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  • Cord-Cutting Options: Are You Dizzy Yet?

    March 17th, 2017

    As many of you know, growth in the cable and satellite industry has slowed considerably. A host of alternatives have arisen to supplement or replace the traditional offerings of broadcast and cable-only channels. So Netflix is a significant example, expanding from basic DVD rentals, to a major provider of original — and often award-winning — streaming content.

    With judicious selection, some people are able to supplement or replace traditional cable/satellite fare snd perhaps save some money in the process. Sometimes it’s just returning to broadcast-only TV, assuming you are close enough to transmitters to get a decent signal via an old fashioned antenna. Indeed, cable TV started as a way to deliver satisfactory broadcast reception in outlying or difficult-to-reach areas.

    In addition to Netflix and broadcast, other services have arisen that offer different selections of content. You can rent or buy digital versions of movies from Apple iTunes and other providers. In addition to Netflix, there’s original content from such places as Amazon, and even the traditional networks have gotten into the act. So CBS All Access isn’t just an alternative source for shows from the network, but some original fare. A notable example is “The Good Fight,” a spin-off from “The Good Wife,” and “Star Trek: Discovery” is poised to debut later this year; it’s been delayed several times, however. In both cases, the shows were scheduled to debut for one episode only on the networks’ broadcast outlet to attract new customers, then switch exclusively to the streaming service.

    All Access comes in two versions: With limited commercials at $5.99 per month and a no commercials version costs $9.99 per month.

    In order to compete with some of the alternatives, both Dish Network (Sling TV) and DirecTV (DirecTV NOW) have debuted services that offer subsets of their standard satellite fare, which is streamed to set-top boxes from Apple, Amazon, Google and Roku. Right now, however, broadcast stations aren’t available in all cities, and you can’t time-shift, so you don’t have DVR capability to store shows for later viewing and commercial skipping. At best, you have on-demand. But it’s possible such features will come later. For now, DVR functions appear to be limited to Sony’s PlayStation Vue.

    However, Hulu is now promising a cloud-based DVR feature, and real-time alerts. They are even inviting people to beta test the service at some uncertain time in the future at a special web site. One hopes that Hulu’s expanded service will influence the competition to deliver the goods. Indeed, one of the factors that may have derailed Apple’s efforts to set up a subscription service was the alleged need to establish a cloud-based DVR scheme. But that has not been officially confirmed.

    As far as I’m concerned, I wonder why the cable and satellite services aren’t experimenting with some sort of cloud-based or network-based DVR now on their regular systems. You might argue that it would impact bandwidth to some degree, but bear in mind that you are already watching shows from the network, and there’d be no need to actually record anything. You could just put a digital identifier on the shows you want to “record,” and play them back at your convenience. At least that’s how it appears to me.

    Or maybe they don’t want to lose all that money they earn from renting physical DVRs with old fashioned hard drives.

    Now before I go on, I really cannot understand the reasoning behind Dish and DirecTV streaming services, unless you live in a place where you cannot set up a working satellite dish or get a proper cable connection. In such a situation, though, you’d only need a decent broadband hookup and, one hopes, a liberal enough amount of bandwidth not to exceed the limits if your TV is picking up streaming fare for hours each day.

    I suppose it’s still possible that Apple will find a way to sign deals with the networks. On the other hand, with so many alternatives, maybe it’s too late to enter this business. Do we need yet another streaming service?

    To put this in perspective, I live in a development that offers basic broadband and a free mid-level Dish Network package to all residents. The rentals aren’t expensive and many residents are snowbirds, often retirees, who only visit Arizona during the fall and winter months, and thus are looking for convenience.

    What it means, however, is that I am not able to order a different cable or satellite service, and I cannot switch to another ISP. When it comes to TV programming, I can use what’s here, get an antenna (I’m not that far from the TV stations in Phoenix), or find something in a streaming package to meet my needs. At least the ISP isn’t bugging me about bandwidth.

    Since I’m on a budget, I limit my streaming fare to Netflix. And during the months when my favorite original shows aren’t available, I just suspend the membership. I’ve learned the best ways to do without. Indeed, with all these networks available, it’s very easy to load up on separates and find yourself paying the same or more than cable/satellite. Cord-cutting is possible, but it’s easy to go overboard. It’s also confusing, because, with potentially hundreds or thousands of available channels, you may end up more confused than ever trying to find the shows you want.



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