The Cord-Cutting Chronicles

Help for those looking to save money on television access.

If you’re like me, you’ve had numerous conversations with all sorts of folks about the ridiculously high price we pay for cable television and the lack of control we have over our choices. Our television viewing is mostly news and sports, along with a few series that we enjoy, but usually watch after they’ve been recorded on DVR. Unfortunately, most of them are CBS shows (Big Bang, Elementary), and CBS is remarkably territorial about their programs. They have a proprietary app, and they tend not to share. These few things have kept us tied to Time Warner Cable for years.

twcLately, while paying bills, I’ve been noticing that our TWC bill has been creeping up. When our “bundle” expired last summer, the Time Warner rep had no qualms about telling me that they had no special deals for returning customers. At that time, the Time Warner/ Spectrum merge was just beginning, as was the football season. Annoyed as I was, I was not emotionally ready to skip the entire season of SEC football, and I’m sure my husband would have cheerfully taken out a home equity loan to watch the Gamecocks. So we cut some services and did the best we could. However, as the inheritance in my savings account has flowed into my contractor’s bank account, we knew that we had to be ruthless immediately following the last Panther’s game on New Year’s Day.

Our January TWC bill had somehow reached $176 per month for internet access and basic cable, with one DVR. I’d wrestled with the customer service people at Direct TV and Dish, and had found them to be rude and pushy. My sister has Dish, and even though the service is great, she reports that they are the most dishonest company she has ever dealt with. (We both agreed that Netflix is the most honest company we’ve ever dealt with.) Furthermore, I was not interested in getting into another contract, with equipment rentals and so on. That would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. All that being said, the best news I’ve heard in years is that there are now at least two new options for people looking for live TV without a contract: Sling TV and DirectTVNow. These are services that stream directly through your internet connection, and can be used on your TV, tablet, phone, or any other device.

sling-logoSling TV is $20 a month for their basic group of channels, which includes CNN, HGTV, Food Network, BBC America, and all the ESPNs, among other channels that don’t matter to me. They also have additional packages that you can add on, including a sports package that has the SEC Network. Since there is no contract, we could pick up the extra sports package for only $5 a month during football season, and then drop it during the off-season. While researching Sling, I read that Hulu has signed a contract with CBS, so I felt comfortable that I could get both for $32 a month total, and have access to all of my shows.

directtvnowDirectTVNow is $35 a month for their basic service, which has all of the above channels, plus a few more, including Fox News. It also has no contracts, and can be dropped at any time. I read a lot of reviews of all of these services, and a couple of in-depth reviews said that Sling had more buffering issues, particularly with sports, than DTN. However, when I put out a Facebook post, asking friends about their experiences, I got a few favorable reviews of Sling, and no reviews of DTN. Since it was cheaper, and the app was already installed on our smart TV downstairs, we decided to go with the Sling/ Hulu combination.

Dropping Time Warner down to internet only was more difficult than I had imagined. The merge with Spectrum has been completed, and apparently customer service was a major casualty. The rep told me that internet-only would cost $80 per month. When I let him know that I was appalled, he said that I was a returning customer, and would therefore get no discounts. Then he told me that I could bundle local channels with internet for $70 a month. When I told him that my son, down the road a few miles, was paying $50 a month for Turbo internet only, he said that he must be on a new-customer plan. He tried to sell me their top speed internet, which we’d been paying for in our bundle, and I reminded him that even TWC admitted that our area did not have the infrastructure to make that speed possible. Furthermore, we had turned in our rented modem a couple of months ago, but I could see that they are still charging us rent, even though we now own our own modem. Eventually, I let him know that we were going to a no-contract, internet-based television provider, that there were plenty of other internet providers available now, and that I was amazed that TWC had any customers left. I said that I would take the internet-only price he had quoted, and would immediately start looking into other providers, so expect me to call and cancel soon. He found a way to get the price to $59 a month, and my son told me later that that was what he was paying, too.

huluWith that done, I went online to SlingTV and Hulu and signed up for the 7-day free trial for both. Very simple, no hassle at all.

Our Blue-Ray player upstairs has Hulu installed, so we went online immediately and searched for our favorite shows. Scorpion is a show that I have wanted to watch for some time. Unfortunately, it is in its second season, and I have never been able to find the first season on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Hulu does not have it, either. Thank you, CBS. The newest Elementary episodes were a year old, so that contract with CBS hasn’t kicked in yet. Otherwise, I could get just about everything else on Netflix or Amazon, so within a couple of days, we canceled Hulu.

sling-guy
SlingTV. You have to admit, it’s a memorable ad campaign.

Our smart TV downstairs has the Sling app pre-installed, and we could Chromecast* it upstairs. CNN came in as clearly as it did with cable, so we spent a couple of mornings with Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo. We are used to the Fox News morning crew, although I spent most of the primary last year watching CNN, because they had much more balanced coverage. (That changed during the general election.) I am familiar with Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper in the evening, though, not the breakfast show. In my experience, CNN and Fox News each give half of the news, both because of their opposing perspectives on the events, and because of what they choose not to cover at all. It was frustrating not to be able to switch back and forth for the different viewpoints.

It was the sports shows, though, that made the decision. The drag and buffering were insufferable. We watched some basketball games in which the player jumped up, the ball left his hands, and the picture froze, only to start again with everyone running down the court in the other direction. We didn’t know if he had made the shot or not. Also, when they were running, the picture blurred. Sometimes, it stopped altogether. We realized that, even though $20 was a great price, we were not getting anything that we wanted. We decided to cancel Sling, as well.

Canceling Sling and Hulu were both very easy. I went online, logged in, and went through the steps outlined. Both services wanted to know why we were canceling and tried to lure us back, but after a few clicks, it was done. I received emails confirming the cancellations, and since they were both well within their seven-day trials, we paid nothing.

 

fire-stick-image
Amazon’s Fire Stick, $40.

So, we were left with DirectTVNow. I tried calling them for more information, and it took me 24 minutes to reach a live person. That was annoying, but once I did reach her, she was actually helpful, although she lied that they had CBS. They don’t. I went online to sign up for their service, and ended up paying one month in advance in order to receive the Amazon Fire Stick for free. I was going to buy one for the upstairs Samsung TV anyway, since Chromecast streams from your phone, so you can’t use it while you are watching TV. I received a confirmation email saying, basically, “Thanks so much for signing up, and you’ll get your Fire Stick in 2 or 3 weeks.” Two or three weeks!? So I went downstairs to figure out how to get the DTN app onto our Sony smart TV, and after working hard to find it on the Google Play Store on the TV, then discovering that Sony’s customer service people don’t answer the phone on Sundays, I did an online chat with Sony. The answer is: they don’t have the DTN app and have no plans to get it. So, I ordered another Fire Stick from Amazon and found out that the new one won’t be released until January 21st, and they’ve taken the old one off the market. On the upside, we can Chromecast downstairs, too, so we spent a while exploring DTN. We watched Fox News. We watched a basketball game with a much clearer picture and much less drag than Sling. I think we’re home, and I’m hoping that the experience is even better with Fire Stick than with Chromecast.

mohu-leaf
Mohu Leaf antenna: the thickness of a piece of paper.

As for local channels, we have none. All of the online reviewers and one of our friends recommended the Mohu Leaf indoor antenna. Buy it once for about $70, and you’re done. I’ll let you know if this works to fill in the CBS and PBS gap. I must find a solution before the next season of Grantchester. Of course, we can always plug the laptop into the TV for PBS.

On another note, we have a sound bar on our Sony, and when we removed Time Warner’s cable box, it threw the sound bar back to factory settings. The sub-woofer went to zero. David had to dig out the owner’s manual and re-set the sound. All is well now.

Lessons learned?

  • If possible, hate sports and be happy with internet news sites. This will save you a lot of money.
  • Do not rent equipment; buy it. Even though TWC will update your modem for free, they will only do this every few years, and you can pay for an excellent new modem with six or seven months’ rent.
  • Be willing to drop services. You’d be amazed to find that life continues without DVR.
  • Take advantage of free trials. I tend to think that if I research a service enough, I will be sure to love it, but actual experience shows otherwise. Be realistic.
  • Make a decision to watch less casual television. Don’t keep the TV on for no reason. Read a book. Write a book. Go outside and play.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new technology. Do research on Google and irritate customer service reps and teenaged/ grown children. You’ll learn a lot.

I’ll write another update once we receive the Mohu Leaf antenna and watch DirectTVNow through the Amazon Fire Sticks. In the meantime, I’ve saved over $80 a month!

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Disclaimer: These are just our experiences, and yours may vary. We do not receive any benefits from any of these services for this article.

*Chromecast is a little plug-in that we’ve had for years for our upstairs “dumb” TV, and it came pre-loaded in our smart TV. It allows you to “cast” selected videos or images on your phone, laptop, or tablet onto your TV screen.

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