At the end of January 2011, my family and I cut the cord. What this means, specifically, is that we are no longer be cable television subscribers. (I wish it meant I was cutting that cable from my house, as the term suggests, but since that’s how I get to the Internet, it will stay put.)
I’ve had many people ask me the obvious questions:
You can’t afford cable? That sucks.
How can you not watch television? [Their favorite show] is hilarious!
How will you get all 200+ channels that they offer without paying for cable?
I’ll answer all of those questions in this post, but I want to set a few ground rules for why we’re doing this, what we’re trying to accomplish, and how we measure success.
First, we can absolutely afford cable. We’ve been cable subscribers for 10 years. In fact, our most recent bill from WOW Internet/Cable/Phone was just north of $160. Mind you, that includes $80 for an upgraded Internet connection (15MB down, 2MB up) and a home phone line. (I work from home, and they’re necessities.) So we’re looking at a bill of $80 that makes up JUST our cable television subscription. We ARE doing this to save money, but it’s certainly not because we HAVE to. It’s because $80 seems way too high for what we’re getting (when most of it is available for free.)
Our goal in this experiment was to be able to watch all of the shows we were currently watching, while eliminating the cost of our cable subscription. We watch a TON of television, and if we weren't able to continue watching the shows we love, then cutting the cable isn’t worth it.
In order to be successful, certain criteria HAD to be met. They are:
- We must spend less money each month on television entertainment than we currently are. In our case, this means spending less than $80/month.
- If we need to purchase additional equipment or services, they cannot exceed the amount of money we would have spent just keeping cable for the year. Since we will be cutting $80 a month, this means that we CANNOT spend more than $960 this year on new hardware or services to accommodate or supplement our new situation.
- We must be able to watch all of the shows we are currently watching, including being able to record those shows digitally. While we were willing to concede a minor show here or there, anything we were hooked on HAD to be available.
The Shows We Currently Watch
I mentioned earlier that we watch a ton of television. I’m really not kidding. My wife certainly watches more than I do, but between us, there’s plenty of television watching in our house. Add two children to this mix, and there’s even more. Below is the list of shows we watch currently:
|The Event||NBC||9:00 pm|
|Greek||ABC Family||9:00 pm|
|Being Human||SyFy||9:00 pm|
|Mike and Molly||CBS||9:30 pm|
|Raising Hope||FOX||9:00 pm|
|White Collar||USA||10:00 pm|
|Cougar Town||ABC||9:30 pm|
|Modern Family||ABC||9:00 pm|
|Off the Map||ABC||10:00 pm|
|Better With You||ABC||8:30 pm|
|The Office||NBC||9:00 pm|
|Grey’s Anatomy||ABC||9:00 pm|
|Private Practice||ABC||10:00 pm|
|Perfect Couples||NBC||8:30 pm|
|Royal Pains||USA||9:00 pm|
|Vampire Diaries||CW||8:00 pm|
|Big Bang Theory||CBS||8:00 pm|
|Sh*t My Dad Says||CBS||8:30 pm|
If you take the time to add that all up, it’s 23.5 hours of television a week (when all of the shows are airing new episodes.) In order to pull this off, we were going to need to find ways to continue watching ALL of these shows. This doesn't even count the times that we'll just flip on a re-run of Mythbusters, or Spongebob. These are just newly-aired shows we're counting.
The Technology We Already Had
First, let me give you an inventory of what we already owned. This will vary for each person considering this option, and could potentially be “make or break” for some based on costs. I have not factored these into our cost analysis, because they were hardware and services we were already using. This may not be true for you.
- 2 Xbox 360 consoles – hard drive space, in our solution, does not matter. You can get a brand new Xbox 360 with a 4GB hard drive for $199. This will allow you to watch Netflix, HuluPlus (soon), and anything you record on your Windows 7 PC.
- A Windows 7 PC – technically any PC running Windows 7 Home Premium or higher should be sufficient. You can certainly get one from Dell or HP for less than $400 that includes a cable card. By attaching a HD antenna to your PC, you can turn it into a free DVR. And since your Xbox 360 devices are Media Center Extenders, you can watch this recorded content on your televisions as well.
- A subscription to Netflix – we have had the “3 DVDs out at-a-time” subscription for years now. It has become far more important since we decided to cut the cord, however. Between on-demand streaming of our kids favorite shows, as well as previous seasons of our favorites, there’s much to like about this subscription. (This Netflix subscription is $19.99 a month, but you can get a "streaming-only" subscription for $7.99)
- 3 high-definition televisions – we have one in our bedroom, one in the family room, and one in our finished basement. If your situation has fewer (or more) televisions than this, you might need more (or less) hardware to accomplish this task.
The Technology We Had To Get
Although some of this stuff was gifts from Christmas, I am still counting them as if we had to purchase them.
- 2 Roku XD-S boxes - think of a Roku box as a cable box for the internet. Except there's no monthly fees, and the user interface is better. Each of these boxes cost $99, and they allow us to watch Netflix, HuluPlus, MLB.TV, YouTube, Amazon OnDemand, and hundreds of other online channels.
- Hulu Plus subscription - I'm glad this came out when it did, because it's been a lifesaver. This $7.99/month subscription gets us 90% of the television shows we watch ON our television. Many of you may contend that this is a frivolous service, because all of the content is available on Hulu.com for free, but I have a couple of specific reasons why it's TOTALLY worth it.
- You can’t watch Hulu.com content on your television, only on a computer. If you hook a computer up to your television (we tried it), you then lack remote control capabilities. It’s just more of a headache than the $8 for a subscription that runs right through our Roku boxes.
- It’s like a DVR. I can tell it which shows I like, and it adds them to my queue when they’re published (which is almost always the next morning.)
- Not only does Hulu Plus give me all the new shows as they’re published, but I can also stream the entire history of that show as well. This means that if I decided that I wanted to start watching LOST from the beginning, I can do that. It allows you to catch up on shows you may have missed some of the earlier episodes for.
- It also includes a bunch of shows I didn’t expect to get, like Tosh.0 and the Daily Show on Comedy Central. There’s lots of great stuff to watch anytime we want.
- The one glaring absence from our TV lineup is the Discovery Channel. If you absolutely HAVE to watch Deadliest Catch and Mythbusters when they air, this entire scenario might not be for you. If you can watch them when they make it to Netflix, you’ll still get to watch them.
- 3 High-definition Digital Antennas – this was the final piece of the puzzle for us. We still needed access to our local channels for news and sports at a minimum, but these antennas also provide us the ability to watch our local channels LIVE rather than the next day on Hulu or HuluPlus. I actually got two different models of antenna, and I list them both here:
- Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified HD Antenna – this is probably my preferred choice, but it’s got a little bit of size to it. The picture it receives is true 1080p over the air, and is honesty better than any picture I ever got over cable. In addition, we keep it hidden in a cabinet under our television, and it still works perfectly. Like I said, its only real downside is its size, as it’s probably 12” tall and 14” long. But it’s also stylish to look at, so you might be able to incorporate it into your room without hiding it. I paid $35.97 each at Amazon for two of these.
- RCA ANY1650 Flat Digital Amplified Indoor TV Antenna – this antenna is a completely different form factor, and if hiding it is one of your priorities, definitely look into this one. It’s a flat panel, about the size and shape of a tablet computer (but significantly lighter, of course.) In addition, this one also advertises that you can paint it, so you can hang it on a wall and blend it right in. I paid $40.44 for this on Amazon.
- ESPN3 application on my Xbox 360 – as those of you that know me will note, I’m a pretty avid sports fan. I grew up watching the Cleveland Browns and Indians. That’s not something I’m willing to stop doing. While nearly every NFL game is on CBS or FOX, many college basketball games, and nearly all baseball games aren’t. I’ll get to baseball in the next bullet, but the ESPN3 app lets me watch any of the games that ESPN is showing on their networks, live, for free. I believe this is only because I get my internet connection through a cable provider, however. Without that, this app might not work for you.
- Ah, baseball, my love. How ever will I watch you? As it turns out, MLB.TV provides a subscription for $99 (or $119 for features that are VERY worth the extra $20) a season. This gives you access to EVERY game, EVERY team. They also offer a monthly subscription March – October, but you’ll pay significantly more. The baseball season only just started, and I haven’t pulled the trigger on this one yet. My primary reason is because they have blackout restrictions, and until I am sure I’ll be able to watch my beloved (but sucky) Indians, I’m not ready to pay for it. (Their IP address check says that the Detroit Tigers will be blacked out for me, but their zip code check says that the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, and Pittsburgh Pirates will be blocked out. Very confusing.) If I do pull the trigger on this, though, I can watch it on both of my Roku boxes, as well as any of my PCs. Big win.
So that’s it. There’s certainly some technology you’re going to need to investigate, but here’s the specific financial breakdown:
I was paying $80 a month for a cable subscription. This included three HD DVR boxes, but HD content was otherwise unavailable on any other televisions we have.
I now subscribe to Hulu Plus and potentially MLB.TV (seems likely I’ll get it). Hulu Plus is $7.99 a month, and the $119/year subscription for MLB will cost around $9.99/month. This means that I now have a $17.98/month commitment vs. $80, for a difference of $62/month.
I now own two Roku boxes, and three HD digital antennas. These cost me $310.38, and have no future costs. This basically is the equivalent of 5 months of the savings we’ll encounter from cancelling cable.
So, for us, will break even on our purchases on June 30th, 5 months after we started.
If you were considering cutting the cord, I’d be happy to show you my setup, or answer any questions you may have. If you’ve already done it, I’d love to hear your story/solution. I’m always looking for better ways to do things.