Like other annoyances of living in NYC, putting up with Time Warner Cable is just one of those things you have to do, but everyone loves to complain about. It costs too much. They have terrible service. And so on.
In almost 15 years of living here, I've often considered getting rid of cable TV altogether, but somehow I always got suckered into keeping it. I would receive a special bundle or some such, and it just seemed like too much hassle to figure out how to still watch the shows I liked. Luckily, in all that time, the options for people who want to cut the cable TV cord have come a long way, just in time for me to make my move.
A few months ago, I started getting offers from Verizon FIOS which is often rumored to be both faster and more consistent than Time Warner in terms of Internet speed, in part because you have a dedicated line. (I knew it couldn't be worse than Time Warner which often slows to a crawl on Saturday nights when everyone I am apparently sharing my Internet with is also trying to watch Netflix.) Turns out my apartment building was already wired for FIOS. This is what got me thinking about cutting the cord again.
If I could switch to FIOS for Internet and then find alternatives for cable TV, I'd be all set. I was tired of scrolling through literally hundreds of channels and never finding anything to watch (and then if I did find something, realizing that it was the one episode I'd seen already). Usually, what would end up happening is that I would just watch a show on Netflix because I just couldn't watch The Fifth Element for the umpteenth time (so why was I paying for cable?). Anyway, first, I needed to figure out if it would be worth switching and how much I'd actually save. Here's the simple spreadsheet I made.
The main point of this grid is that by replacing cable TV with a combination of Aereo, Hulu Plus, Amazon, and Netflix (the latter two which I already pay for) accessed through my Roku device, I will save over $800/year *including* an allotment of $20/month for paying for some episodes on Amazon, and there is no show I like that I can't watch with this new arrangement. There was a nominal difference between Time Warner and Verizon's premiere cable/Internet package, and using Verizon for local TV is almost 5x more expensive than Aereo, so this ended up being an all or nothing situation.
This sheet doesn't include the $99 Amazon Prime membership I have because it is irrelevant. I have been an Amazon Prime member for several years and never watched a free show. I mostly have it for the "free" delivery aspect. Anyway, the additional cost for paying for Breaking Bad and Mad Men is built into the AMC line.
Details after the jump.
|Numbers in $.||TWC cable + internet||Verizon Extreme Cable +Internet||Verizon Local+Internet||Verizon Internet Only|
|Set Top HD Box||7||7|
|TV Subtotal||107 (incl taxes)||69||47|
|Taxes est||14||12||no tax on internet|
|Cable/Internet + Additions TOTAL||175||168||153||107|
|savings per month||0||7 (vs twc)||15 (vs vz xtreme); 22 (vs twc)||61 (vs vz xtreme); 68 (vs twc)|
|savings per yr||0||84 (vs twc)||180 (vs vz xtreme); 264 (vs twc)||732 (vs vz xtreme); 816 (vs twc)|
OK, so first, what is Aereo. Aereo is a startup service that allows you to essentially rent a tiny digital antenna so you can watch and record local TV. You can watch shows from anywhere, which is nice. And the $8/month fee is great too (first month is free) and includes 20 hours of DVR storage. As a member, you can add Aereo's private channel to your Roku device and watch on your TV which is what I do. There are a few caveats:
1. Aereo is currently only available in NYC, Boston, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta (with several more coming soon, including Chicago and Houston). Check Aereo's coverage area.
2. Aereo doesn't yet offer continuous viewing. What this means is if you are watching a show or a channel, when the show is over, you have to actively choose what to watch next, even if it is on the channel you are already watching.
3. Aereo isn't like watching regular TV. It's not instantaneous. It buffers when a show starts up and it takes a second or two...or sometimes a bit longer, depending on your connection. The fast forwarding on the recordings is kind of wonky. And every once in a while, while you're watching a show, there is a hiccup and the show rewinds a bit and starts playing again (you can just fast forward to where you were or ignore it).
It's not perfect. However, it works quite well. The picture quality is excellent. The price is right. They are making improvements. Most importantly, you can watch network channels through your TV and record shows if you're away.
Alternatively, you can buy an HDTV antenna and make that work. You will have varying results in NYC due to the tall buildings. Just depends where you live and where you're able to put the antenna. If you want to record shows watched via an HDTV antenna, you may have to shell out a bit of money to get another device and/or service, such as Boxee, Simple.TV, or Tivo, unless you are one of those people who can build your own recording device or figure out how to use Windows Media to do the recording for free. This is a good starter article on DVR solutions for cord cutters.
For New Yorkers, I think Aereo is a better, easier choice. As a start-up "disruptor" service, and given some of the legal hoopla surrounding Aereo (which networks and cable providers see as a threat to their business model), I suppose there is a risk that Aereo will go under or get bought, but I'll deal with that if it happens. Aereo has won all of the legal cases so far.
I won't bore you with the details of another grid, but basically I created another spreadsheet of all the shows I watch and where I can watch them. This was A) to verify that I can actually watch most of them without cable TV and B) to use as a cheatsheet while I get used to the new method. (Now where do I go to watch that show again?) If you are thinking of cutting the cord and you watch more than a few shows, I recommend doing this.
To replace cable TV, I am using a combination of Hulu Plus, Amazon, and Netflix. Hulu Plus has FX, for ex, which I can't get through Aereo. It also has Comedy Central (hello, The Daily Show) and other channels, as well as the Criterion Movie Collection available for streaming. I may find over time that I don't need it and free Hulu is enough, which would save another $8/month.
Netflix is where I watch most everything, especially movies and foreign TV. It has full seasons of AMC shows like The Killing and Walking Dead which I still need to catch up on. Netflix's original series are also quite good.
Through Amazon, I can pay for BBC shows like Luther and Broadchurch and AMC shows that I have to watch near-live, such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men. I don't watch enough TV for this cost to go over $20/month though, so that's what I budgeted.
It's true, I no longer get NY1 or YES Network for the Yankees, but I follow Pat Kiernan on Facebook and Twitter and I can watch the Yankees when they are on local TV (or listen on the radio). I also no longer get Food TV or Cooking Channel, but nowadays, they air mostly food travel or game shows. I find the actual cooking shows are pretty lackluster (just add a lot of cheese or bacon to something vaguely edible, sell it on a food truck, have Guy Fieri host, and you're golden!). I am pretty picky when it comes to food and cooking and I am not learning a whole lot these days from any of the shows, so I'm kind of over it. Lastly, I get most of my news and weather online anyway, so no loss there.
This was a tough one. You have some options here which are more well documented by others and I don't recommend you necessarily do any of these things, but I can tell you what I know. You can obviously just wait for full seasons to come out on DVD or on streaming via Netflix. You can buy episodes or full series on iTunes. You can go to a friend's house (or borrow his/her HBO Go account). You can go to a nearby venue that offers group viewing of HBO shows. (I have several bars and movie houses in my neighborhood that have free Game of Thrones night, for ex.) I have heard that you can download episodes online for free, but I don't know where to do that.
In order to cut the cable cord, but still be able to watch shows through your TV, you will need some kind of device. I already have a Roku, so this is what I use to access streaming content on my TV. It has channels for Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Aereo, and something like 700 others (some paid, some free).
If you don't have a Roku, you can go for an Apple TV, especially if you buy shows on iTunes. However, I don't believe you can get Amazon through Apple TV. The newest option is Google's Chromecast which has limited channels, but I'm sure that will grow. Obviously, if you want to cut the cable cord and just watch shows through your tablet or laptop, you won't even need to bother with a device for your TV. There are many others who have written in-depth comparisons of Roku vs Apple TV vs Chromecast. I'll leave that to the experts, but just say that I have had a Roku for several years and love it.
AM I SURVIVING?
I've been without cable now for a few days. I realize it hasn't been very long, but I don't miss it. I was beginning to hate the fact that I would turn it on for no reason or leave it on while I did other stuff. And I just kept thinking, I'm paying $800 extra a year for this? Now, when I watch TV, it's more purposeful, and that's just fine with me. I watch less of it and what I do watch is stuff I want to watch, not stuff I watch just because it happens to be on. And honestly, I have hundreds of titles in my Netflix queue alone. I will never be able to watch all the content I want to, so why pay hundreds of dollars for content I don't even care about?
And one extra plug for the Roku--it has hundreds of channels you can use for free, which is wonderful. The one I use the most is called TuneIn and it streams radio to your TV. So now I can listen to NPR, 1010 WINS (only relevant to New Yorkers), KCRW in Santa Monica, WBGO (the local jazz station out of NJ), BBC News, and other radio stations anytime. Listening to more radio has actually been a real pleasure.
Dropping cable TV isn't for everyone, obviously. I wouldn't recommend it if you watch a lot of cable TV consistently on a variety of channels and enjoy watching it in a more or less current fashion (even if you are recording shows, there is a limit, after all). I also don't recommend it if you just like having cable TV on as background noise, and/or if you like to "discover" shows while you channel surf. It's also not a great option if you care about sports, because you are basically limited to what you can get through local networks. You can pay extra for a premium sports channel on Roku or online, but there may be blackout dates and such. I don't know enough about it to say much more than it should be a consideration. (As much as I love the Yankees, they aren't worth $800/year to me.)
It IS a good option if you want to watch less TV or watch only TV you actually want to watch. It's also good if you can barely keep up with shows as it is. I found that I would record series and then get so behind (several weeks), that it became frustrating because my DVR would fill up. (Yeah, yeah, I know--#firstworldproblems.) It is much easier for me to just watch most shows on demand when I have time and/or when the entire series is already out (with a few exceptions). I also only ever watched a handful of channels with any regularity. Ninety percent of the channels on cable were basically dead to me, yet I was paying for them. Lastly, it's great if you want to save money. An extra $800-$1,000 per year is nothing to sneeze at.
Hope this helps! Analyze your viewing habits and your budget. Even if you watch a lot of TV, you may be able to save quite a bit of money by replacing cable with a variety of other services. Happy TV watching, wherever and however you do that. :)