So you're thinking about ditching cable. Welcome to the cord-cutting world.
Similar to how some people have cancelled their traditional phone lines in favour of mobile devices in recent years, the cable TV industry has noticed steep declines in subscriptions due to viewers going mobile. They seem to prefer internet-based streaming and want to watch it on all their devices, anywhere, and at any time.
Netflix, which offers a catalogue of both films and TV shows, was one of the first companies to notice the changing tide, and today it is a Hollywood powerhouse. Several rival services have also popped up, such as Amazon Prime Instant Video, and even networks and cable providers are striking while the iron is hot.
There are now tonnes of internet-based apps and services you can download and subscribe to in order to get all your TV programming. The days of paying one huge monthly fee for hundreds of channels you don't watch is almost a thing of the past. It's currently all about paying individual services for a la carte programming.
But how much does it cost to cut the cord in the US, and can you really survive on just a few apps? Pocket-lint has answered these questions and more, below. We also plan to do a UK version of this article too.
What hardware do you need to cut the cord?
Apart from subscriptions to different apps and services, you need specific hardware to become a legit cord cutter. You need a HDTV, obviously, but we're talking about smart TVs like Samsung's Smart TV line. They're connected and provide access to built-in apps and cord-cutting apps (and app stores).
If you'd like something that you can unplug and bring with you to another house or TV, try a streaming media device, such as a set-top box or even a gaming console like PS4. There are several ones to choose from, including but not limited to: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire Stick, Nexus Player, Chromecast, Roku, etc.
Like smart TVs, streaming media devices are connected and showcase cord-cutting apps as well as games. If you're not interested in that, you can simply use your phone or tablet. All the major app stores (Apple App Store, Google Play Store, Windows Store, Amazon App Store) offer mobile versions of cord-cutting apps.
Which channels do you like most?
You need to determine which channels you watch the most prior to cutting the cord. We've rounded up 42 popular ones, including sone premium, though there are probably several we missed. This is an estimate that'll help you when figuring if different internet-based apps and services offer what you like to watch.
- ABC, ABC Family, AMC, Adult Swim, Animal Planet, BET, Bravo, CBS, CMT, CNN, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Discovery, Disney, ESPN, ESPN2, El Rey, FX, Food Network, FOX, FOX News, FOX Sports, Galavision, HBO, HGTV, IFC, MSNBC, MTV, NBC, NBC Sports, Nat Geo, Nickelodeon, Showtime, SYFY, TBS, TLC, TNT, Telemundo, The CW, Travel, USA, Univison, VH1
Which cord-cutter apps offer your channels?
If you want any of the channels listed above, we've picked out five apps and services that'll give you everything you need. Here's the apps, along with a listing of some of the popular channels they offer:
1. CBS All Access
CBS All Access costs $5.99 a month. It' considered the No. 1 network in the US, and with its own streaming service, it provides access to some of the most popular shows on TV the day after airing, including The Big Bang Theory, Mom, The Good Wife, The Late Show, etc. You can even watch live TV in some areas.
Out of the 42 popular channels we listed above, CBS All Access offers:
2. Hulu Plus
Hulu Plus costs $7.99 a month, with some free content available through Hulu. Hulu is owned by companies that run three of the major TV networks. It adds the latest TV shows the day after they air on ABC, NBC, Fox, and the CW. It also offers movies, such as the Criterion Collection, but Hulu is more or less about shows.
Out of the 42 popular channels we listed above, Hulu Plus offers:
- ABC, Bravo, Comedy Central, Discovery, FC, Fox, MTV, NBC, Nickeloden, The CW, Univision
3. HBO Now
HBO Now is initially available to Apple TV and iOS devices. A single subscription costs $14.99 a month and can be purchased through iTunes, but your first month is free via a trial. It offers on-demand access to HBO's library of original series, films, and documentaries, along with some films through partners.
Out of the 42 popular channels we listed above, HBO Now offers:
4. PlayStation Vue
PlayStation Vue is initially available in Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia, but only on the PS4 and PS3 at launch. The service's base package costs $50 a month, while the Core package is $60 a month. The Elite package - with all 80+ channels - costs $70 a month.
- AMC, Adult Swim, Animal Planet, BET, Bravo, CBS, CMT, CNN, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Discovery, FX, Food Network, FOX, FOX News, FOX Sports, HGTV, IFC, MSNBC, MTV, NBC, NBC Sports, Nat Geo, Nickelodeon, SYFY, TBS, TLC, TNT, Telemundo, Travel, USA, VH1
5. Sling TV
Sling TV comes from Dish Network, a popular satellite TV provider. It's a live, over-the-top television service and starts at $20 a month, though you can sign up for a free trial. As a subscriber, you'll get access to a core package called The Best of Live TV. It includes on-demand content and premium channels.
Out of the 42 popular channels we listed above, Sling TV offers:
- ABC Family, AMC, Adult Swim, CNN, Cartoon Network, Disney, ESPN, ESPN2 , El Rey, Food Network, Galavision, HGTV, IFC, TBS, TBT, Travel
Showtime's entire catalogue of content, which includes original series, movies, live TV, sports, etc, is available through the new "Showtime" standalone online streaming service/app. It costs $10.99 a month. A few examples of some Showtime content include: Homeland, Weeds, House of Lies, Dexter, and Shameless.
Out of the 42 popular channels we listed above, Showtime offers:
What about on-demand films and TV shows?
If you don't care about the 42 popular channels we mentioned above and simply have a cable subscription just for watching on-demand films and TV shows, consider the following two services that offer similar functionality:
1. Amazon Prime Instant Video
You need to buy an Amazon Prime membership for $99 a year to stream any television or show in the Instant Video library at no extra charge (there are also two discounted groups available). You can trial the subscription service for 30 days, but during the free trial period, you don't get access to Instant Video.
- Select films and TV shows (old and new)
Netflix recently increased the price of its $7.99 a month streaming plan to $8.99 for new members. Current Netflix members get to keep their current price for two years and watch content on any two screens at a time. Netflix also introduced a new $7.99 plan with SD -quality viewing on any one screen at a time.
- Select films and TV shows (old and new)
But how much does cable cost?
Let's get this out of the way: The average cable TV bill rose 5.8 per cent from July 2013 to July 2014, according to ABC News, and that's likely because more and more households are becoming cord cutters. The US Federal Communication Commission is also claiming that an average digital cable package cost about $65 in 2014.
Here's the top cable and satellite providers in the US, along with links to their TV packages that cost up to $65:
- Comcast - Digital Preferred plan for $50 a month (for first 12 months)
- Time Warner Cable - Preferred TV plan for $65 a month (for first 12 months)
- Cox Comm. - Advanced TV plan for $60 a month (for first 12 months)
- Charter Comm. - TV Select plan for $60 a month (for first 12 months)
- Verizon FiOS - Custom HD plan for $55 a month (for first 12 months)
- ATT - U300 plan for $60 a month (for first 12 months)
- Dish - Top 120 plan for $60 a month ($30 for first 12 months)
- DirecTV - Ultimate plan for $50 a month ($50 for first 12 months)
We recommend browsing each package and discovering the channels available. Most of them offer less than 200 channels, and more often than not, you have to purchase additional packages to get access to premium channels, meaning once you add everything to your cart, the final cable bill will be more than $65 a month.
Should you finally cut the cord?
If all seven internet-based services and apps we mentioned above were widely available (which, at this point, we're just waiting on PlayStation Vue), you could get access to on-demand film and TV shows and at least 42 of the most popular channels. And you'd essentially be able to cut the cord for around $135 a month.
That's twice the amount of the average digital cable package in the US, which typically comes with at least a hundred fluff channels and only a few premium ones. The reality is, though, PlayStation Vue isn't available everywhere yet, and you likely watch many more channels than the popular ones we discussed.
Cord-cutting therefore probably isn't the most effective or affordable option compared to basic cable, but it is something to consider if you hardly watch TV at home and desire a la carte programming while on the go. With cord-cutter apps, you can watch your favourite films and TV shows on a range of devices at any time.
Cable TV, on the other hand, is still relatively pricey, tied to your living room, and filled with crap you don't care to watch. So, now that you have all the details you need, you must decide if you're willing or able to cut the cord.