Cutting the Cord: Is It Worth It?

By Tracey Dowdy

According to statistics from Nielsen, the average American home receives 189 television channels but watches only 17. That number sounds about right for my house – I don’t know off-hand how many we get but I guarantee that we only watch a fraction of what’s available.

For years, industry analysts have been warning us that television is fading and network cable is about to meet eight-track tapes, Blockbuster Video and Tower Records in the Great Beyond. But how true is that? The fact is in 2014, pay-tv subscriptions dropped a mere 125,000, or about 0.1 percent, although actual TV viewing is down about 10 percent overall.

There’s no denying that costs have steadily increased, while customer satisfaction has moved just as steadily in the opposite direction. “High prices, poor reliability, and declining customer service are to blame for low customer satisfaction with pay TV services. The cost of subscription TV has been rising 6 percent per year on average — four times the rate of inflation,” according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

For those fed up with the cost of cable, cutting the cord seems like the obvious answer, if for no other reason than paying for 189 channels and watching only 17 seems like an enormous waste of money. But, it’s more complicated than a straight number of channels verses cost comparison.

Those a la carte options sound great until you do the math. Side note: JCHS class of ’84, I’ve finally found a use for those horrible math word problems Mr. Mac Isaac used to make us do in High School. They really do have a real-world application!

“If Tracey is paying $ $85.20 (average cost based on information from the FCC) a month for both TV and Internet connectivity but wants to cut the cord and choose programming a la carte, how much will she save?”

Let’s break those monthly costs:

HBO Now: $15
Showtime: $10
Hulu: $8
Amazon Prime: $8.95
Netflix: $10 (for new subscribers)
Internet: $19.99 (lowest cost offered in my area for standalone Internet connectivity)

Total: $71.94

There’s a stark lack of sports access in that list and even if you add a $7 month subscription to CBS you still won’t be able to access NFL games. Compare the price tag of the cable package and the a la carte streaming services and you see both have their plusses and minuses.

Some cable companies are catching on that consumers are more educated, want more options and are more fed up, so they’ve come up with offerings like Comcast’s Xfinity Stream, an Internet-only TV service that offers HBO and the major TV networks live and on-demand for $15 per month on top of the price for stand-alone broadband service.

Verizon has gone further and introduced Custom TV as part of its FiOS TV offerings, allowing customers to choose from a variety of “channel packs” so subscribers only pay for the channels that they want to watch.

The bottom line is that you need to do your homework. Sit down with your family, talk about viewing habits and what you can and can’t live without. Just make sure your calculator is part of the conversation.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


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