I’ve been asked recently “should I keep cable tv service?” quite often. So often that I’m posting this, my recommendations on what to do with your $160 each month instead of actually buying cable.
You don’t need cable tv.
TL:DR spoilers: get decent broadband internet service, Netflix, Amazon Prime, a Roku3, an AppleTV and make sure your cable modem includes a wireless router. Save about a grand a year, and buy me a bottle of bourbon as thanks.
While several friends work for the cable systems around this country, I’m constantly amazed that, with the service being so bad and the cost so high, that there hasn’t been a riot in the streets ending with the CEOs heads on pikes. But then I remember the banking crisis and the foolish Wall Street mess, and go back to my bucket of ice cream.
But I digress. You don’t need cable. In fact, there are so many other options out there, you should embrace them as they will allow you something that you haven’t been able to control as easily as you might have wanted – your calendar.
Yes, I’m serious: your calendar. I’ll explain that in a second, but let’s first look at the tools needed to cut the cable.
- Broadband internet service. Ironically, most people get this from the cable system. You don’t have to use the cable system as you should have about 3 providers in your area – your cable system is the primary, your phone company is the second, and I’d be really surprised if you didn’t have a third option. In Montana we have Montana Internet which has some really interesting products, and VisionNet, which has some amazing speeds and offers. Get at least 10Mbps down and 5Mbps up if you can. Faster is better. One caveat, cable and phone companies generally don’t have transfer caps – how much you can download per month. That’s going to be an issue to know of, and you want to spend to keep any cap you have high enough that you won’t reach it. Your internet bill will probably be between $50-$80 per month. Make sure they give you a wireless router, or if you need to buy one, you can probably get by with a simple Apple Airport Express, ($99+shipping).
- Buy a Roku3. I haven’t played with the Roku3 yet, but I have the original Roku HD, and it is pretty damn good. With the improvements that they’ve made to the system, including having such niceties as audio through the remote to watch TV without disturbing others, it’s kind of a no-brainer. On the Roku, you can access Netflix streaming, Amazon Prime streaming, and many other video services to watch the TV and Movies you were previously getting through cable. In fact, the Roku has a search feature that checks all its apps for the programming you’re interested in and tells you where you can see it. It’s really impressive. It’s a one time cost of $100 and that includes the shipping.
- Get the AppleTV. It’s only $99+shipping. It may seem dumb to have have both the Roku and the AppleTV but some things the AppleTV can do the Roku cannot – airplay being the biggest of them. I use my iPad to do presentations, and I can practice using my TV as the projector with the AppleTV. Buying the AppleTV is the best way to play content you’ve already bought in iTunes, so get both, and you’re out $200, but that’s not that bad. Also, some shows aren’t on Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, but you can buy them, both individual episodes and full seasons, in iTunes.
- Subscribe to Netflix. $8 per month. No brainer.
- Subscribe to Amazon Prime. $79 per year. Amazon Prime is actually to get you free 2-day shipping on the stuff you buy from Amazon.com. This is how it started, but at some point in 2008 or 2009, Amazon added features to the membership, and Amazon Instant Streaming includes a ton of movies and TV shows, which, again, the Roku will search for you. This works out to $6.60 a month.
- Maybe add Hulu Plus. This would be a personal preference for you. I’ve not found it useful because most of the shows I watch are available on the other services I have. The one exception is shows from CBS, but CBS just released an app to view their shows one week after they air on TV, and I presume that app will be ported to the Roku soon, if not the AppleTV. Right now, it’s on my iPad so I’m good.
- Buy Season Passes in iTunes for shows you absolutely must have.
- Toss the DVR and the TiVo.
Let’s examine your costs on this. Buying the Roku, the AppleTV, the HDMI cables and a powerstrip is going to cost you about $250. You may have the cables handy, and you may already have a powerstrip, so it may be just the boxes you buy. Dandy.
Your on-going subscription cost is where the money savings will happen. Three of the people asking me for advice spent an average of $150 per month on cable alone. Ouch.
Internet, Amazon Prime and Netflix will cap out at about $90 per month. That’s a savings of about $720 per year, and that’s if you have decently fast internet. You can get by with the lower priced internet, but just know that it can affect your streaming, and downloading a movie may take a bit before it’s ready to view on Amazon or iTunes. You can, conceivably, get this down to $60 and still not miss anything, which would be an annual savings of over $1000. Sounds good to me!
If you must keep up with shows that you love, you can easily buy Season Passes to them if they aren’t on the Roku, and some channels on the Roku offer subscriptions so you can get to their content right away. Season Passes in iTunes are about $30-$40 for the entire season, and subscriptions in Roku are pretty cheap, too. You’d have to buy EIGHTEEN season passes before it would maybe make sense to go back to cable, tho, so really, you’ve got a bit of cash to work with here. If you have the time to watch EIGHTEEN TV shows each year, you probably have the money to just go ahead and get cable. And a vacation house in Spain.
Now, back to my point about regaining control of your calendar. We’re all busy. We have jobs, friends, kids, lives, and those things happen as they will, and while it’s nice to get engaged in an awesome TV show, the fact that it’s on a schedule that may not match up to your own means you’re stuck either adjusting your schedule or mucking about with your TiVo/DVR. Which takes more time. Ugh. There’s pretty much a 100% chance you’re going to miss a show some week using cable, because life is messy and doesn’t care that you need to catch Grey’s Anatomy.
Having access to the shows on your time, when you want to watch them, and you don’t have to set the DVR or worry that it won’t record, is quite nice. Knowing you can stack a season together and spend a weekend watching the whole thing is divine.
Yes, a few channels don’t have anything on the Roku or iTunes or Amazon.com or Hulu yet. Good news, they generally have their shows on their websites, and if not, why not? What content do they have that requires the TV/Cable monopolies to exist? Even HGTV shows are on iTunes, and while I can see my mom watching them by buying the Season Pass (really!), the fact that they’re available lets me be pretty sure that your guilty pleasures on available somehow.
Save a grand a year and watch everything on your own schedule. You totally can.