On Giving the Gift of Cord-Cutting This Holiday Season

It’s the season of giving, but what about giving the gift of simplicity this holiday season?

AT&T’s Press Invitation to media for their November 28th unveiling of DirecTV Now. Image source: TechnoBuffalo.
Author’s Note: I originally published this piece as a commentary on Odyssey, which can be found here. This version contains minor edits and corrections from the original article. Happy reading!

Disclosure: I am currently a Hulu, Netflix, and SlingTV subscriber. Prior to March 2016, I was an AT&T U-Verse TV Subscriber.

Ah, Black Friday Thursday. The day we pretend pilgrims once sat down with natives, giving thanks for bounties and then, we literally get down with each other, while giving thanks for bounties. The day in which Americans opt to sit outside of retail stores in lieu of the dinner table, just to get that “killer deal” that was literally there a month ago. It’s grand tradition in the ‘States before we go back to arguing about football and politics. What a time to be alive!

I have never been a fan of Black Friday shopping. In fact, I write this as I sit in front of my fireplace awaiting Amazon’s Cyber Monday deals. The notion of humans waiting out in the cold for a 1080p backlit TV, which was this exact same price 30 days ago (and will be 30 days from now) is insane. The best part about doing your shopping online is that you don’t even have to leave the bed, or stop what you’re doing to shop. With the power of the Internet, it’s now easier than ever to do your Black Friday shopping online, by either having the item shipped to your house, or waiting until Friday evening to stop at (a now empty) retailer to retrieve your item.

So maybe you’re still wondering what to get the people in your life for Christmas. What cool gadgets would really “wow” them away. Spoiler alert: It’s the iPhone 7… and you’ll be lucky to get it by Christmas (cry me a river, Apple). But maybe they don’t need another phone or tablet in their life rather, a way of a simplifying the technology in their life that’ll save them a few bucks by the end of January. Yes, I speak of your parents. Those age-old cable subscribers, who fall victim to unknown price hikes and useless over-the-top surcharges. Maybe its’ time you give them the gift of Cord Cutting.

Okay, so I don’t mean being mean and literally severing the cord, cutting all ties between them and AT&T (believe me, that the dream though). Mom still needs to watch FreeForm’s 25 Day’s of Christmas, your nephew wants Disney Channel, you want The Walking Dead. But you don’t want to live in the era of two-year contracts with the cable company, paying a ridiculous amount for those three channels. To thee, I say, join the Cord Cutting Revolution

Watching what you want, when you want, however you want

For the average Joe, cord cutting meant doing away with traditional cable subscriptions and cable boxes, and switching to services like Netflix, Hulu, or HBO GO. But now, the line between cable and cord-cutting services has just become a lot harder to see thanks to these cable companies joining in on the cord-cutting revolution.

It all started with a drum and a kangaroo

I still remember the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, when Joe Clayton, then President and CEO of Dish Network unveiled Sling TV with a bang (literally). Wearing a Pearl-branded base drum, Mr. Clayton and Dish’s Hopper kangaroo took the stage, welcoming in the mainstream cord-cutting revolution. Done away were the two-year contracts and credit checks, done away were equipment rentals. Here’s cable… over the Internet! A month-to-month service with zero obligation, basically Netflix for cable. You choose your Internet TV package. Of course, like cable, the more channels you want, the more it’ll cost but, it’ll still be cheaper than your standard cable subscription because there is no satellite and no equipment fee. You don’t have to be in AT&T’s district, or Dish’s district, or Comcast’s district. It’s available to anyone, anywhere (given you have enough Internet bandwidth to stream video and zero legal hurdles). There’s more competition now! The major Internet and cable providers have created (more like jump onboard) a more consumer-friendly way of delivering cable television through (wait for it) … the Internet.

Into the Weeds:
This week, everything just got a whole lot better… kind of

Netflix Began Offering Offline Viewing

On November 30, Netflix introduced a feature that has been welcomed by many of its customers: the ability to download shows and movies to watch offline. As the holiday season approaches and you’ll be traveling (or stuck at an airport), it may happen that you’ll come to the intersection Zero-Cell-Service and Bored-As-Hell. This is no more! Many of Netflix’s original titles, including House of Cards, Stranger Things, and Orange Is the New Black, as well as some third-party content is available to download for offline viewing. However, many titles, including those by Disney, are not available for offline viewing. So whether you’re driving across the country, stuck at an airport, or soaring 35,000 feet above the ground, you’ll now be able to binge watch stress-free.

To download shows, ensure your Netflix app is up-to-date, and if a title is available for offline viewing, simply click the download button next to the movie or TV show episode.

AT&T Introduced DirecTV Now

It’s no secret that I hate AT&T. I don’t approve of many of the choices the company makes, mostly because they are unfair to the customer and anticompetitive (yet, my AT&T rant is for another time). However, you cannot argue that AT&T’s latest move may actually be a promising step forward for consumers, as long as you’re not the consumer who buys it. On November 30, the company announced their entrance into the cord-cutting game with DirecTV Now. It’s DirecTV, live over the Internet. This has been a long time coming, considering that AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015. This service comes with many caveats; first, there is a limited-time introductory offer for anyone who purchases this service. You can get the introductory package of over 100 channels for $35/month. The price stays the same, so long as you remain a DirecTV subscriber. Those who don’t take advantage of the offer soon will have to pay the regular $60/month. Yikes! Second, DirecTV Now does not include CBS, Showtime, or the NFL Sunday Ticket. Ouch! But perhaps the worst part about all of this is the lack of DVR functionality. One of the benefits to cable is DVR functionality — the ability to record shows to watch later (and skip over the annoying commercials). Cord-cutting is the ability to watch whatever you want, whenever you want and AT&T is giving us just the EXACT OPPOSITE!

Okay, for real… it feels like these services snuck into a party wearing cord-cutting attire, then stripped nude and said “Tadaa, we’re cable! But we’re in a different package now!” In many ways, nothing changes. It’s still DirecTV, Dish Network, Xfinity, or U-Verse cable, just streaming over the Internet. It’s the same channels with the same commercials and commercial time, but more expensive when compared to Hulu or Netflix. It’s a new solutionto cable. It’s going from cable to cable, without the cable.

SlingTV Added (beta) DVR Functionality

Starting this month, Sling will allow customers to take part in the “cloud DVR beta program,” which will allow SlingTV customers who have a Roku streaming device (including Roku TVs), to sign up for an invite to begin recording live television, just like on regular cable subscriptions. Although it’s not open to everyone just yet, this is a step in the right direction, as it hints at the ability to record your shows and watch them whenever you want, on whatever device you want! THIS, ladies and gents, is cord-cutting behavior (take note, AT&T). To sign up for the beta program, SlingTV subscribers can head over to sling.com/dvr.

When more services compete, it’s a win for the consumer

This is where I clarify my words on AT&T. Although their DirecTV Now service is not necessarily a win for their customers (unless they’re currently paying more for U-Verse than they would with DirecTV), it is a win for current or soon-to-be cord-cutters on other services. This brings a new contender to the market, and the more businesses compete in the same area with the same service, the more customers win. Prices go lower, deals get sweeter, and companies offer more content.

TV/Device Support

So maybe you’re sold on the idea of cutting the cord, either as a gift for yourself or someone you know. Now for the home stretch, find them a service they can cast from their phone direct to their television sets. So maybe they have an AppleTV, Google Chromecast, or Roku device. Which services work with which device? TLDR (with a few more services included for your pleasure):

AT&T DirecTV Now: AppleTV, Chromecast (Android Only)

HBO GO: AppleTV, Chromecast, Roku

Hulu: AppleTV, Chromecast, Roku

Netflix: AppleTV, Chromecast, Roku

Playstation Vue: AppleTV, Chromecast, Roku

SlingTV: AppleTV, Chromecast, Roku

YouTube Red: AppleTV, Chromecast, Roku

**Note: All of these services have dedicated iOS & Android apps to watch content**
Become the Holiday Hero!

So now you’ve got the tools to become the unsung (or maybe sung) holiday hero for someone on your shopping list. I know because I got my mom on board the cord-cutting train this holiday season. Keep in mind that in many cases, when cutting the cord, you’re also keeping a cord for your streaming device. But you’re simplifying life and saving a few bucks along the way. There are no more lost remotes, no more dead AA-batteries, no more large devices atop the television set (or large device fees), no more useless BS with the cable companies. Just you and the content you want, with some extra money for pizza.

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