to supplement your TV viewing, you will need to find the right hardware to watch it on.

STEP 3: The Hardware: Devices and Antennas – This is another crucial decisions you will make when transitioning from traditional cable/satellite TV to your new setup.  We have provided a great list of devices (set-top boxes, game consoles, DVD players, smart TV’s) that utilize some of the most popular streaming services.  Not all devices are created equal, so make sure the one you choose the one that matches your needs.  Just as important is what type of antenna you will you need to watch over-the-air broadcasts.  There are an assortment of variables that play into what type you need, so refer to a resource like our guide ”How To Get Free TV Through An Antenna: The Ultimate Guide” to see what the best options are for you.

STEP 4: Trying It Out (Before You Cancel Your Cable Subscription!)  – So you’ve purchased your set-top box and set up an antenna to get those free HD signals.  You’ve already subscribed to the right streaming services after double-checking which ones you need.  The excitement of doing all of this makes you want to call the cable company right away to tell them where they can stick their high-priced TV package.  But wait!  Before you cancel anything we recommend just disconnecting your cable TV connection for now.  And we really mean disconnecting it…keep it plugged into power, but disconnect it from our TV.  Why?  A few reasons: this setup is new to you and the people you live with; the last thing you want is your wife yelling at you that she can’t watch the “The Bachelor” while you are struggling to get a good signal on your antenna (see “Pitfalls to Avoid” below).  Also, what if you find out that cutting the cord isn’t for you at this point?  While this is probably rare if you gotten this far, you don’t want to go through the entire hassle of cancelling cable / signing up again.

III. PITFALLS TO AVOID

Cutting the cord is a big leap to take and while it’s a positive experience for the most part, there can problems that crop up along the way.  Below are some of the biggest mistakes that occur and how you can avoid them entirely.

The Significant Other Factor - This can be one of the biggest problem areas when it comes to cutting the cord.  You may be all on board to trade in your cable box for an antenna and a Roku box but is your spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, roommate, son/daughter, mother/father, etc ready?  Sometimes the biggest adjustment for non-technical types is the fact that you can no longer just turn on the TV and flip through the channels to see what’s on.  Make sure that your significant other is on-board through the entire process.  The last thing you want to do is spring it upon them one day that they have to watch TV in an entirely different way.

Higher Cost of Internet – Most TV and internet services are bundled together  and that usually means that you have to keep both to get the best pricing.  This comes as quite a shock to new cordcutters who call to have their cable TV cancelled only to find out that the price for internet only is going up $20.  So do your homework first.  Call your provider and ask what happens to the price of your internet if you cancel your TV subscription.  Sometimes there is an option where you can still subscribe to local channels only for around something like $20/25 month and your internet won’t go up.  This is a bit of a catch-22 as your internet-only bill would cost that much more anyways but with this option you can still access your local channels.  If that is the case then this can be a good alternative to having an antenna for your local broadcasts.   We also recommend shopping around for other high-speed options in your area.  Maybe there is a DSL provider that offers  quality download speeds for half the price of what your cable internet would be.  That leads us to our next point…

Fast Enough Broadband Connection – Most broadband providers offer different tiers of service that promise varying download speeds:  the more expensive the service, the faster the speed.  Netflix recommends having 3 Mbps connection for DVD quality streams and a 5 Mbps connection for HD quality.  This is a good rule of thumb to use for your own setup.  Keep in mind that if multiple people plan on streaming different content at the same time, then you will need an even faster connection.  Start with the speed you think will be adequate and you can move up from there if you have to.

Limited Programming Selection – If this is the issue you are running into then you may not have done your homework (see Step 1)!  As we also mentioned before, not all content that’s available through your cable provider is going to be available through alternative sources like Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Instant Video.  You will simply find that your viewing habits have to change.  Once you accept that, the limited programming really isn’t that bad.

Sports – This is the Achilles heel of cord cutting.  While major sports leagues like MLB, NBA, NHL and the MLS allow their games to be streamed over the internet, most fans in the “home-town” area of the team are unable to watch them based on their geographic location.  The main reason for this is that local/regional sports networks (such as a Fox Sports or Comcast Sportsnet affiliate) pay a lot of money for exclusive rights to broadcast those games.  They make this money back by charging for advertising during the game, sponsorships, etc.  It’s a big money business that isn’t ready for technology’s natural pattern of disruption to rain on their parade.  The NFL’s television contracts are worth billions of dollars but at least most of their games are available over-the-air via an antenna in the town where the team is located.  If you can’t get the sports you need with one of the ways mentioned above then you have three options: 1) a friend with cable or satellite; 2) your local bar; 3) less than legal options that we don’t cover on this site.

IV. FURTHER READING

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V. GLOSSARY & ACRONYMS

OTT (Over-The-Top) – obtaining content over-the-top of your internet connection.

OTA (Over-The-Air) – obtaining television signals via an antenna

Cord Cutting – the process of cancelling your cable or satellite TV package and using alternative ways to view traditional television content

Cord Shaving – the process of scaling back on your cable or satellite TV package (as opposed to cancelling it entirely) and using alternative ways to bridge the gap

HTPC (Home Theater PC) – a custom-built or modified PC hooked up to a TV for viewing content

STB (Set-Top Box) - a device that can receive content from either the internet, a cable/satellite provider or over-the-air and feeds it into your television.

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