How We (Sort of) Cut the Cord

how we (sort of) cut the cord

Cable is expensive: fact. Cable is dumb: eh, sort of. Maybe. The verdict is still out. The fact of the matter is that Kerry and I were looking for ways to save a few dollars monthly, and around the same time our “one year introductory offer” on AT&T U-Verse was about to be over, skyrocketing our cable bill.

I want to note for this post: I’m going to mention specific companies. However none of this is an endorsement or a disapproval of these companies. I know everyone has had awful experiences with some service provider, and others (supposedly) love theirs, so your mileage may vary on any of this.

Cable companies (and I’m including satellite in this) are weird. They all “compete” with each other, but they all offer the same thing for essentially the same price. When we moved, we wanted to just transfer our DirecTV because we had had good experiences with them. We couldn’t get reception on a satellite so the installer recommended we get U-Verse, since AT&T owns DirecTV now. We never loved the interface of U-Verse but it was cheaper than DirecTV … for the first year. But they also charge odd things … like a $10 fee if you want access to the HD channels. You can get an HD quality signal by plugging an antenna into your TV, but for some reason AT&T thinks you should have to pay $120 a year for access to HD.

As our price hike was approaching I started researching cheaper U-Verse options and other companies. U-Verse has a $20/month “Basic” package, which is just the major networks. Plus, of course, $10/month if you want the HD versions. Time Warner and WOW are available to us in our town. We used to have Time Warner internet at our old house and liked them. They have a $20 Basic cable package too. They don’t have the $10 HD upsell, but their equipment rental fee (not only do you pay these companies for the cable, you pay to have their equipment to have access to the cable) is $10 more than AT&T. So really it evens out. No matter what, you’re paying around $40-$50 (service + equipment) a month for access to ABC, NBC, CBS … Network stations you can get for free with an antenna!

So that was our plan. Get an HD antenna. After lots of research (and two attempts) we settled on the ClearStream Eclipse 50 mile range antenna. The first antenna we bought really only pulled in channel 3 (NBC) for us. Even though all the broadcast towers are within 25 miles of our house, a 25 mile range antenna didn’t seem to be working. The ClearStream 50 works better, but not perfectly. It gets NBC without issue. ABC works pretty well. Fox is questionable but works okay enough — we don’t often watch it. And the CW (which has Arrow and The Flash, two of our favorite shows!) works pretty good. We don’t really care about other broadcast stations. Antennas, by the way, are as tricky as you might remember (at least ours is), in that you have to find the perfect spot on your wall in order to get reception. If we move it half an inch in any direction, we lose almost all our stations.

Then we realized two issues with having just an antenna. 1) No DVR — what happens if we miss a show? 2) There are actually cable shows we like. We like Food Network. We like TNT. I like TruTV (mostly just Impractical Jokers). So we started looking into alternate options, like Hulu, SlingTV, and Playstation Vue. Hulu didn’t have the variety were looking for or the ability to just turn the TV on and watch some random thing live. The others are two subscription services that are very similar. They offer around 50 cable channels, most of them being the standard, most watched varieties: Food Network, HGTV, Comedy Central, etc. Sling is $20/month and Playstation Vue is $30. We eventually decided on Vue because it has two key features we love: on-demand versions of all the network channels and DVR. While we can’t watch NBC live on Vue, we can watch NBC live on the antenna we bought. And if we miss something, we can watch it on demand the next day. For the cable shows we like — like any kids competition on Food Network — we are able to DVR them and watch at our leisure.

When people talk about cutting the cord, I think the dream that is sold is, “I don’t rely on the cable companies and I’m not paying anything for TV!” There are ways to do that, sure. You could just give up on TV, but that’s not for us. We kind of love TV. You could download stuff illegally but that’s not my thing either. I don’t think there is a legitimate way to “cut the cord” and be fee free but also get access to the stuff you want. In fact a common criticism of cord-cutting is that you end up paying about the same amount in between all this a la carte stuff. Critics will say, “Internet plus Hulu plus Netflix plus Amazon Video plus Sling … isn’t that just the same amount, with more hassle?”

I didn’t factor in Netflix and Amazon to our price comparisons (which I had done extensively — I made spreadsheets!). We were already paying for Netflix, so that’s a wash. Amazon Video is part of our Amazon Prime subscription, which we are going to have either way for the two-day shipping. So whether we’re paying a cable company for cable, or some other service, Netflix and Amazon will be extra expenses.

For us, Playstation Vue is the sweetspot. It’s access to any cable station we would ever watch for just $30 a month. Yeah we still have to pay for Internet, but those two bills combined are over $100 a month LESS than what our U-Verse bill was about to jump up to. Plus there is no contract. If we decide that we don’t need to watch another six hours of Impractical Jokers every night, we’ll cancel it. Easy as that.

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