THB #305: How To Cut Your Cord
My Sundance from Los Angeles has begun. Lots to come from that. But in the meanwhile, this is an answer to a request from my pal, Saul, that I think will be of use to more people. (I have this conversation more and more often.)
STEP ONE: Make sure you have home internet service that is 300 mbps or better.
The trigger for my family to cut the cord was fiber optic service, giving us a consistent 1000 mbps or better flow in the home. On that, we have 4 TVs that operate exclusively on internet, 1 desktop and 2 laptops that use our wifi, various game platforms, phones, Zoom, etc. There are occassional drop-outs, like any wire into the home, but they are rare and have become more and more rare.
I know people who are operating streaming to their TVs on just 300 mbps without constant slowdowns. But I would be looking for 400 mbps or better before making the leap.
STEP TWO: Call your cable or satellite provider that is charging you $200 a month or more and politely tell them to fuck off.
If they are also your internet provider, be more gentle.
But also consider what other internet options there are in your location. Your cable provider may already be giving you the best deal for internet. They may not. They may have the strongest stream. They may not.
Type “home internet” into Google and all kinds of possibilities will show themelves. You probably have 2 or 3 choices. It’s amazing how much variation there are, even in some urban locations. A friend who lives within 2 miles of Warner Bros and Universal had AT&T, her cell provider, giving here - seriously - 35 mbps. They had nothing faster avilable. Verizon offered 300 mbps in her neighborhood. I helped her make the switch. In that case, Verizon was cheaper and once auto-pay was set up, a second bill was not an inconvenience. In other neighborhoods, it might be the opposite, AT&T offering better than Verizon or whomever.
If the difference between a good stream and the fastest is $20 a month, if you can afford it, pay it. Not having to think about it ever again (or more than once every few years) will improve your life more than $240 a year.
If you have a cable provider providing your internet, they will sell you interner without the cable. Don’t be worried that they will not. Internet service is massively profitable for them, more so than cable tv, even at those crazy prices.
STEP THREE: Buy an antenna. They are incredibly cheap and pretty much all the TVs have easy connections, usually using the good ol’ coaxial and USB inputs. You want to have this as back-up, in case your internet service is every interupted for any reason. Local stations and more.
STEP FOUR: Decide what device you want to use to be the hub for your streaming services. Roku is the most popular. AmazonFire connects to Alexa. Chromecast (with or without GoogleTV) is part of the Google empire. Apple TV is the best technically, but most expensive (by somewhere around $100, paid once for each TV). And most any TV you have bought in the last few years is a “smart” TV with will allow you to use it for most or all of the streaming options I will list here, but has its own limitations, like inconsistency with tech updates.
You may own a Roku/Fire/AppleTV already. You don’t need to change it to make this transition. If your hub is more than 3 years old, you may want to consider getting a new one. They have improved and aside from the AppleTV, they are pretty cheap.
One of the reasons I prefer the AppleTV is that I can plug ethernet directly into the box, eliminating the vaguaries of wi-fi. This is a choice you will have to make for yourself.
STEP FIVE: This is another step you could skip, but… decide whether you want to wire your streaming platforms or not. Most people do not. I, personally, have all our TVs hard wired, with coax snaking around our home. I can’t honestly tell you whether you need this. And for me, it is something I did a few years ago, a few steps back in the quality of home wi-fi. But we also live in a century-old building, so we have 3 different wi-fi bases set up to manage thick cement walls blocking signal. Your mileage will vary.
STEP SIX: Decide if you want an vMVPDs (virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributor) to replace the cable experience you are used to. The two most complete virtual cable offerings are YouTubeTV ($65) and Hulu Live ($70). You can also save more money if you use Sling ($40) or Philo ($25). I do not reccomend DirectTV Stream, which has all the disadvantages of DirecTV.
The good news, in making this choice, is that you can sample any of them for a month and turn them off for another. You’ll want stability as soon as possible. Some have test offers, some don’t. I actually tried all of them before I cut the cord, a couple years ago.
My personal choice remains YouTubeTV. Why? The smaller virtual cable offerings simply don’t have things I want. There is a trade-off, at least in Los Angeles, between YouTubeTV and Hulu Live in that YTTV doesn’t offer local Channel 5 for some reason, but Hulu Live doesn’t offer Channel 13 and a number of UHF channels that YTTV does. If there is something on the CW/Ch 5, I watch via antenna.
Also, I don’t see PBS or any PBS stations on Hulu’s website, but according to YouTubeTV’s website, there is PBS on Hulu Live… but this CNET analysis of the 2 offerings says that Hulu Live does not offer PBS, so maybe YTTV is being too generous to their competitor.
Also, you can have 3 streams at the same time on YouTubeTV and just 2 on Hulu… if you want more they charge you. Hulu upgraded its DVR option to unlimited since I started streaming, so that is now equal, though I have seen various stories suggesting that YouTube’s DVR is better.
A specific benefit of Hulu Live is that it includes Disney+, ESPN+, and, of course, Hulu. So that is $14 - $20 a month to its benefit. If you want Hulu and Dinsey+ wihtout ads, the monthly price rises $13 a month, to $83… which when you add in the $5 extra you start with as the monthly base, pretty much eliminates the benefit of this bundling.
In my household, we still watch some network and local TV, cable news channels, Bravo, PBS, TCM, Comedy Central, BBCAmerica, the FX channels, and sports, which can be compplicated, especially for local sports (especially here in Los Angeles). So we get value out of the vMVPD. I am a fan of out-of-town teams, so I don’t suffer much. But when my Yankees play in L.A., I can’t see them on my TV via MLB.TV… which is irritating.
Some of the stuff that we use YouTubeTV to watch can be replecated on Streamers, not all of it. My wife, for instance, now watches the Law & Order and Chicago shows from NBC on Peacock - which we pay for without commercials, $100/yr - so she doesn’t even have to skip the ads, they are already cut out. I will DVR the FX shows that I love, but if I don’t get to it on the premiere night, it’s there on Hulu (not Live) for me (we pay an extra $7 a month to have Hulu without ads).
Finally, for those who care, YouTubeTV is the new home of NFL Sunday Ticket. You don’t have to be on YouTubeTV to get it. And they have not yet offered pricing, so it is unclear if there will be any financial benefit to having their vMPVD service as well.
STEP SEVEN: You are all going to be pregnant with some number of streamers to a certain degree. But here is what everything costs as of this writing. There are always specials running on various platforms, so Google it up before you sign up for whatever you want.
Netflix: $15.59 Standard, $19.99 Premium (4K and added streams)
Disney+ - $7.99 with ads, - without ads, $10.99
Hulu - $7.99 with ads, - without ads, $14.99
Disney Bundle (D+. Hulu, ESPN+) - $12.99 with ads, - without ads, $19.99
HBO Max - $16
Peacock - $4.99 with ads, - without ads, $9.99
Paramount+ - $4.99 with ads, - without ads, $9.99
Par+ & Showtime - $11.99 with ads, - without ads, $14.99
Criterion Channel - $10.99 a month, $99 a year
Starz - $8.99 a month, $74.99 a year
Crunchyroll - $7.99 a month - $14.99 a month, depending on perks
Amazon - $14.99 a month, $139 a year; Prime Video only, $8.99 a month
Apple - $6.99 a month, bundling within Apple offers variations
STEP EIGHT: Check your cellphone provider.
There are deals through the major cell phone companies. AT&T give you HBO Max for free if you have an unlimited plan. Verizon offers the Disney Bundle, with ads, for free. T-Mobile is the King of Free SVOD, with Netflix, AppleTV+, and a year of Paramount+ (with ads) for free with their top Magenta plans… PLUS a $10 a month discount for YouTubeTV for the first year, adding up to as much as $35 a month.
WRAP UP: My pal, Saul, is paying over $300 a month for cable. And he is also paying for home internet. This must change.
I would recommend for him (you do you):
YouTubeTV: $65 a month
Netflix, no ads: $19.99
HBO Max, no ads: $15.99
Disney Bundle (they already have Hulu), no ads: $19.99
Paramount+ Showtime, no ads: $9.99
Peacock, no ads: $9.99
Amazon Prime (aka Prime Video): $139 a year, avg $11.59 a month
Almost half of what he is paying and more content.
“Cut me, cut me, cut me with your streaming stick”