By Darren Johnson
I have some friends who are cable-cutters — you know, they got rid of Spectrum, Comcast, Cablevision, etc. — but I wonder if it’s really worth it. Let’s break this down:
I pay about $150 a month for Spectrum (previously Time Warner Cable). With that, I get decent-speed Internet, one cable box with DVR, a phone with voicemail, Disney On-Demand (an add-on), the whole lineup of typical TV channels (maybe a few hundred, but only about 50 actually ever get watched) and two premium channels. The “free” premium channels seem to rotate; I tend to have to call every 12 months and renegotiate. Currently, I’m getting Starz and Epix. The other TVs in the house don’t get much use, so we merely have a coaxial cable hooked into them, which doesn’t cost anything extra. They get all the regular channels.
The cable-cutters I’ve spoken to still pay about $60 for basic Internet. If one wants a bit more speed, this can increase to $80-100 or more. Now, maybe some people might hook into a neighbor’s wi-fi, but most neighbors aren’t so trusting or generous anymore.
I’ll admit, the landline phone isn’t really necessary in this day and age, and cable-cutters merely use their cell phones. That said, I do run a home business and occasionally have to fax or do phone calls. I prefer the landline — it is 100% reliable vs. my cell phone, which is about 98% reliable. That said, there really is no serious financial advantage to getting the cable company’s phone perk.
No doubt, cable gives you hundreds of crystal clear channels. Thanks to improvements in broadcast quality and in-home antennas like the Mohu Leaf 50, a small, affordable unit that gets signals from up to 50 miles away, a cable-cutter can get 10-20 channels that are usually crystal clear. For many people, this is more than enough. However, the cable-cutters I know usually are adding about $30 in monthly streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu and maybe Amazon Instant or the HBO app. Now, I also have Netflix, and get Instant for free because I am a Prime member, but I certainly don’t rely on these services. More often, I find myself searching Starz or Epix if I want a movie; they not only have about a dozen live movie channels, but also have scores more movies On Demand. As well, Spectrum also has a channel with lots of free movie options, a la Netflix. Technically, I could go without Netflix, if not for “Breaking Bad” and “Orange Is the New Black” being on there, and certainly I don’t need Hulu.
The cable box DVR has improved a lot in recent years and has a lot of capacity. I use the “find” feature and, sure enough, some movie or TV show I may want to watch will be on some far-flung channel at some ungodly hour. I just hit “record” and get to it later. This is one of my favorite cable features, and I use it all the time. Hulu may have bought the rights to “Seinfeld,” but, big deal — I can DVR the whole series from regular cable, if I want.
The cable-cutter has to have all these gadgets and remote controls to make everything work. There’s the device that lets you watch Netflix, Hulu, etc., and then the TV itself is hooked to some antenna. Surely, the cable-cutter gets DVDs more often, say purchased or from Redbox, so the Blue-Ray player is more prominent. It’s a lot of work to be a penny pincher!
That said, unless having a landline phone is important, the cable-cutter does save money vs. a cable user with the so-called Triple Play, but it’s not a clear victory. How much time is lost looking for remote controls? Driving back Redbox rentals? Cursing the TV because the Game of the Week is coming out fuzzy? And not having access to that new, hip show on some new channel that isn’t broadcast over the airwaves that all your co-workers are drooling about at the water cooler? I estimate the cable-cutter is saving about $30 per month; whether or not that’s worth it depends on how much one loves TV and having a hassle-free experience.