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Streaming services offer endless program choices, but is it worth cutting the cable cord?

Posted at 6:33 AM, Sep 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-26 01:00:06-04

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With the advent of online streaming, tens of millions of Americans have made the decision in recent years to cut the cable cord and rely on services like Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV for their entertainment needs.

Each service features a different series of available programming, offering viewers more choice than ever before.

How to cut the cable cord

Making the decision to leave cable is easy, however following through on that decision can be a little more complicated for people who are used to a cable company sending a service technician out to do all of the setup.

It’s something Kevin Ribbens helps walk people through almost every day. Ribbens is the general manager of the Best Buy on Colorado Boulevard and said the store's streaming device aisle has been getting more popular by the year.

“A lot of people are looking at every bill and saying, ‘Hey, where is a way that we can save some money and still get all of the entertainment that we want,’” he said. “We walk hundreds of people a week through this exact process — it’s a lot easier than you think. People who have smart phones can do this.”

First, you need to have an internet connection with a wireless router and modem hooked up so that you can access the online content.

“The only thing that’s more important than the TV is the network capability,” Ribbens said.

Second, you need to buy a device to stream the content on, such as an Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick.

The television itself needs to be HDMI-compatible in order for those devices to work. Newer models of televisions have some of those devices built in, so there’s no need to buy another one.

“None of these devices require a monthly subscription whatsoever. What you’re going to pay monthly for are the live TV applications,” Ribbens said.

The cost comes in when you pay for things like Netflix, Hulu, Sling, YouTube TV, Fubo and Amazon Prime. However, many of these services are month-to-month and don’t require a contract so you can cancel at any time. Some of the services allow people to watch live television, while others do not.

If you want to watch live local TV but don’t want to pay a monthly subscription, a digital antenna might be a good option.

"We are talking like rabbit ears' great-great-great-grandson that is much more technologically capable,” Ribbens said.

Digital antennas won’t work for everyone but might be a good option to cut down on some of the costs of cutting the cable cord.

Now that you know how to cut the cable cord, should you? Will it really save you headaches and money?

The case for leaving cable

Sheila Brown said she decided to leave traditional cable a couple years ago and hasn’t looked back.

She had a cable subscription for years and said she wasn’t satisfied with what she was getting for the price she was paying.

“For me, it was the cable companies’ lack of concern for long-term customers and offering great deals to new customers. I guess one of the things I wanted to say is, 'I’m not afraid of you,'” Brown said.

She switched cable companies a few times over the years and said it was always the same: the price would start low and then start trickling up year after year. The final straw for Brown was yet another price increase.

“Our cable was going to go up over $50 and I just felt like for what we got watching the same 10 channels, it wasn’t worth it,” she said.

Brown lives with her daughter’s family in Parker. Her son-in-law, Matthew Jones, decided to try antennas but said they didn’t like that, so they got a subscription to Sling and liked it since the layout is similar to a cable TV guide.

“It worked seamlessly and flawlessly, and you can pick and choose as many channels as you want,” Jones said.

He said he also likes being able to stream television on his phone no matter where he is to catch his shows.

Brown said she doesn’t feel like she’s missing much since she left cable. Instead, she believes streaming offers her more control over what she watches as well as the cost.

Keeping cable

In the Berlin household, Saturdays are synonymous with sports. Adam Berlin is a Buckeyes fan and said watching college football is a family tradition. The family cooks and gathers around the TV to watch sports.

It’s one of the reasons the family has decided not to cut the cable cord.

“I definitely want to watch sports live. I am a huge Buckeyes fan. I have to be able to know what’s going on with my Buckeyes,” Berlin said.

It’s equally important to be able to watch those teams live so he isn’t hearing about the games from other people before watching them for himself, he said.

The family did look at streaming options and said they didn’t make sense for the price. Along with paying for a monthly internet connection, the family would have to buy a subscription to a sports package and any other apps they want.

“It’s not that much more, in my opinion, to have cable to be able to watch what I want to watch then to go and have to bundle for the Internet and everything,” Berlin said. “We want value for what we’re paying for.”

Like many people, the Berlins have bounced between a few cable companies over the years looking for the best service and deals.

Something else Berlin likes is the ability to scroll through the TV guide and see what’s on. Sometimes, he’ll find a show or movie he likes that he wasn’t even thinking about watching.

“If you’re bored and it’s a crappy day outside, cable is your best friend,” he said. “Just having the convenience of turning the TV on and just channel surfing and running through guides sometimes.”

The family also has a subscription to Netflix and likes that they can cancel at any time. In the end, though, for the Berlins, cable still makes sense.

The future of streaming

“Streaming services have disrupted the TV industry as we know it,” said Matthew Kaskavitch, a lecturer at the University of Colorado Denver.

Netflix was at the forefront of the streaming evolution and has now become the No. 1 player in terms of subscribers. For years, the media industry as a whole didn’t think streaming was going to be a long-term trend and considered it to be more of a fad.

“But now everybody across the media industry is recognizing that video streaming is here to stay,” Kaskavitch said. “Everybody is making that massive landgrab to try to position themselves for the future of what TV is going to be like.”

Companies like NBC, Disney and WarnerMedia that once licensed their shows to Netflix are now spending millions of dollars to buy back the rights to their content so that they can create their own digital platforms.

Those platforms are growing and diversifying quickly, leaving consumers with even more options, but also more expenses.

All of those options can be confusing and difficult for people to navigate through.

“Right now, cable is easy, streaming is not, but streaming is cheaper, and cable is more expensive,” Kaskavitch said.

He said he believes, eventually, this is going to have to change so that the various streaming services are easier for people to use.

However, that will inevitably cause prices for streaming to go up. Kaskavitch said he thinks the cost of streaming will become more competitively priced with cable.

Along with similar pricing, soon streaming could end up looking like cable, where companies come together to create bundles for people to buy instead of individual subscriptions.

That might take the form of a two-tiered system where users who pay more won’t have to sit through commercials while those who pay less will.

Making the switch to streaming will also help media companies understand people’s viewing habits better to figure out what they like.

“They are going to be able to pull all kinds of data on their actual viewers that they have never had before,” Kaskavitch said.

The advent of streaming is still in its early stages and there’s a lot that need to be worked through on the media industry’s end. Despite this, Kaskavitch said streaming is here to stay.

“This is fundamentally changing the way that television is watched and how video is consumed. It’s going to be messy for a while,” he said. ‘But eventually it’s going to figure itself out.”

A different opinion

Dan Rayburn has a different view for what the future of streaming will look like — for one thing, he doesn’t believe media companies will come together to create bundles for people to buy instead of individual subscriptions to services.

“There’s no benefit to their business to do this,” Rayburn said. “What consumers don’t realize is that these services aren’t doing what’s best for consumers, their businesses and they’re doing the best for their bottom line.”

Rayburn is a principal analyst at the business consulting firm at Frost & Sullivan and is considered a streaming media expert.

Instead of a streaming bundle, he said he believes it will be up to the viewer to pick and choose the services that are important to them.

“Everybody is competing for our eyeballs, there is a battle for the living room taking place right now,” he said. “It’s only going to get more competitive from here.”

Something Rayburn doesn’t think will change is companies allowing people to share their accounts with their family and friends.

Instead, Rayburn said the data shows that allowing people to share passwords has resulted in more subscriptions since viewers can try out the service to see if they like it before buying one for themselves.

He said there are now three types of viewers:
-Cord-cutters, or people who choose to end their cable subscription altogether.
-Cord-shavers, or people who cut down on their cable services and buy a subscription to at least one streaming service.
-Cord-neverers, or people who have only ever used streaming and never bought a cable subscription.

However, with prices for streaming subscriptions continually going up, he said the cost savings of cutting the cord is much lower and so streaming might not be worth it.

“The problem is in the last two years every single company has raised pricing at least once, some have raised it twice three times,” he said. “Add in Disney, add in Hulu, maybe buy a couple of shows from iTunes. For many people it’s actually more expensive for paid TV and you’re getting less content.”

The other factor that will keep cable alive is live sports programming, according to Rayburn.

More sports programming is being made available on streaming devices, however Rayburn said the licensing terms are so high for the NFL and MLB that it doesn’t make sense to move to digital.

That’s because the leagues are being paid tens of billions of dollars for their rights and Rayburn doesn’t think streaming services will be able to offer nearly as much for the rights to air the games.

Another factor is the quality of video that’s being streamed and bandwidth speed so that the live television isn’t constantly buffering.

In the end, Rayburn says there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for viewers and it will be up to each individual to determine where their priorities lie.

“The biggest thing to look for the future is more choices, more great content, more original shows, but we are all limited in the amount of hours that we can watch per day,” Rayburn said. “Think about quality, think about convenience, think about live versus on-demand, think about how many family members you have who are sharing the account and what your budget is.”

So, are you ready to cut the cable cord or are you a loyal cable customer? What do you think the future of television looks like? Email your thoughts to