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Cutting the Cord

Cutting the Cord
Angelo Coppola

I first “cut the cord” over 10 years ago, and I’ve never regretted that decision. In case you haven’t heard that phrase before, I’m referring to severing the umbilical between the home and the cable TV company.

If you’ve been thinking about cutting the cord, maybe my experience can help you a bit. And feel free to ask questions in the comments.

The main benefits of cutting the cord have been:

  • I’ve saved at least $7,000 (based on 120 months at $50/mo—the current average is $100, so maybe the savings are even greater). The savings have been offset a bit by paying $8 or $9/mo for Netflix for a number of those years.
  • My family and I have viewed far, far fewer commercials.

Quick story: The other day we were at a friend’s house. Our 4-year old, Lucy, was getting a little antsy, so we offered her some TV time. A little while later she comes up to us and whispers, “I have to tell you something. Their TV keeps changing shows.”

“No, sweetheart. Those are called commercials. The show you were watching will come back.”

Confused look…walks away.

  • I’ve watched almost no local news, which I think is mostly a waste of time. I watch live national news when there’s something going on. And I’m able to stay informed from a variety of Internet sources.
  • I’ve spent less time overall in front of the TV
  • My family and I view television more intentionally. We pick and choose what we’re going to watch versus channel surfing, or worse, just leaving it on in the background all day.

For me, the biggie is the ads. I really don’t care for the constant deluge of marketing in my own living room. That means for the last decade or so my family and I have not been constantly told what kinds of drugs to take, which packaged or fast foods to eat, which toys are fun, nor which cars to buy.

My 14-year old truck is still humming along just fine, thanks.

Back in the day, I used to hook up an old laptop to the TV. It was clumsy and inconvenient, but versatile. Later, a Mac Mini with wireless keyboard and mouse made it easier. Even further down the line, increased bandwidth and the surge in streaming media available on the Internet gave us better picture quality and more choices.

Eventually, my employer gave out Apple TVs to all employees for completing a project. At  first, the device felt like taking a big step backwards. YouTube was a pain to use, and we couldn’t access videos from CNN.com or the kids’ favorite websites.

But, I got used to it, and even came to enjoy the simplicity.

Our main sources of programming came from Netflix and iTunes, which worked out well, although there were occasional frustrations (live events, sports, etc.). But, once you lose your tolerance for television ads, you really can’t go back.

That’s why Hulu was never a contender for my eyeballs. They’re finally just recently offering an ad-free, pay option ($12/mo no ads, $8/mo limited ads). I don’t plan on signing up, but I can see why people would.

So where are we today?

Currently, we use a Roku 3 to get our content onto the television, and I’ve been totally happy with it and highly recommend the device. As long as you’re OK with no access to the iTunes world, you’ll enjoy more channels and content than any other such device.

Rook 3

They just introduced its successor, the Roku 4, but since we don’t have a 4k television, there appears to be no compelling reason to upgrade. Even if I were choosing between the two today, I’d select the Roku 3 for it’s lower cost, smaller footprint, and I noticed some reviewers are complaining about fan noise on the newer device.

One of my favorite Roku features is the headphone jack on the remote control. It’s really cool. My wife and I have used a splitter, allowing us to use two sets of headphones, and then we enjoyed TV together while our youngest daughter slept in the same, silent room. A nice little treat for parents!

Rook Headphones

Our main streaming service these days is Amazon Prime Video, which is included with an Amazon Prime membership, so it feels free. It boasts a great library, including a good chunk of the HBO archives—some of the best shows and documentaries. Just about anything that’s not free on Prime can be rented or purchased.

We also use YouTube quite a bit and a media server called PlexMedia Server probably sounds intimidating to some, but it’s actually super simple to set up and use. Ultimately, it keeps the movies and TV shows that you own nicely organized, and it streams them to the Roku (and other players). It also does pictures and home videos.

Using the Plex it! bookmark on my computer browser, I can also quickly queue YouTube videos that I’d like to watch later on my TV. Just click the bookmark and it’s ready to go on Plex like magic. This comes in super handy for the documentary and video links Latest in Paleo listeners send me. I eventually get to them!

Plex it!

Bottom line: cutting the cord is easier today than ever. There’s plenty of hardware to choose from, and plenty of services for streaming content. If there’s a potential downside, it’s that it’s so easy and there’s so much content, that you could easily spend more time in front of the TV than ever before, binging on your favorite programs.

Sitting in front of a TV isn’t exactly the most primal activity. And most of us don’t need more sitting in our lives. But, story telling is quite human, there are plenty of educational programs available that can make us better people, and spending some chill time with the family does have it’s benefits, too.

I limit my tube time to about 1 hour a day, and that seems to work well. Just like my diet, I aim for quality without overdoing it, and I leave room for the occasional indulgence. And, like junk food, I keep the TV out of sight…it’s on a rolling stand and we go get it when we want to watch.

By the way, this isn’t a paid promotion for Roku or any of the services listed in this article, just my personal experience with cord cutting. As with some other articles on this blog, links to Amazon go through their affiliate program. 

  • Scott J

    Great article Angelo! I cut the cord about three years ago and don’t think I will ever go back. I have two things to add to your discussion that some people might find useful.

    First, over-the-air (“OTA”) TV is free. You probably will want to buy a decent quality antenna. Also your TV needs to be equipped with a digital tunner, which most newer TV’s automatically include. To check if you can receive free TV there are a number of web sites you can use. The one I used is called http://www.tvfool.com. There are others – just google “over the air signal strength”. Enter your address and the web site will tell you which stations you can receive, the strength of the signal, and which direction you need to point your antenae. If you live in or near a major city, you likely will be able to get the major networks including ABC, CBS , NBC, as well as a bunch of local channels and PBS. Much of the programming is broadcast in high definition at a higher resolution than what the cable company provides. Realize that you will be subjecting yourself to all of the marketing ads with OTA TV, but I find I watch much less TV than I did with cable.

    Secondly, while the Roku box is nice, most newer Bluray disk players and the newer “smart” TV’s are able to access the Internet and services such as Amazon Prime, Netfix, Hulu, Vimo, YouTube, etc. So a separate box really isn’t needed. Of course with any of these options you still have to have an Internet connection so you aren’t really 100% “cutting the cable”. 🙂

    Bottom line is that saying “NO” to the cable company for your TV programming is easier than ever!

    • Great point about OTA TV. I think it slipped my mind because we use it so infrequently. I bought this Digital HD antenna last year to watch the Super Bowl. It worked great, even with all of the tall trees around us, and if memory serves it gets us 20+ channels.

      We don’t keep our TV in the living room. Instead we keep it on a rolling stand. We fetch it when we want to watch. This makes keeping it hooked up to the antenna (which needs to be mounted to a window) inconvenient. And as such, we haven’t used it since the last Super Bowl.

      And very true about the Internet Cable. Cord cutters definitely leave the Internet cable attached. And in fact, some may need more expensive plans for increased bandwidth and data caps. Even still, most will probably experience some savings.

      I do think the cord cutting experience is getting easier and it’s also becoming a lot more like television used to be. You can leave YouTube mindlessly running in ‘autoplay’ in the background and see/hear several commercials in the process, for example.

      And that leaves me wondering what the next step in ‘cord cutting’ might look like…