Why 2019 Will Be the Year Cord Cutting Goes Mainstream
Admit it, you love cable. For decades, we’ve been programmed, pun intended, to plop down on the couch, grab the provided multi-function remote, and click our way into some sort of somnambulist Utopia. It’s in our DNA.
Take it from a cable die-hard, it’s time to give up the psychological addiction to the big brother box. In 2019, you can cut the cord without fear. All it takes is a few upgrades you probably already have and a slight, but very important, shift in mindset. You’ll be fine, and you’ll kick yourself for not having done it sooner.
I’m gonna tell you how. But first why, because that ties into how.
Cable is newspapers
By the end of 2018, we’d reached the tipping point where the cluster of a la carte entertainment services that can be glued together piecemeal have finally — finally — evolved into a new way to watch television. We’ve seen it coming for years. The transition started in the late 1990s when DVRs went mainstream. YouTube tweaked it, Netflix disrupted it, and standard 100 Mbps wireless internet hammered that last nail.
Cable has always been about convenience, or at least that’s what they sell the consumer. If you’re over 40, cable probably gave you your first remote. If you’re under 30, cable was likely the way you recorded your first show. Cable companies have always had a sneaky way of making things easier. It’s why we love them, even though we hate them.
But the thing about convenience is it gets commoditized quickly, and commodity means no profits. There’s a reason why you have 1000 channels on a gold cable package and at least 100 on a standard package. The only way to make money on convenience is to keep the customer coming back.
It’s in the name. Convenience stores used to only carry a handful of items you might need on a road trip. Now you can almost do your weekly shopping there, but it’ll cost you. And that’s where we are with cable. A thousand things we don’t need to get to the few we do need — at a very high price.
Break the Mindset
Understand that you’ll need to resist that dopamine-fueled moment when you open cable’s on-screen guide and are rewarded with 1000 options for your time slot, pick one. After 50-plus years, this is no longer how we watch TV.
Forget the guide, forget about appointment television. We no longer decide what to watch when we decide to watch TV. We decide what to watch ahead of time, when it hits our radar over the Internet, and then we immediately use our phone (or our laptop, change is hard) to add it to our library. Then, when we want to watch TV, we open our library and pick something we already wanted to watch.
Also understand that cord cutting isn’t free and a la carte channels are not cheap. You’re not going to go from a $300 monthly cable bill to $0. Expect to spend about $100 to $130 a month to have a fully-formed entertainment experience. Yes, you can get by with your $40 mobile data plan and $9 Netflix. That’s not what this is about. In fact, cable is counting on you being afraid of the dark ages and wind up paying full price for the convenience.
What this is about is changing the way you think of television, not about getting free TV. When we broke the music industry’s $20 CD paradigm, we spent years arguing over whether or not music should be free (it shouldn’t). And even now that we have music figured out with streaming, artists are still getting ripped off on the back end.
So let’s not do this with TV. We don’t want free, we want fair.
Even so, think about reducing your $300 cable bill to $130. That’s $170 a month, $2040 a year, $10 grand over 5 years. That’s crazy money, so don’t worry about free.
Have you broken the mindset? Good. Let’s get you set up.
Let’s set the benchmark
I had a holdover cable package from Time Warner Cable that both Time Warner Cable and Spectrum assured me would not increase in price with the acquisition. It has since increased three times for a total of $70 and now comes in at $204 a month for data, television, and phone. The standard “triple-play” package that is the scourge of cable imprisonment.
Yeah, in 2019, I don’t need a landline. So we’ll talk about data and television only. From what I understand, most people are paying more than $200 a month for television and data anyway, usually $300 or more. Furthermore, Charter/Spectrum just did a price hike at the end of 2018, and everyone else announced price hikes at the beginning of 2019, ironically blaming cord cutting for the increase in fees.
As delicious as it was to cancel by cable, I had to keep their data. I don’t know what happened to Google Fiber, but they quit on me. We have lines installed and all they need to do is flip a switch, but they haven’t, and they’re not going to. So for the moment, I’m still tied to cable for my data.
But one thing Google and Verizon and AT&T and all of those other fiber companies did do is make data a commodity. There’s only so much “more” that my cable company can offer me to raise the price on my data connection. I’m at $70.99 all-in per month, which is a crime, but I’ll live with it. I argued until they gave me 12 months at $60.99, but I don’t expect that to last because they’re cable and they lie. So let’s go with $71.
That said, you don’t need 100Mbps to make this work. I was able to run my entire setup off my 4G mobile connection and also off a force-limited 15Mbps 2G WiFi connection. It can be done. Just don’t stream to three screens or play Fortnite while you watch TV.
Obviously, having a smart TV makes everything easier, and this past holiday season saw smart become a commodity where last year 4K became a commodity. In other words, the cost of buying a smart TV is no longer significantly more than the cost of buying a standard TV.
That said, if you don’t have or don’t want a smart TV, get a Roku Express for $30 for each TV you have. It plugs into HDMI and replaces everything except your gaming console.
I’m choosing Roku over both Apple TV and Chromecast because of limitations in those platforms. They’re trying to rope you too far into their ecosystem with their devices. Same with Amazon Fire Stick. I actually have all of these and don’t use them that much. Plus they all hate each other. Like, you can’t get YouTube TV on the Fire stick, and that made me mad. Roku is Switzerland.
The beauty of any streaming device is it takes your stopping points with you, from television set to television set to mobile device to laptop to gaming console. Can’t do this with cable unless you pay a bunch for multiple DVRs or whole-house DVR.
My pick here is YouTube TV. I’ve tried all of the major players, and YouTube TV is the most like cable in terms of convenience. There’s still a learning curve, so get ready to make a bunch of mistakes with your remote. You’ll get used to it. Again, change is hard.
YouTube TV gives you over 50 channels plus unlimited DVR for $42 or so depending on tax rate. When I say 50 channels, I mean the networks, the good ESPNs, the standard news channels, and a bunch of the good cable. I might miss the Science channel at some point, I’m never gonna watch Bravo, but the selection is the most broad at the best price.
Sling was a runner up here but it was more expensive and I needed both Sling Blue and Sling Orange to get all the networks and ESPN and the interface is the opposite of intuitive and the drop-in commercials in on-demand content were overload.
That said, you can try almost any of these for free. Go for it.
Good News! No HD Antenna
I’m not sure screwing around with an HD antenna is worth it. I’ve tried different types in different positions with mixed results, never great results. You don’t need to worry about picking up local stations as you get the networks on all of the cable replacement packages. If you really need your local news on your TV, you’ll need one of these, but I don’t know anyone who is happy with theirs. It’s a lot of work for a little return. Plus you’re back to the old watch-on-their-schedule paradigm. We don’t want that.
Pick Your One Add On
Here’s the trick. Since you’re no longer tied into when you watch, you only need one add-on package for newer streaming movies or archived TV. We chose Hulu, because it’s got a good mix of movies and TV episodes. Netflix is good for this too, so we’ll go back and forth — Hulu for couple months, then Netflix, then back to Hulu. The content isn’t going anywhere. Amazon Prime Video is a nice option if you’ve already got Prime, and we do, but don’t expect a lot here.
So now I’m at $121 a month all in. I also got a Black Friday discount on Hulu so, fingers crossed, I’m paying $104 a month for the next 12 months and I’m not missing a thing. I’m saving $100 a month, and I’ve opened up new features like unlimited DVR and screen hopping and, of course, I still have my data, which I would have needed anyway.
Here’s the Bad News
This isn’t going to stay this way. At some point, data will get scarce, the cable replacement packages will raise their prices exorbitantly, or the paradigm will shift again. 5G is coming, the rise of a la carte channel offerings at $5 to $10 a month will keep splintering the packages until we’re paying $300 a month for the setup I’ve described above.
That’s why I’m stressing a shift in mindset instead of a consumer-rights stance or a free TV stance. Once we get our heads around the new thing that disrupts the old thing, we can stay one step ahead of the convenience trap.