Some History and Content
When television was first released to the public, there was only one way to get content: through an antenna. Much like radio, television was received over the air through an antenna, requiring viewers to sometimes have to move the antenna around to get a picture to come in fully. People didn’t mind the hassle of the antenna because television was new and exciting. Because over-the-air television can only receive channels that are in the line of sight of the signal source, those who lived in mountainous areas, or were just too far away from the signal, couldn’t get television. This is where cable TV began, as those who lived too far could now pay a company to receive the signals, and then send it over the lines of cable to the person’s house. As cable gained more channels than those with an antenna could receive, like SuperStation WTBS, more and more people wanted access to it. They didn’t mind the convenience fee of paying for cable when it offered more value than fussing with an antenna could provide. Cut to the early 2010s, where services like Netflix and Hulu started their streaming services, adding shows and movies people wanted to watch, and could watch anytime they wanted. With prices far cheaper than cable, people began to cut the cord. Why pay cable over $100 to be forced to receive channels you don’t watch when you can pay $20 a month for Netflix and Hulu to receive the content you do?
This all started the mess we are in now, where the companies that own the content are now starting their own streaming services. Those who liked to watch Marvel movies, Friends, and The Office on Netflix now need to subscribe to three different streaming services just to continue to watch them. Here’s a list of some of the current and upcoming streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, HBO Max, Comcast’s Unnamed Service, Disney+, CBS All Access, and the list goes on. When you consider the total cost to subscribe to all these services, you might as well resubscribe to cable TV, where you can just DVR the content you want to watch. Marathons of The Office and Friends air constantly on channels like Comedy Central, Nick at Nite, and TBS, with Marvel movies airing constantly across cable.
So, if you’re looking for some tips to cut the cord without spending an arm and a leg, and want to do so fully legally, here are some ideas to keep in mind:
1) Do Your Research
Cutting the cord requires some homework. If you have traditional cable TV and are considering cutting the cord, I definitely recommend you take the time to fully utilize all that it has to offer. Most people are probably unaware that cable TV offers an on-demand option. Even if you do not have a DVR, most if not all channels offer an on-demand portal through your cable subscription that allow you to often not only watch the first-run shows a cable channel produces, but also syndicated shows and movies. Comedy Central’s on-demand portal has all 9 seasons of The Office available, and AMC offers plenty of movies on-demand as well. It doesn’t hurt to use the search function on your cable box, which should pull up all is available on-demand.
You may find the shows and movies you want to watch are right there in your cable subscription, but if they are not, or if you still want to cut the cord, take the time to find out who owns the shows you want to watch. The Office is a show that aired on NBC, and the show is owned by Comcast, who owns NBC. Knowing this, you can infer that The Office will be on Comcast’s streaming service. However, with Friends, that show also aired on NBC, but the show is owned by WarnerMedia, so it will be on WarnerMedia’s streaming service. Just because a show airs on a channel, doesn’t mean the channel owns that show, so taking the time to find out who owns the show you want to watch is important. The Wikipedia entry for the show you want to watch will often list this information in the right-hand box on the page under “Production Companies” or “Distributor”. If the show aired on a network like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, or The CW, there’s a chance they don’t own the show. Take some of the most popular shows on the networks: Big Bang Theory airs on CBS, but is owned by WarnerMedia. Modern Family airs on ABC is owned by 20th Century Fox (at one point, not owned by Disney). America’s Got Talent airs on NBC, but is owned by Fremantle. Keeping this in mind will at least reassure you that this is all more complicated than you think, but hopefully it will help you figure out where your favorite shows will inevitably go.
Not to mention all the over-the-top online cable services like YouTube TV, Sling, Philo, AT&T TV Now, and so on. Philo offers a sports-free service for $20 a month. Why so cheap? Because sports-related channels drive up the cost of cable. ESPN is the reason you pay so much for traditional cable, as ESPN charges the most in carriage fees. Cable companies pay cable channels a fee per subscriber. Because sports channels charge so much, the only way to get the cost down is to get rid of sports channels. However, if you need sports, Sling offers different tiers of packages depending on what channels you want.
I’d also like to take some time to discuss how odd television is. The most popular channels, you know, the ones everyone wants, can be had for free. CBS, NBC, ABC, and other networks regularly beat out pay cable channels, yet viewers pay for cable channels. The basic cable package has the most popular cable channels, and you pay more to get access to the lesser watched cable channels. It’s the same with terrestrial and satellite radio. Odd. Anyway…
Lastly, research all the possible streaming services. There are plenty of free services out there that are completely legal to use. Pluto TV, Sony Crackle, and Tubi are just some of the services that you can use for free. These free services are ad-supported, and along with on-demand through your cable provider, this brings me to my next tip:
2) Learn to Live with Ads
Netflix has spoiled us with ad-free viewings. Just like Veruca Salt, “don’t care how, I want it now!” I’ve fallen victim to this as well, as I pay extra for Hulu with no ads, and YouTube Premium. I’m not saying we need to love advertisements, but if you want to save some money, you have to tolerate them. Pluto TV offers an experience just like cable, but is completely free. You just have to live with about two minutes of advertisement breaks. Sony Crackle and Tubi, as well as others, offer a Netflix-like experience, just with commercial breaks, which are great opportunities to use the restroom. If you check around, you just might find that the content you want to watch can be had for free. If you can spare some time to sit through a few commercial breaks, you can save a lot of money.
3) Only Subscribe to What You Regularly Watch
Game of Thrones is a great example how how to subscribe only when you need to. HBO makes a lot of great shows, and broadcasts a lot of great movies, but how many of them do you actually care about? Take some time to evaluate what content you really care about. Now that Game of Thrones has ended, are there any other shows on HBO that you care about? If the answer is no, then cancel your HBO Now subscription. The same goes for Netflix: how much time do you spend watching something on Netflix? If the answer is low, get rid of Netflix. Then, when something airs that you care about, resubscribe. The great part about streaming services is they have no contracts. You can come and go as you please. Take advantage of this, and only subscribe to things you actively use often. Netflix is doing all they can to hook you into their service when Disney, The Office, and Friends leave their service. They know these shows are incredibly important to their business, and they are releasing as much content as they can to keep you subscribed. This may pay off in Netflix’s favor, and you may find value in the service. But if you pay for a service continually when you only use it once in a while, that’s a lot of money being wasted.
4) Visit Your Local Library or Thrift Store
Every time I drive past my local library, I simultaneously remember and forget it as I pass it, however last week I took the time to walk in and see what they have to offer. Every time I walk in, I’m always pleasantly surprised at what they have to offer. Of course, you’ll find books, but you’ll also find new release DVDs and CDs. The same can be said for your local thrift store, however, that may take some patience to find exactly what you’re looking for. Your local library at least has an online database, so you know exactly what to expect. Part of the convenience of Netflix is the instant search and play, but with the popularity of the online streaming service came the loss of the brick-and-mortar video rental store. While your local library may not have the same quantity of DVDs you expected from a Blockbuster, at least it’s “free.” You might as well take the time to visit your library, that is something you’re paying for anyway.
5) Buy A La Carte, or Buy Physical
Or at least price out this option. You may find that the amount of content you’d want to watch may not equal how much it would cost to just buy them as you want to watch them. Sure, some new release movies and TV shows may be $3.99 for a rental, and that sounds pricey, but Netflix costs some $13 a month. Some rentals may even be 99 cents, so you really have to see how much the content you want to watch costs. Or, visit your local brick-and-mortar stores to see what Redbox has to offer, or Target or Walmart’s entertainment section has. Buying the DVD may be pricey, but if you really like the content, you’ll get a ton of great special features, and the content doesn’t expire like on Netflix: you keep your copy as long as your DVD survives.
The good news about the future of entertainment is we have a lot of choices in what we want to use to watch. It’s always a good idea to be aware of what kinds of choices you have, and to understand that you may not even need to spend all that much. Just get yourself a TV antenna, and get used to a service like Pluto TV if you don’t want a monthly fee. Or, there are plenty of cheap plans you can find. Or you may find that cable works for you. Do what you want, but understand that you have options.