Cable and satellite delivery of television content is king in the United States. In its latest Cross-Platform Report, Nielsen found 81.8 percent of Americans have either cable or satellite television in their homes. But while cable and satellite are the most prevalent ways of watching TV, they’re also in a slight decline. In 2011, 83.2 percent subscribed to these services.
Some of the drop can be attributed to so-called cord-cutters – people who’ve given their cable boxes and the big bills that accompany them the old heave-ho. They make up a very small percentage of the TV audience, but they’re growing in numbers. Nielsen says there are now 5 million “zero TV” households in the U.S., up from over 2 million in 2007. These folks may still watch television content, but they’re doing it on other devices, or streaming via the Net to their television sets.
One of the reasons they can do this is that there are now many other ways to legally watch popular TV shows. The cable TV industry refuses to offer channels a la carte, charging its customers big bucks for hundreds of channels they never watch. Now, most of the very popular TV series can be watched online, with users paying by the show or by the season.
I paid my first cable TV bill around 1980, and I’ve fed the beast ever since. While I’m not a voracious TV watcher – our household probably has 5-10 shows we follow closely – I feel like I’ve gotten good value out of cable. Cord-cutting has intrigued me, but I’ve felt the convenience of cable, particularly when combined with a DVR, has been worth the cost.
But last month, something made me rethink that value. And now, I’m on the verge of cutting the cord, dropping my cable service and relying solely on the Internet for my television needs.
Ironically, it was the action of a cable company that made me rethink things. When Comcast doubled the connection speed for most of its Houston customers without increasing prices, I noticed the quality of video I was seeing from Netflix and other streaming services was noticeably better. That, in turn, made me do something I hadn’t done in a while: Look at how much cable service costs me. It was a number that was much higher than I realized.
We subscribe to AT&T’s U-verse for TV, and we pay between $130-$140 a month. One of the reasons it’s relatively high is that we’re not bundling it with any other service. We have Comcast Internet and a traditional AT&T landline (which we may also drop).
We already do some video streaming. We pay $8 a month (plus tax) for Netflix’s streaming service. We spent $19.42 in March for movies we watch via Amazon Instant Video, which is about average.
If we give up cable TV, we’ll still watch television, we’ll have to get it elsewhere. And we can do most of it without buying new hardware. Here’s how that might work:
Plenty of traditional broadcast and some cable TV can be covered by paying $8 a month for Hulu Plus, a streaming service jointly operated by News Corp., ABC and NBC/Comcast. Series we enjoy such as ABC’s “Gray’s Anatomy” (don’t judge!) and FX’s “The Americans” are covered by this. Our Samsung HDTV has a Hulu Plus app, so we’re covered there.