Why is the cable/satellite bill so frustrating? Is it because the bill seems to go up every so often (and 2016 will be no exception) for reasons that are, at best, baffling? Is it the customer service which is, at best, infuriating? Or is it that feeling you get when you’re flipping past channel after channel that you never watch, making you realize you’re paying for something you don’t want or need? That feeling is, at best, unsatisfying. Whatever the reason, getting the TV bill under control is one of the trickiest parts of managing the monthly budget. It can feel like the options are living in the stone age or dropping a small car note on unnecessary channels.
Unfortunately, cord cutting has always been better in theory than in practice. However, as 2016 approaches, the options have never been better, but they’re still a little unsatisfactory for most of us who don’t want to spend a fortune on content, don’t have the technological know-how to rewire our living rooms and aren’t willing to engage in federal crimes by pirating TV and movies. This guide is meant to make the best of a bad situation by figuring out which families should cut the cord now, which ones should wait, and how to set yourself up to make the switch.
The first thing you’ll need if you’re thinking about cutting the cord is a reliable Internet connection. It needs to be high-speed, 30 MBPS at a minimum. If you can’t get 30 MBPS, you can’t cut the cord, period. In addition, be sure your Internet doesn’t have data caps. Even if you haven’t hit the caps yet, you still need to check with your provider because streaming HD TV and movies is a completely different situation than browsing the web or watching occasional videos on YouTube. Finally, make sure you know the price of high-speed Internet outside your bundle. One of the reasons it’s hard to save money by cutting the cord is that the cable and satellite companies have priced the bundles so Internet costs more and cable costs less than they might otherwise.
Next, you need a box to run some apps. For the minimalist, Roku, ChromeCast, and Amazon Fire offer dongles, which are around the size of a thumb drive and hook directly into your TV’s HDMI cable. Both retail for under $40 and offer all the functionality you need. Moving up in terms of size and features, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV offer boxes with voice-activated search and video gaming for $150. You can also use a smart TV or Blu-Ray player if you have one, and many video game systems will work, too. So, if you can find a good deal on a used XBox 360 or Playstation 3, they might fit the need for now.
Finally, you need content. Netflix ($8/month) is the standard bearer for online streaming, with a massive catalog of TV, movies and original content, including “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” and Marvel’s “Defenders” series. Amazon Prime ($100/year) has a smaller catalog of TV and movies, with some originals as well. Hulu ($13/month) now offers commercial-free first-run TV, for those who don’t want to wait for their favorite shows. Maybe the most exciting addition to the lineup is HBO Now ($15/month), which has the back catalog of all of the network’s famed shows along with “Game of Thrones” every spring. Most enticing for the sports fan, Grantland creator Bill Simmons has an as-yet-undisclosed show coming to HBO this spring, with possible HBO Now ties.
Getting the whole package is pricey – nearly $50 per month. And, until now, no live sports came with it. One potential solution coming in 2016 is from Sling TV, which promises plenty of channels, including a full ESPN package for sports. It’s pretty new, so all the reviews aren’t in yet, and it’s the priciest of the bunch at $20 per month for the basic package. Still, $20 is less than basic cable in most areas, even with the bundle, making it the most likely solution for people wanting to lower their bill. Combining it with Amazon Prime combines live TV and a back catalog while giving you free prime shipping and the ability to watch all of your programming on any of your devices, which is nice if you travel or have more family members than TVs. If you add in two or three months of HBO in the spring to watch “Game of Thrones” and binge the rest of their programming, your average monthly cost would be about $35.
It’s not the cable bill-killing solution a lot of us are looking for, but carving even $10 or $20 off the bill can add up over time. This plan also eliminates Netflix, so that’s roughly another $100 per year you can save. If you’re stuck renting a cable box on top of paying for the service each month, your savings can easily come to a few hundred dollars per year. If you put that into a savings certificate or savings account, by the time we’re talking about the 2017 cord cutting outlook, you’ll already have the year’s TV bill saved up ahead of time.