More Cord Cutting Stuff

March 4th, 2016

I’m sure most of you know the basics. Cord-cutting means giving up on cable or satellite TV and fending for yourself. You may buy an antenna for local stations, subscribe to some streaming services, such as Hulu and Netflix, and perhaps rent movies and buy TV shows from iTunes and other services. All told, you mix and match services to get something that approximates the programming you like, while hoping to save a bundle of money.

Certainly, the cable/satellite choice never gets any cheaper. You may sign up for an introductory plan where you pay less for a few months, or as long as two years. Sometimes the rates creep up every few months as individual discounts evaporate. At the end of this period, you pay the full price for the service, whatever that is. With content providers constantly demanding more money from the cable/satellite companies — and sometimes cutting off their feeds as leverage to get a higher price for “carriage” — the price of admission will continue to increase.

For young people, just out of school and striking out on their own, even basic cable may be too expensive. Bills need to be paid, and those bills may include large student loans. Maybe they just don’t have the free time, or they don’t care all that much about series television, sporting events, and the other programs that are being offered. All right, I’m in the U.S. and keeping this entire discussion local, although those of you who live elsewhere might sympathize with some of what I’m writing about.

But as soon as your interests expand, is it really easy to go without cable/satellite?

That depends. Individual networks may have their own apps, and sometimes paid streaming services, to deliver some or all of their programming online. So you have CBS All Access and HBO NOW as ways to go direct to a network to get the shows you want. You might choose Hulu, owned by ABC, Fox and NBC, to get shows from those networks. But Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have their own original programming, and what about the local stations?

Well, if it’s network fare, CBS All Access and Hulu might suffice. But what about sports? Well, if it’s on a local station, there’s always an antenna, but what if you live in a small town, far away from any city that has more than a few stations? Do you erect an antenna on the roof of your home, or must you choose another option? That’s how cable TV got its start in the first place, as a way for people who couldn’t receive broadcast TV to, in effect, pool their efforts to set up a single large antenna, or network of antennas, to receive distant stations and feed those signals onto a network of cables and amplifiers to deliver decent signals to your home.

I say decent, as cable TV in those early days was hit or miss before TV signals went all digital.

But what this means is that, if you want broadcast TV, and the antenna solution isn’t suitable, you’re stuck with cable/satellite, even if it’s just the cheapest packages. Or you do without.

Another way to deliver programming is a slim streaming package, such as Dish Network’s Sling TV. This is a scheme to put together something akin to basic cable and feed it to you without the need for a wired or satellite hookup. There are several tiers of service — I understand broadcast stations are coming — which more or less puts you into the same category as a satellite subscriber without the satellite dish.

Apple has reportedly been working on their own streaming service, again a small bundle of cable networks, possibly along with broadcast. According to published reports, talks have bogged down over rights and packages and such. Indeed, the rumors had it that the service would arrive with the fourth generation Apple TV. Well, the Apple TV was launched last fall, but there’s been nothing new about such a service, and certainly Apple isn’t going to admit to anything.

This week came a report that AT&T’s DirecTV division is working on delivering its own streaming service, based on the existing satellite TV structure. What this means is that you’ll be able to order a package fairly similar to what you get with the satellite. I wouldn’t know whether it will be any cheaper since you wouldn’t need the dish and set-top box. You could do it with a web or mobile app, or perhaps as a channel in Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV. But nothing is certain, since it’s still in the works and hasn’t been finalized.

As with Sling TV, an Internet streaming service would use online bandwidth. Do you have enough with your ISP? I wouldn’t know. You’d have to check, but if you expect to watch streaming TV several hours a day in HD — and forget about the higher bandwidth needs of 4K — you could use up your allotted bandwidth in days. You’ll have to pay a premium for extra bandwidth, or be stuck with throttling — slower service — or being cut off because you exceeded the limits.

So at the end of the day, can an a la carte menu of streaming services, and perhaps a TV antenna, get you all or most of what cable/satellite offers? Probably, but at what cost? And what about your ISP’s bandwidth cap?

Suddenly cable/satellite may not seem such a bad choice after all, although there’s a lot that ought to be done to make the offerings more competitive and more customer-centric. Maybe extra service tiers and options so you’re not forced to buy a 300 channel bundle when you only care about a dozen of them.

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