A Beginner’s Guide to Cord Cutting
Whether you’re tired of paying for an expensive cable bill, or maybe you just want to learn more about streaming, more and more people are choosing to cut the cord so you’re not alone! But you may have some questions about what it means to cut the cord, and I hope to answer some of these questions here. I’ll explain some of the terms you may hear, and go into some detail about what you’ll need to cut the cord.
What is Cord Cutting?
Essentially, it means getting rid of traditional cable TV. More than likely, you’re already on your way to doing that, as there are over 70,000,000 Netflix subscribers in the United States, and since there are over 90 million cable subscribers, it’s likely you may have both.
Some Terms You Should Know
When talking about television, there are a few words I’ll be using that you may not be familiar with.
- Linear Television: Otherwise known as traditional television. A channel like CBS is linear because it cannot be viewed in any order. It is presented in a schedule. If you want to watch a specific show, you have to tune in during the time it is on television.
- Nonlinear Television: This is, of course, the opposite of linear, where you can watch what you want in any order you want. This can be used to describe streaming video, or on-demand video.
- Streaming Video: The act of viewing video through the internet.
- Smart TV: A television with the capability to go online. You do not need a smart TV to get online content because you can buy a streaming device.
- Streaming Device: A device that plugs into your TV and can connect to the internet to use streaming apps like Netflix. Think of it like a DVD Player plugging into your TV to watch DVDs. Here’s a list of streaming devices you can expect to see.
- Streaming Apps or Service: The services that provide content to be streamed, like Netflix or YouTube.
- TV Antenna: Plugs into your television’s coaxial port to watch channels transmitted through airwaves. If you’ve been shopping for antennas recently, you’ll notice some call themselves a digital antenna, or an HD antenna. All antennas are the same, so ignore that marketing nonsense. Some look like old fashioned rabbit ears, some are flat panel, and some are large and ugly that go on your roof or in your attic.
- Over-The-Air: When you plug in your TV antenna, these are channels you receive over-the-air.
I think that should do it for now, but don’t be afraid to ask questions in the comment section below.
What Alternatives Are There to Cable?
When considering cutting the cord, there are several alternatives to traditional cable and it all depends on what you like to watch, and how much you want to spend. Whether it is on-demand or linear, there are a few options to consider.
- Get an Antenna: I generally recommend this to most people, especially because once you buy an antenna, it’s free. I personally have a $10 set of rabbit ears that I got from Target, and because I live in an area where I’m pretty close to television transmitters, I receive over 30 channels. Even though you’ll get channels you may never watch, it’s still not a bad idea just in case the internet goes out or for local news. I’ve created a guide on getting started with an antenna, and some smart tuners to make watching local channels easier with a smart device.
- Free Streaming Services: There are plenty of free streaming services with more than enough content to keep you entertained. Services like YouTube, Crackle, Pluto TV, Xumo, Peacock, and several others are all legal ways to watch shows and movies by just spending time watching advertisements. I compiled a list of some of my favorites here.
- Paid Streaming Services: Yes, there are free streaming services with plenty of content, but the paid ones are where you’ll find the more valuable content. Services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock Premium, Paramount+, all offer exclusive content you have to pay to watch. Still, the $7–15 a month on one of the services is far cheaper than traditional cable. Click here to see a list of the more popular ones.
- Online Live TV Services: Alright, so you’ve heard about the free and paid on-demand services, but maybe you still want live TV without the live TV price. There are many services now that offer live TV online, like Philo, Sling, YouTube TV, TVision, Hulu with Live, Fubo, and a few others. The advantage of the online live TV service is there is no contract so you can cancel at any time, and you don’t have to rent equipment. Just beware that not all services will have local channels, or the regional sports channels, so do your homework to see what channels you watch and what services will have them. I’ve compiled a list of the top online live TV services here.
Should You Cut the Cord?
There is no one answer to this question. I’ve talked to many people who asked me about how to get rid of cable and I talked them into sticking with traditional cable. Why? Because although there are cheaper alternatives to cable, the process is very do-it-yourself. If you are not tech savvy, this can all get very confusing and complicated. Cable is expensive, but if you are experiencing issues, part of the reason your bill is so much is to pay for technicians to come to your house to fix problems. Plus, although you may not care to haggle, threatening to cancel (or asking politely) can often get you into a cheaper limited time plan, something you can’t do with online alternatives.
And let’s not forget about the sports fans: your sports team may not be on an online live TV service. For example, the New York Yankees channel YES Network is only available on AT&T TV, a service that isn’t much cheaper than traditional cable. The way cable works is your cable operator pays the TV channels to gain access to their channels, which they pay per subscriber. Because sports channels are a major reason why people pay for cable, they take full advantage of that, and YES Network wanted to charge more for their channel, which caused them to be dropped by several operators. ESPN is the most expensive channel to carry, costing your cable operator around $9 per subscriber. Meanwhile, the cost for TBS and TNT is around $3 per subscriber, and that all adds up fast. If you look at your cable bill, you may see specific fees like “regional sports fee” for channels like YES, which costs $6.50 per subscriber. So, depending on the sports you watch, it may not be all that much cheaper to leave traditional cable for an online live TV service.
Keeping all that in mind, if you are someone who likes to tinker, isn’t threatened by technology, or doesn’t watch too much sports, cord cutting allows you to customize your entertainment options, while giving you the opportunity to cut your costs down. Once you get used to things being app-based, and that you may have to do a little bit of troubleshooting, I think you’ll find that it’s not so bad.