Cutting the Cord, Summer of 2017 Miami Edition

I looked into cutting the cord and got sucked into an amazing world of options. I chronicle here my situation, research, and conclusions. This study is particular for my needs and my location of Miami, FL. But the approach and data may be useful, so I decided to share it in a blog post.

TLDR Summary

I plan to get 1 Gbps fiber service to my house via AT&T for $80/mo, the YouTube TV service for $35/mo., and the HBO NOW service for $15/mo. Total monthly cost of $130/mo. + taxes.

The internet service was pretty simple to pick. I have two main providers of high-speed internet — Comcast and AT&T — and only AT&T provided the faster fiber option. Done.

The television service was not as simple as the internet service. Using this page as a starting point, I did my research based on my wishlist. Then I ranked the five top players that provide live streaming TV services in Miami, FL:

  1. YouTube TV (Combination of live local channels, low price, and value added services compensate for the lack of CNN, TBS, TNT, and Nickelodeon to make it my top pick.)
  2. DirecTV Now (Providing the most of what I want at a competitive price thanks to the HBO for $5/mo service compensates for lack of local live CBS.)
  3. Hulu with Live TV (Good service offering with overall value, but personally the Hulu+ streaming service doesn’t fully compensate for the higher price point and channels it lacks.)
  4. PlayStation Vue (Good service offering with overall value, but the price point and lack of value-added services that resonate push it down in ranking.)
  5. Sling TV (Cool service model but least valuable of the bunch for me considering the lack of live local affiliates and value added services at the same price point as the rest.)

The Details

I have the great privilege of spending my summer in the Netherlands this year. As a part of this, I did everything I could to minimize my expenses back home. One of the things I did was cancel Comcast cable. I wasn’t about to pay for internet and TV services I wasn’t utilizing.

As my time in the Netherlands comes to an end (10 days remain), I’m now thinking about restoring TV service. And then I realized that I should explore “cutting the cord.” It’s a bit of a silly expression because I’m just trading one service line (cable tv) for another (broadband internet), which may very well be served by the same infrastructure anyway.

Nevertheless, I started the research. And I was amazed at how many more options there are now than when I last checked about 24 months ago. Not only is cutting the cord viable, but it’s also impressive.

Unfortunately, the more peeled back this onion, the more of the underbelly of all of this that became apparent. Available channels can vary wildly between services. And even after making a modest list of desires, no one single service could provide it all, even with their most expensive packages considered.

What follows is my wish list and exhaustive research into the various options available.

Internet

Internet was pretty simple, so there’s not a whole more to cover here that I didn’t already cover earlier. I’m getting the widest pipe at the fastest speeds on the most advanced infrastructure. This approach improves what I used to get from Comcast as part of the old TV+Internet package I had. I have six children and anywhere between three and ten devices always sipping data from our router. I happily pay the premium for the fiber. I’m looking forward to this service.

AT&T Fiber 1 Gbps + unlimited data $80/mo. + taxes One year contract. (Price stays the same after one year.)

Television

Ahhh, this was so much more complicated. 😉

Fortunately, the number of options available had increased tremendously in the last 24 months, which was when I last checked. But there were so many differences between the options that I had to scrutinize the options carefully. The variety forced me to think about what I valued most.

My Wish List

My wish list (in rough order of priority):

  1. I can see it on TV (via Apple TV or Smart TV app) and iPad at my house
  2. Live network television (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX)
  3. Live local sports (ESPN, TBS, TNT, Fox Sports SUN)
  4. Live kids television (Disney, Nickelodeon)
  5. Live news (CNN, Fox News)
  6. Live entertainment (AMC, USA)
  7. Lowest possible price
  8. Multiple devices at once (at least 2)
  9. No contract

The Options

With my wish list in mind, I did a lot of research. I gathered data and then ranks the services based on my particular needs.

Using this page as a starting point, I dove in. Here I learned that there are five major players in the cable-tv-alternative space that serve Miami, FL:

  • PlayStation Vue
  • Sling TV
  • DirecTV Now
  • YouTube TV
  • Hulu with Live TV

Other Google searches corroborated this.

The packages, channels, pricing, and value added services vary more than I expected. Some (Sling TV) offer services for as little as $20/mo., while PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now had monstrous channel packages around the $70-$75/mo. price point. Which makes me wonder if these more experience services are a) worth it, and b) have a market, considering that it’s approaching the cost of the cable itself.

Now it was time to dive into each service offering to figure out the least expensive way to get what I wanted and compare those configurations to one another.

The Data

I created a table, went to each web site, and started taking notes on what’s available and choosing the combination of services I needed to satisfy as much of what I wished for as possible.

I really wanted to make this table within the Medium text editor, but I had to settle for an image.

After doing the research, YouTube TV and DirecTV were my top picks. YouTube TV had a lot of exceptional value added services at the most economical price point of the group. DirecTV’s HBO service for $5/mo. brings more relative value for the money (getting a $50/mo. price point service tier for entertainment for $40/mo.) and ticked off the most check boxes.

Top Picks: YouTube TV and DirecTV Now

YouTube TV and DirecTV Now provided the most compelling offerings for what I’m looking for.

At $35/mo., YouTube TV’s single, simple offering has all live local affiliates (the only one to have all four!). Not having CNN, TBS, and TNT hurts, and it had the relative least amounts of channels. I had some concerns at first over requiring a Chromecast or not streaming directly to my TV. But via AirPlay or Chromecast streaming straight to my Smart TV, I can get the seamless integration I seek. But It’s also least expensive at $35/mo, had many channels I care for, and lots of extra benefits I value. I’m genuinely curious about the YouTube Red original programming — there are some interesting shows there I want to watch. And having BBC World News included is such a pleasant surprise. So despite the concessions, I consider this the best value for what I want overall at the price point.

At $55/mo. for DirecTV Now’s Just Right package with the HBO add-on, on the surface, it looked like this was the most expensive. But when you consider this includes HBO, and that I would cancel the HBO NOW service that I would otherwise subscribe to (a $15 cost savings), the effective monthly price comes down to a very competitive $40/mo. And of all the offerings, it had the most of what I wanted, falling short only in streaming live CBS programming. It was also the only service that offered Nickelodeon live, which is a favorite of the household children, and had the most channels overall for the price point. Partnering with HBO was smart on their part.

For now, YouTube TV edges DirecTV Now because I value having CBS live and a $5/mo. savings over CNN, TBS, TNT, and Nickelodeon. Plus the value-added services on YouTube TV’s side are stronger.

Promising: Hulu with Live TV and PlayStation Vue

Hulu with Live TV and PlayStation Vue provided fascinating (and equitable) services that fell just slightly short of YouTube TV and DirectTV Now for what I want. But depending on how they adjust their services, I’m willing to give them a try.

At $40/mo., Hulu with Live TV’s offering that bundles Hulu+ streaming (the one without saves a measly $2/mo) was very similar to PS Vue, except no AMC here, but also $5/mo less expensive. The Hulu+ streaming value-add is neat but because I wasn’t a subscriber before it’s hard to gauge whether I will use or not. Nevertheless, Hulu with Live TV gets the slight edge over PlayStation Vue because the potential for compelling content is stronger with Hulu with Live TV than it is with PlayStation Vue.

At $45/mo., PlayStation Vue’s Core offering was likewise similar to Hulu with Live TV. Except you get AMC here and a $5 premium to go with it. Perks feel better on the Hulu with Live TV side, as Hulu streaming service has potentially more content than the BBC America the PlayStation Vue offers and Hulu Live TV does not. And I just had a hard time wrapping my mind around PlayStation Vue’s value added services. There seems to be a promise there of a sleeker UI and better curation of content (like a next-generation TV Guide that knows you). But without a clear understanding of what I’m getting, it’s hard to prioritize discovering that out over just going after the top services.

Hulu with Live TV and PlayStation Vue are decent services that might be worth it. I just found a better fit with YouTube TV and DirecTV Now. PlayStation Vue and Hulu with Live TV were the next tier for me, very similar in packaging and pricing ($40/mo.), but Hulu Live TV’s bundling of the Hulu+ streaming service gives it an edge for me, despite missing AMC from its lineup.

If All Else Fails: Sling TV

Sling TV ranked last for me, which is a shame because I liked their model the best. They were most similar to YouTube TV in content, but they lacked local live channels and cost $5/mo more, albeit including CNN, TBS, and TNT. But lacking the value added features YouTube TV provides that resonate for me in particular.

At $40/mo. for the Sling Orange + Sling Blue w/ Broadcast Extra package, you get 50 channels. And, that’s about it. Even with the Broadcast Extra “perk,” they have only NBC as an available live local affiliate. No Fox News or Nickelodeon, either. And not much in the way of extras. Sling offers a series of value added services in $5 bundles, e.g., Cloud DVR for $5/mo., which start shrinking the value proposition tremendously because all the other services include most of them at around the $40/mo. price point.

In the end, it’s a cool service model, but least valuable of the bunch considering the lack of live local affiliates and lack of value added services at the same price point as the rest.

Random notes I couldn’t fit anywhere else

  • The reason I didn’t just use the data found on this page was that, while it was helpful, it was already slightly out of date and not as relevant to Miami, FL;
  • No one service provided everything I wanted, which is surprising to me because I feel my wish list isn’t that big and there were several possibilities;
  • Finding which live channels are available in your region from a given service is hard to get to, with each service having their tricky way to show it (typically through FAQ or Help pages);
  • There are a lot of restrictions on when and where you can view content, but for this research, I just focused on being able to see content on my TVs in living and family room, and on my iPad at home (not on the road);
  • I don’t care for DVR services, so I did not consider this value-add as a factor into my valuations;
  • With that said, I think YouTube TV had the most generous and straight forward Cloud DVR offering of the group;
  • There is a slight push by every service provider to guide customers to couple their service with an over-the-air (OTA) antenna for the best combination of services;
  • OTA antennas may make sense for a lot of people, but I live far south of Miami (Cutler Bay), and I’m right in a dead spot between antennas that serve the greater Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area and Homestead-Keys;
  • I also think the capability of streaming regional affiliates has to be one of the most onerous for these streaming companies;
  • Some of the services provide tons of channels for higher price points, but because I went into this with a “cord cutter” mentality and a list of channels I cared for, these upper echelons of services didn’t appeal;
  • I am curious how these 100+ cable-like channel offerings perform in the cord-cutter market.

Summary

In the end, I plan to get 1 Gbps fiber service to my house via AT&T for $80/mo, the YouTube TV service for $35/mo., and the HBO NOW service for $15/mo. Total monthly cost of $130/mo. + taxes.

I was spending about $180/mo. incl. taxes and fees before canceling for a 300 Mbps internet connection and an all inclusive channel package from Comcast. So I stand to save about $50/mo. while getting much-improved Internet service, the content I care about the most, and similar value-added services like DVR, pause live TV, video on demand, and set-top box services via smart apps.

I have not executed on any of this yet because I can’t set it up outside of Miami. But once I get back I will get the ball rolling. I will update this blog post as soon as I’ve settled on a solution.