I’ve done it. This morning, I turned in my cable box/DVR and fired Spectrum. Man, it feels good!
As I spent a lot of time in recent days evaluating live TV* options, I decided to share what I learned in the hope that it can help others still considering cord-cutting. Even though the providers in your area are probably different, most of my learnings shared below should be generic enough to apply most anywhere.
(* Again, the focus here is live TV, not on-demand streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and the like. You may want one or more of them, too.)
Last month, Spectrum broke the last straw with me. My bundle discount covering cable, internet and phone was to end. While they informed me it was coming, the new price was unclear – until the December bill arrived. It was roughly 50 percent higher.
Adding insult to injury, Spectrum stopped pro-rating monthly amounts due. So I was stuck paying for the entire month, even though I did not learn the new higher price until it was too late to cancel in December. They were unwilling to give me any new deals, so it was time to say goodbye.
Not wanting to give them an extra dollar, I used the four weeks in the interim to set every part of my cord-cutting plan in place.
My initial decision was to decide which services I would need going forward. But unlike many articles I read, picking my new streaming provider for live TV was my last decision, not my first.
Among the streaming providers I considered are YouTubeTV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling, fuboTV and Vidgo. I wanted a good selection of channels, but there are some providers with fewer channels, such as Philo at $20 that could meet the needs of some.
Here is the process I followed that led me to select my new provider.
What capabilities do I need?
For me, a land line is unnecessary. In fact, the only reason I had it in the first place was that Charter (Spectrum’s predecessor) set their prices such that it was cheaper to bundle local phone service even if it was unwanted. That was an easy cut.
If you plan to eliminate cable, you want to have fast internet speed, as that will be the vehicle to deliver your television signal. As in all of this, every area will have its own providers. In my town, Spectrum’s high-speed internet is three times as fast as Frontier’s DSL.
Anyone can test their current internet download speed using a number of sites, including this one by Google. It will tell you if your speed is considered adequate for streaming.
While Frontier’s internet is about a third of the price, it is about a third of the speed, too. This is not the place to cut corners. So, for now, I am staying with Spectrum internet, but only because Frontier has not yet brought FIOS service to my area.
Your options are going to be different, but again, more speed is better than not enough.
What will I use instead of my cable box?
The most well-known and popular streaming devices are Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. I already have Roku (for MLB.TV), so I was set. Some newer televisions already have this capability built-in, making a separate device unnecessary.
Each of these support many other apps as well and have their strengths and avid supporters. Pick the one that has the features and price you like and chances are you won’t go wrong.
Most of the streaming providers support all of these most common devices, but remember to check before signing up.
How do I get local television?
Believe or not, depending on where you live, this can be the trickiest part. (But if live local television does not matter to you, skip ahead.)
It is almost certain that your local network affiliates are included in your current cable TV service. However, do not take this for granted when you cut the cord.
Local affiliates are not a part of all streaming services. However, there is another way. In many areas, these signals can be picked up for free using an antenna. Even then, a table-top antenna may not be enough – a roof-top antenna may be required.
In yet other cases, no antenna will be good enough to pull in local channels. It all depends on the distance from the stations’ transmitters and the terrain.
This is one of the many sources you can use to learn if an antenna could work for you.
A key decision
Whether or not you can get all the local channels you need using an antenna can be a key factor in which streaming service you should select.
If you either cannot receive your desired locals in your area or do not want to deal with an antenna, Sling should not be your choice, as is does not carry locals. (Yet, Sling does offer a free antenna and a paid antenna installation service.) In contrast, if locals do not matter to you, Sling could provide a price advantage.
Vidgo has only ABC and FOX at this time. If you want NBC and CBS, though, you will have to look elsewhere.
Which channels do I watch now?
It is time for you (and others in your household) to make two comprehensive lists. One is the channels you must have. The other list is the nice to haves. Pull them all together and start comparing how the providers’ offerings measure up.
While currently Vidgo is $10 less per month than Sling Orange & Blue, which is $5 less per month than YouTubeTV, which is $5 less than Hulu + Live TV and fuboTV, that may matter less than you think. Price is likely not going to make your final decision for you – available channels will.
You are going to need to go through the channel lists on each provider’s website to verify which ones have everything you want. Make sure you enter your zip code when asked as channel offerings do vary.
Compromises may be required.
For example, if you must have your ABC local channel and the ESPN networks, fuboTV is not going to work for you. Or if you cannot live without the History Network, then YouTubeTV is out.
If the FOX Regional Sports Networks are important, then you are limited to Hulu or YouTube. (This does not override the standard blackout and territory rules for MLB, for example.)
Cloud DVR is a capability that most, but not all providers offer. Some have a total hour limit to how much you can store. YouTubeTV offers unlimited storage and Sling has announced they will have unlimited, as well.
Add-on packages are available from some providers with movie channels or additional sports channels, for example.
Also, check into whether your preferred provider has limits on the number of connected devices allowed at any one time. In a large family setting, this could be a show-stopper.
If any these are important to you, dig into the details and pricing. Then tally your scorecard and make your decision.
Footnote – My decision
As I mentioned above, I reluctantly kept Spectrum internet – until a faster choice becomes available. I already use Roku. I cannot receive a full slate of local channels reliably, even with a roof antenna.
By process of elimination, I ultimately selected Hulu + Live TV. The examples I cited of channels that are missing from other packages were the reasons I did not select them. While Hulu + Live TV does not provide a few of my “nice to have” channels, it is the only one which has all of my “must haves”, including my local network affiliates.
If you are preparing to head down this path, good luck with your decision. Remember that most all of these services offer free trials. So if you don’t get what you want the first time, try again!
Also, check back to the provider sites periodically as they can and do make changes to their channel offerings – but in some cases, more channels mean mandatory price increases.
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