I’ve been trying to get rid of cable for a while now. And, don’t get me wrong, if you just want to watch a TV show or two at your convenience, there are tons of options out there to justify cutting the cord: from Netflix, to Hulu, to illegally finding it on any plethora of websites based in Europe, if you want to watch something on demand, you’ll find it. But there’s something to be said for live TV. Mindless, always on in the background, ever changing on it’s own without my input, TV. Sometimes you just want background noise while using the internet, sometimes you just want to watch whatever happens to be on, sometimes you’d like to watch a sporting event in real time. It’s okay, you’re not alone and, thanks to some new services, it might finally be time for us to get the satisfaction of live TV –over the internet.
With the launch of Sling TV and the recent announcement that Apple is reportedly working on their own live TV service, it’s finally looking like the cable service providers are losing their grip on the live TV world.
The Reason It’s Taking Cable So Long To Move to the Web
First, I think we need to discuss some of the reasoning for why cable has been so damn stuck behind the times. As with most things like this, it comes down to money.
Cable providers might charge you for access to the channels, but did you know they also get charged a subscriber fee by the channels themselves? To give you an example, ESPN charges the cable companies something near $6/month per subscriber (the extreme high end of the spectrum, if we’re honest), Fox News charges about $1/month per subscriber, TBS $0.72, and so on (head here for a list of some of the other cable channels and their rates by the Wall Street Journal if you’re terribly curious).
This revenue, along side a portion of the ad revenue from commercials, is how channels and, in turn, shows on them, survive. But, that subscriber fee accounts for more than half of the revenue for the channel (according to an article by StateoftheMedia.org from 2013). That’s a hell of a chunk and frankly one, I’m sure, they aren’t quick to give up so quickly.
In addition to that revenue, there’s for sure some backend contracts, agreements, and handshakes between the networks and the cable providers that I’m sure is something they both don’t want to rock the boat on (even though, lately, there’s some signs that they are starting to).
Why Cable is Finally Going Online
As I mentioned before, Sling TV and its offer of a decent number of live TV channels for a rate of $20/month is a pretty good catalyst, but even before that, the war on cutting the cord started from an uncommon place –Capitol Hill.
In 2009, the government mandated that all local channels be broadcast digitally over the air, and, the best part? They’re free.
This means that for about $40 for the cost of an HD antenna, you can get channels like NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS (does anyone watch PBS??) and CBS for absolutely no monthly fee. Combine that with Sling TV’s line up of ESPN, TNT, TBS, AMC, Adult Swim, Disney Channel, Food Network, HGTV, Cartoon Network, and a few others, and you can see how it’s beginning to cover, at least some, of the major players and – with NBC and ESPN in there – the biggest reason most people haven’t gotten rid of cable –live sports.
On top of that, channels like Comedy Central have full episodes of their shows available on their own site the same day it airs on television and HBO with their new HBO Now product is following suit (albeit only on Apple TV at first, but they’ll be on other systems after an initial exclusivity period for sure).
How to Get Rid of Cable TV
First off, let me start by saying that this isn’t going to be for everyone. I don’t know exactly what you pay for cable, what channels you watch, whether you really want to watch MTV just to try and figure out where the music went in that channel’s name, etc. But, considering that most people I’ve spoken to pay close to $100 for their cable (not including internet) and they only watch a small selection of the channels on it, I’d be willing to bet it might be an option worth looking into.
Now, I’m going to see how I can get the most channels for the least money, but if you want to figure out the specific channels you’ll be able to get, head over to The Verge’s neat little TV stream price guide. It has a bunch of the different channels and you can select the different streaming services to figure out what channels are included with each and the total price for them. Only thing, keep in mind that NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS, and CBS are all available over the air for free (which we’ll show you how to get them shortly) so pretend those ones are included before you even begin.
Get Your Local Channels Over the Air
1. Go to TabloTV.com/Channels and put in your zip code to see, not only what over the air channels you can get, but also how strong the signal is (which you should use to determine what strength antenna you need, 35 mile, 50, etc. based on how far the tower is from where you live –always buy the next highest than you think you need to be safe).
2. Head to Amazon.com and look for an HD Antenna you like and purchase it (again overestimate what you’ll need for mile range just to be safe).
3. Setup the HD Antenna by plugging it in to the TV’s coax cable or into a free HDMI slot.
4. Jump up and down because you have PBS for free! Woo hoo!
Get Sling TV
OK, so this is optional, but you should get a way to beam the content from your computer/app to your TV. I personally use a Chromecast for this and it works with most of the apps I use and even lets me transmit my computer browser (using Chrome, of course) to my TV as a bonus, BUT Sling TV doesn’t work with Chromecast (at least at the moment) so to stream that easily you’ll either need Apple TV or an Amazon Fire Stick.
Luckily though, Sling has a solution, sort of. If you prepay three months of Sling TV up front when you sign up, they’ll send you an Amazon Fire Stick for free (normally $40). If you end up getting Sling TV, you might as well get the free stick to go with it and use that for Sling, Netflix, Hulu etc and not have to switch back and forth between that and another HDMI input on the TV.
2. Once that’s all set, you can download the Sling TV app from the Play Store or App Store, plug in the Fire Stick when it arrives begin streaming all that glorious live channel goodness. Ah, that’s the stuff.
That’s really it for the live TV (at the moment) but if you want other TV shows just on demand there’s always…
1. Head to Netflix.com and pretend you don’t already have it like everyone else on the planet and signup there for the free one month trial.
2. Either start playing the shows directly from their site or download the Netflix app from the Play Store or the App Store and use that handy Fire Sitck to get it to the big screen.
This one is iffy for me frankly. The only real channel I want from here that’s missing from the ones above is Comedy Central and, well, you can get that from cc.com and it has full episodes the same day as they go live on TV so…
But, if there is a part of you, a horrible dark part of you, that needs Bravo, Discovery, or FX, then this is the only way to get them.
1. Head to Hulu.com and sign up for the free one month trial.
2. Either start playing the shows from the site or from the app located in the Play Store and App Store and, again, get some use out of the free Fire Stick.
Let’s assume you used all of these (which you probably won’t actually need) and let’s also assume you probably already have Netflix (cause who are we kidding, you do). You’re looking at a $28/month bill for all of this ($37 if you didn’t already have Netflix, you liar) and it cost you roughly $25 one-time for the equipment up front ($25 for the antenna and $0 for the Fire Stick). Comparing that to my own $75/month in cable bill and adding the fact that the majority of all of these channels are also available on my phone and from anywhere I am –we’re getting a lot closer to losing our reliance on cable companies (except for the fact, that, well, they also provide us the internet…).
The only real downside, besides missing some channels, of course, is that you need to swap inputs on your TV from the TV to the HDMI for the Fire Stick depending on if you want the local channels or the rest of the channels. Frankly, a small price to pay for saving over $50/month.
The Future of Cable
It’s my guess that the networks and, even the cable companies are all watching how these new services do with baited breath. And we all know it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when and how exactly. Maybe the channels will all start their own apps and charge subscribers directly like HBO and CBS are doing? Maybe we’ll have internet services where you choose the channels you want and pay a small fee per channel and create your own bundles? Or maybe it’ll continue like the cable companies have done it with bundles but just over the internet like Sling sort of does. Who knows. All we do know is that change is coming like the cable salespeople of yesteryear –it’s knocking and will only get louder and louder.
Let me know if this is viable for any of you guys or if it isn’t why not? Love to hear from you, guys!