More and more people are “cutting the cord,” getting their television and movies without a traditional pay TV package.
Frustrated by cable and other pay TV companies forcing you to subscribe to channels you don’t watch, making channels you do watch part of bundles that can cost more than $100 per month, and providing lousy customer service, customers are opting out.
Cord cutters have two main choices. They can go forward in time, getting their shows and movies through their Internet connection. Or they can go backward in time, getting shows and movies over the air through an antenna. You can also do both.
The advantages are price and control. You get your TV and movies for low cost, like your parents did, or for free, like your grandparents did. As a citizen of the Digital Age, you decide what content you want.
Rabbit-ears TV antennas are on the comeback, a related trend. The availability today of multiple free digital broadcast channels makes this option even more appealing than in the old days.
As in the old days, however, with over-the-air channels, unlike with streaming services or premium cable, you need to put up with TV commercials. And your reception may be spotty, preventing you from getting some channels.
Streaming, however, is the video option that’s all the rage these days, requiring just a WiFi connection, a WiFi-enabled device, and a streaming service.
Just about all new TVs have WiFi adapters built in, and with smaller or older sets that don’t, you can buy a media streaming device to attach to it. You can also stream to your smartphone, tablet, gaming console, or computer.
Some streaming media devices provide only streaming content, such as Roku Streaming Stick, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and
Google Chromecast. Blu-ray players from major consumer electronics companies such as Sony and Samsung provide streaming content in addition to being able to play Blu-ray and DVD discs from your collection or the local library.
The most notable streaming media services include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and YouTube.
Netflix is the oldest and largest of the popular streaming media subscription services, and it continues to grow. It currently has about 50 million U.S. subscribers, which includes a gain of 2 million in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Lately Netflix is been reducing the size and expense of its movie library while it focuses more on original TV series. Amazon Prime Video now has about four times more movies. Sling TV has the best sports offerings. YouTube has the best free offerings, along with pay options for movies and other content.
Among the newer big kids on the block is HBO Now, which launched in April 2015. HBO didn’t provide streaming service sooner because it didn’t want to risk alienating its cable partners, which continue to lucratively sell HBO as a premium TV service. HBO offers movies as well as original TV series.
Prices for these services vary. Netflix charges $10 per month, Amazon Prime Video $9, Hulu $8 with commercials and $12 without, Sling TV $20, PlayStation Vue $40, DirecTV Now $30, and HBO Now $5. Other subscription options are often available.
Niche services also abound. Seeso is a new comedy service from NBC Universal costing $4 per month. Crackle has old TV series and movies and is free.
Many people subscribe to more than one streaming service, sometimes along with a pay TV cable package. But subscribing to many multiple streaming services can increase the price beyond that of a pay TV cable package.
Beware of the lure of piracy. Some people access movies and TV illegally over the Internet. Penalties on the books for such piracy in the U.S. range from a fine between $750 and $30,000 per illegally downloaded work to up to five years in prison.
Often lawsuits are brought by a motion picture studio or association and are settled out of court. When cases go to court, judges have a lot of discretion, with crooks making money from pirating content and consumers who filch a lot of material typically getting hit hardest.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that, relatively speaking, consumers of pirated content rarely get caught. But the threat of getting caught is always there, and this deterrent is primarily what television networks and movie studios and their associations rely on. Low-cost and free content is out there, so why take the chance?