Q. I’ve been thinking of dropping my cable service and going for it with just online services. I guess it’s called cutting the cord. But before I do it, is there anything I should know about cord-cutting? — David, Baltimore, Maryland.
Many publications feature articles detailing how you can ‘cut the cord’ — drop your pay TV service in favor of watching less expensive video online.
The journalists note that cutting the cord can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. For example, let’s say you now pay $80 a month for your cable TV service. If you drop cable and sign up for a few streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, you would spend less than $20 a month. That would be a savings of more than $700 a year — and you would still be able to watch thousands of shows and movies on the two streamers..
Plus, you could supplement your paid online services with free streaming sites, such as YouTube.com, which offers an ample supply of both mainstream and off-the-radar videos.
Saving a significant amount of money while still being able to watch quality programming may seem like a no-brainer, particularly while our economy continues to stutter a bit.
And for some cost-conscious consumers, cord-cutting may be a remedy for rising bills and shrinking pay checks.
However, before you make the big plunge and drop your TV service, there are three things you need to know about cord-cutting.
You may already have a wireless network set up in your home. If not, you will want to install one. The wireless network will enable you to watch streaming services in any room in the house. Plus, you will need a reliable and relatively fast Internet connection, which means you may need to upgrade your current Internet service. Netflix says you need a minimum 5.0 Mbps download speed to watch a streaming video in 720p HD.
Obviously a faster speed is even better because you are less likely to suffer disruptions in your viewing, known as buffering. A faster speed will also improve the picture quality of the stream.
2. You may not be able to watch your local sports team.
In most markets, a regional sports channel holds the TV rights to your local MLB, NHL and NBA teams and RSNs are only available on pay TV services. For example, if you live in the Washington-Baltimore area, as you do, you won’t be able to watch the Orioles and Nats if you drop your cable or satellite service. Those broadcasts are aired exclusively on MASN which paid a pretty price for the rights.
While there are streaming services that offer games in pay packages without the need of a cable or satellite subscription, such as Major League Baseball’s Extra Innings, the packages cost more than $100 a year — and they do not show the games of your home teams; the home teams are blacked out because the regional sports channels have the exclusive TV rights in your area.
Now there’s a small escape hatch to this dilemma.
Sling TV, the live streaming service which starts at $20 a month, recently added Fox regional sports channels in 15 markets. For instance, New York Yankee fans can now watch the Fox-owned Yes Network in-market on Sling TV. It’s unknown if Sling will try to add the remainder of the regional sports channels, but this is a good start.
Sony’s Play Station Vue streaming service also offers some regional sports networks in select markets. Vue starts at $29.99 a month.
Most National Football League games are broadcast on local channels so you should be able to watch those. But…
3. You may not be able to watch your local channels, either.
Cord-cutting enthusiasts point out that your local channels, such as the affiliates for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, can be seen for free via off-air antennas, which can be purchased for less than $50. However, the dirty little secret of TV antennas is that you won’t know if you will be able to get the local signals at your house until you try. You may live too far away from the local stations to get a good signal or a large tree or building could block the signal from coming into your house. If you are a regular viewer of local channels — and most people are — you may not want to eliminate your pay TV service until you know for sure that you will be able to watch them with an antenna.
But aren’t there other options to watch the locals? Well, yes, but they are few and far between.
CBS is now offering a $5.99-a-month service called CBS All Access which offers local CBS channels in most markets. Sling TV is offering ABC and Fox locals in select markets (but not that many) and Vue offers locals in seven markets. Comcast has a service called Stream TV, which offers locals and HBO for $15 a month, but it’s now only available in two markets: Chicago and Boston.
There are other things you will miss if you cut the cord, such as live news broadcast on cable news networks; current seasons of popular shows on channels such as AMC and FX (you can watch them a year or two later on streaming services or on a DVD or Blu-ray disc); and watching TV with a reliable, quality picture (the streaming picture often breaks up due to Internet connection issues).
So before you join the cord-cutting movement, you might want to carefully consider the importance of what you watch on TV and when you watch it.
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