There was once a time when having a cable subscription was an absolute must. It was the only way you could keep up with all the latest television shows, watch the most exciting live sports events, and access movies you didn't see in theaters but that hadn't yet been released on DVD/Blu-Ray.
However, those days are long gone. Cable is no longer the only source of home video entertainment, and because of this, many people are saying goodbye to their cable company and choosing instead to rely solely on other means of accessing video content, such as streaming and antenna TV.
Those who ditch cable in favor of these alternatives have "cut the cord," so to speak, and there are more and more people doing this every year, leading many to wonder if we are witnessing the beginning of the end of cable companies.
Just because something is trendy, it doesn't mean it's the right move but there are plenty of good reasons why you should cut the cord in favor of an alternative.
Below, we'll lay out the arguments for and against cutting the cord, as well as provide some alternatives to cable and some ideas for saving money, so that you can more easily make the decision that's right for you.
The State of Cable in 2020
Before going too far into the details of each argument, here are some stats to help you understand just how serious a threat cord-cutting is to cable companies.
The Case for Cutting the Cord
The case for cutting the cord is a strong one. Here are the main reasons people decide to say goodbye to their cable company:
The number one cited motivation for cutting the cord is cost. This is because the price of a cable TV subscription has skyrocketed over the past twenty years, increasing an average of 5 percent per year, considerably outpacing inflation, which averaged around 2 percent per year during the same period, according to Business Insider.
A price increase wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing, but it's hard to see what you get out of spending more money. We are all fully aware that despite having access to hundreds of channels, most of us only watch a handful, which makes it even harder to absorb the often high cost of cable TV.
What makes things even harder is just how cheap the alternatives are. Netflix's most popular plan costs just $15/month, Hulu is either $7 with ads or $14 without it, Amazon Prime is just $12 a month and comes with so many other benefits, and Disney Plus, the newest member of the streaming family, is currently just $7 per month, or less if you're willing to sign up for a year from the start. YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue, which provide you access to many of the same channels as a cable TV subscription, cost just $50 a month.
The average cost of a cable TV subscription is $107, so you can see why so many people are choosing streaming over cable. In terms of numbers, it just makes sense. And this number keeps rising, suggesting cable companies are shifting towards trying to extract more value from fewer customers rather than grow their base. This may work, but only after the cable industry loses a colossal amount of users.
More Choice and Freedom
It might be hard to believe that streaming gives you more choice when we know cable TV provides you access to hundreds of different channels, but the range of content available to stream is pretty tough to beat. Each service has its own niche, and when combined, you can access way more content than you would be able to if you just had cable.
For example, Hulu is the go-to spot for hit television shows that are either currently running or off the air. Netflix has tremendous original content and Disney Plus unlocks not only Disney classics but also Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo), Marvel (Spiderman, The Avengers), and Lucasfilm (Star Wars) movies.
Streaming also gives you more choice in that it lets you choose what you want to have access to and not pay for the rest. Cable doesn't do this. It won't matter if you only watch ten of the 200 channels you get, you still need to pay for the 200 channels that come as part of your plan.
On the other hand, with streaming you can pick the service which offers you the best value and then ignore the rest, helping you get a better value and avoid the frustration that comes with paying for something you don't need or want.
This one is admittedly a bit of a judgment call, but there's an argument to be made that the content being produced for streaming services is better than the alternative, i.e. traditional cable TV and movies.
Part of the reason for this is that streaming services, seeking to remain competitive, are pouring money into the development of original programming, which leads to the creation of award-winning shows such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Black Mirror, The Handmaid's Tale, and so on.
And we can expect this to continue with Netflix alone planning to spend more than $17 billion on content creation in 2020, and Disney has also gone all-in with its original programming, spending a whopping $12 million per episode on its first show, The Mandalorian. It would be hard to find someone else investing that much into content creation, and while spending money doesn't guarantee quality, it certainly helps.
Even moviemakers are joining in on the streaming game and getting noticed for it. The Irishman, which was released on Netflix in late 2019, is in the running for several Academy Awards, proof that streaming platforms are now viable mediums for all types of content.
And with so many people already cutting the cord, streaming services continue to have incentives for upping their game. Plus, streaming services have the luxury of being able to cater to smaller audiences, whereas cable networks are often looking for mass-appeal. This allows streaming platforms to create more original content that tends to be of higher quality.
Again, this comes down to personal preferences, but if you're a big fan of quality television programming, then you're probably going to want to consider cutting the cord and switching to streaming.
Another major advantage of cutting the cord is that you can say goodbye - for the most part - to the worst part about cable TV: the ads. It's estimated that we spend around four years of our lives watching advertisements, and considering the vast majority of them are silly bordering on stupid, this fact often fills people with a burning frustration that could almost be called anger.
Netflix, HBO Now, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus do not have any advertisements, which is a huge boost. The cheapest Hulu plan, the one that costs $7 a month (or zero if you also have Spotify Premium), does include ads, but you can upgrade to the next level, which costs around $14 a month and get rid of the advertisements.
YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue show them as well since they work basically the same way as cable. However, both of these services have a cloud-based DVR service that allows you to record your favorite shows or pause live TV so that you can skip over the advertisements when you watch. Be aware that YouTube TV will sometimes impose ads on you that you can't skip, so you can't completely escape them.
For many, not having to watch advertisements is reason enough to drop cable, and if you find yourself getting irritated by this constant barrage of marketing messages, then you may want to give serious consideration to some of the very viable alternatives that exist.
Watch from Anywhere
Another benefit of streaming is that you can watch content from anywhere using your phone, computer, or tablet. All streaming services have apps, and this is great for those who travel a lot or commute. You can even download content off the web so that you can watch it later without an internet connection.
Some cable companies are adapting and coming up with their own apps that let you access your subscription from anywhere but for the most part, to watch cable TV you need to be at home.
Lastly, streaming services are an excellent option because they allow you to share accounts. For example, Netflix's $15 a month plan allows you to make up to six accounts and stream using four different screens at a time.
This makes it really easy to save money. You can get together with some of your friends and have each one sign up for a different service. Then, all you need to do is swap passwords, and depending on how many of you there are, you can get five or six streaming services for the price of one. This is an excellent opportunity that certainly helps make streaming a much more attractive option than cable.
With cable, if you want to share your subscription with someone, you need to invite them to your home.
How to Watch TV For Free
If the idea of cutting cable out of your life is appealing but you want to take things a step further by avoiding paid streaming services, there are a few options out there that will allow you to watch TV for free.
And even if you don't mind paying for streaming, adding these mediums to your list of video content sources will provide you with an even wider selection of things to watch without costing you more money.
Use a TV Antenna
Probably the best way to watch TV for free is to buy an antenna. These cost between $30-150, which is an upfront expense but once you have it, you can get up to 30 or sometimes even 50 channels at no additional cost.
This is because many channels, especially the mainstay networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, all broadcast their signal digitally. Your antenna will pick it up and you can get high-definition programming for free.
For some, this might be all you need. For others, it's a nice way to complement your streaming packages since it gives you access to local channels, which often have live sports, as well as some additional programming you'd have to pay for if you had cable.
Another thing you can do is rely primarily on the sites that allow you to stream for free. In truth, the content on these platforms isn't amazing - you get what you pay for - but there are some hidden gems in there that might make it worth it. Some examples include Sony Crackle, Tubi, Pluto, and Vudu.
But again, it's free, so do you care?
Free Trials and Rentals
Another thing you can do is take advantage of promotions that give you access to streaming videos for free. For example, on iTunes, there are often videos that you can rent for free, and sometimes there are some really good finds.
Another option is to sign up for free trial periods for different services. Most give you a month free so that you can try it out, but you could cancel your subscription before the month is up and then sign up for another one using a different email.
This takes a bit of work on your part but for some, getting free content is worth the hassle.
Use a Friend's Account
Another way to watch TV for free is to simply mooch off your friends' accounts. There's a good chance you know people who pay for streaming services, and perhaps you can lay on some of that charm to help you get access to that account without having to pay anything.
This might seem a bit strange but think about it. If your friend was going to get the service anyway, what's the harm in giving you access to it? Maybe you can work out some other type of transaction to make sure everything stays fair.
The Case for Sticking With Cable
Clearly, there is a compelling argument for ditching cable. Value has gone down and there are loads of alternatives but cutting the cord isn't necessarily a home run. Make sure to keep in mind the following points about why you should stick with cable before you cancel your subscription and start using something else.
Probably the best thing that cable offers is that it puts all of your entertainment in one spot. All you need to do is turn on your TV, open the guide, select a show, and watch. To get the most out of streaming services, you need to have several, and switching between them and managing each one can be, for some, a real challenge.
In addition, most cable companies have On Demand services, so if you are bored of what's on cable, you can most likely find something else. And once again, everything takes place within the friendly confines of your cable system.
Having everything in one spot is often the main reason people choose to stick with cable. But it's up to you to decide if this is the best thing to do or merely the result of people's general apathy towards trying something new.
Is It Actually Cheaper?
The argument for dropping cable and switching to all streaming depends on the notion that these services are cheaper. And at face value, they are. Netflix costs $14 a month whereas cable costs around $100 on average.
However, when we look a bit deeper, this notion that streaming is cheaper doesn't hold up quite as well.
For starters, for any streaming service to work you first need an internet connection. Currently, the average cost of an internet plan in the United States is $60.
As a result, whenever you are comparing the cost of cable versus streaming, you need to be sure to tack on the price of your internet to get the actual cost.
You will also need to consider how many streaming services you want. If you plan to get Netflix, Hulu (no ads), Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus, you're looking at about $50 a month in streaming plans. Add this to your internet connection, and chances are you're not saving money. And if you also sign up for YouTube TV or PlayStation Vue, so that you can still get the network programming you were getting with cable, your costs can balloon and cause you to wind up spending more than if you had just stuck with a traditional cable and internet bundle.
Of course, if you manage to team up with people and share these accounts, things are different. And one could argue that the value you get with these services still makes them a better deal.
But when making this decision, be sure to calculate exactly how many streaming services you're going to want and how that impacts your monthly costs. You may find it's cheaper to stick with cable, which might be frustrating, but if it's the best deal, then it's the best deal. Period.
Lastly, one of the key advantages of cable TV is that it provides you with access to live broadcasts, which in this day and age refers to sports.
There are of course other ways to watch live sports, such as streaming online (but this is illegal) and signing up for a cable alternative such as YouTube TV. But most people find that cable is still the best if you're most interested in watching live sports with your cable subscription, as it's where you can get ESPN and its supporting networks.
As a result, it's important you spend some time really thinking about what you want and need from your cable before deciding to cut the cord.
How to Save Money on Your Cable Bill
If you do decide to stick with cable, that doesn't mean you must pay more money. There are plenty of ways for you to find savings and reduce your monthly bill without having to downgrade your service.
We've outlined some of the most effective below.
Take Advantage of Promotional Offers
To attract new customers, most companies make use of promotional pricing, which means you get access to special deals when you sign up for the first time.
Unfortunately, what most companies also do is raise the price when your promotional period ends, which usually happens after one or two years.
This is frustrating, sure, but it's also an opportunity for you to save. Set yourself a reminder, and when the promotional period ends, call your cable company and let them know you'd like to extend it. If they say it's not possible, remind them that you can always switch companies. That usually gets their attention and makes it easier for them to magically find a deal that at first didn't exist.
Another option is to go ahead and change. Switching companies is a pain, but if you time it right, you won't be without service, and you can save money by changing companies and making use of introductory promotions that keep costs low.
Most people don't realize that they can negotiate with cable companies. You can work with a sales representative to build the package you want and save some money.
However, when doing this, remember that you are in control. You possess the most valuable bargaining chip - you can always take your business elsewhere - and it's important you make this known to cable companies so that they don't take advantage of you.
Often, if you let the company know you are planning to switch, they will be able to get authorization from their boss to give you a discount or add things to your package for free, so you'll be paying the same but getting more for it.
Bundle With Other Services
Lastly, cable companies also offer other services, such as wireless, home phone, and internet, and while it may be difficult to give a cable company so much business, the reality is that you can often save a good bit of money when you group multiple services, especially if you can do so as part of a promotion.
Plus, the convenience of working with just one company for all your home services is tough to beat, and it's a big reason why so many people wind up sticking with cable despite all the alternatives available to them.
Television has become an important part of our lives, but not so important that it's worth spending a fortune on a subscription. Those who want to stick with cable can work to find savings, and those who are fed up have other options. Either way, though, you should now have all the information you need to make the decision that will be best for you.